Women’s Learning Partnership is deeply saddened by the loss of our friend, colleague, and mentor, Asma Khader. As a founding member of WLP, Asma’s wisdom, creativity, and kindness have shaped the work of the Partnership for over two decades. Her commitment to participatory leadership, shared decision-making, and life-long learning served as a guiding light for the global women’s movement. Asma believed in the leadership capacity of every woman, and was dedicated to cultivating leadership in others.
Asma earned her law degree in 1977, and was among the first few practicing women lawyers in Jordan. Asma’s legal career focused on human rights, and in particular on defending the rights of women and children. A passionate ambassador for women’s equality, she led a number of national and international human rights commissions. She later served as Minister of Culture (2003-2005), Minister of State (2013), and as a member of the Jordanian senate (2013). In 2007, she was appointed Secretary General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, which she led for seven years.
Asma’s countless contributions show how women who gain power change the nature of power. Her tireless work promoting women’s rights played a key role in Jordan’s women’s movement, and led to legal reforms and new standards for justice and equality in the country and the MENA region. Throughout her extraordinary career, Asma remained focused on making sure other women, especially those from underserved and refugee communities, could access skills-training, learning, and economic opportunities. Solidarity Is Global Institute-Jordan, which Asma founded in 1998, provides women with legal services and education programs, and leads campaigns for legislative and policy reforms that protect human rights. SIGI-J has been instrumental in revising Jordan’s Penal Code and Personal Status Law to protect human rights, among many other achievements.
WLP’s foundational training manual, Leading to Choices, begins with Asma’s own words about her journey as a leader. In a session titled, ‘One Woman Can Make a Difference,’ she says:
I am not sure whether I am a leader, but I know that becoming one means that you perceive the urgent need to address a problem—that you feel the need to fill a space by initiating activities, campaigns, and programs to focus on specific issues. If people in your community truly believe that you are fulfilling a need, then they will support you, bestowing upon you the position of leadership. When people trust you, they will look to you to help them reach their own goals.
Over the last 20 years, thousands of women in over 50 countries have read Asma’s story. Her example of leadership has served as a model for others to see the leadership potential in themselves. One woman’s life and leadership can inspire thousands.
We are grateful for the years of collaboration, encouragement, and generosity Asma shared with us. Her legacy will encourage and inspire us as we pursue the equitable and just world she sought.
Understanding that there are overlapping and interconnected threats to human security can help us create a roadmap for diminishing human suffering in the future. The first and most obvious hurdle is that the power structures and decision-making processes and leaders that are currently in place are not adequately addressing either climate change or women’s rights.
In the “new normal” since COVID-19, feminist and human rights organizations are innovating to be inclusive in online spaces. WLP Brazil (CEPIA) found a way to bring young leaders with auditory and visual disabilities to the (virtual) table.