History and People

History and People

WLP partners share a common vision of a peaceful future where every individual will have an equal opportunity to realize her or his full potential. Our hope is that one day the architecture of human relations will support the equal rights, human security, and advancement of everyone.

See our impact
We believe that the aspirations of women across the world include the common goals of equality, tolerance, democracy, human rights, justice and the celebration of diversity. These goals are highlighted in WLP’s charter and they are values we all share.

,WLP President Emerita and Special Advisor (Iran/USA)


Launched in the first month of the new millennium, in January 2000, WLP has been front and center of women-led efforts across the globe to advance women’s rights. In the early discussions and planning meetings for the Partnership, WLP founder Mahnaz Afkhami worked with women’s rights community-based organizations (CSOs) in Africa and the MENA region to identify tools and strategies to strengthen their capacity to carry out their programming, mobilize their campaigns, and sustain their organizations. The CSOs, many of whom later became WLP partners, wanted educational programming on women’s rights and leadership, improved information and communication technology (IT), and trainings for their staff to build their capacity and sustainability. 

In response, WLP collaborated on language-appropriate and culture-specific training curriculum for women, web-based resources for women’s rights activists in local languages, and training of trainers workshops on a range of human rights and organizational development topics including using IT and strategic planning. The Partnership originally began with just a handful of organizations, but quickly grew to the size that it is today. Maintaining the Partnership at no more than 20 organizations has been key to sustaining the extensive collaboration and trust among the partners, as well as to preserving WLP’s stability, flexibility, and capacity to learn. 

Mahnaz Afkhami brought to the Partnership her vision for a new approach to leadership—participatory, inclusive, and consensus-building—that empowers women to take on leadership roles in their families, communities, and societies. Her model of participatory leadership is integrated into all of our training materials and has become WLP’s operating methodology. Over the past decade and a half, WLP’s programs, training materials, and leadership methodology have reached tens of thousands of women and men in over 50 countries. WLP programs are inspiring women leaders, strengthening women’s organizations, and launching global women’s movements. 

A New Model for Learning

WLP’s global advocacy campaigns—to reform family law, to advance opportunities for refugees, and to strengthen civil society—are powered by the ongoing exchange of experience and ideas among our partners and affiliated organizations and individuals. WLP’s approach to learning and movement-building is that for change to be truly lasting, it must come about organically, from within a community. WLP has made a significant impact by employing a bottom-up, community-based approach to disseminating knowledge about women’s rights and democratic ideas and to increasing our partners’ organizational, strategic, and tactical capabilities to influence decision-making in their communities.  

The learning process WLP promotes in our training materials, online learning, and workshops, embodies WLP’s participatory, consensus-building leadership model. WLP believes that dialogue and the free exchange of ideas can strengthen the ethical bases for people’s conduct and choices and give them communication tools to share their reasoning with others. In our trainings with partners and partner-constituents, WLP presumes that all participants, including the facilitator, are contributing to the exchange of ideas. WLP fosters leadership that encourages sharing power and demonstrating mutual respect. For WLP, this model of leadership is the cornerstone of inclusive democracy, good governance, and human rights. 

Participatory leadership fundamentally upends traditional human relations where the expectation is that there are those who have power and those who follow. This methodology allows for the evolution of truly new ideas and new social structures. It provides a roadmap for collaboration among organizations, even among those whose purposes vary widely. Today, WLP’s leadership methodology is helping to fortify cooperation among hundreds of organizations worldwide working towards human dignity and security. 

WLP and the 21st Century Women’s Rights Movement

In the Global South, and in particular in Muslim-majority countries, hundreds of thousands of women have been inspired to become engaged in public life and political action. Women are speaking out in their communities and demanding change. They are voting, participating in rallies, and running for political office. They are shoring up civil society by launching new institutions and programs that address humanitarian issues and human rights. They are demanding social and legislative reforms to free women from sexual harassment and gender-based violence. And they are advocating for legal changes to give women equal opportunities in education and employment, and to have equal rights to divorce and marriage, inheritance, property ownership, and passing down one’s nationality to one’s children. 

Despite the progress in women’s participation, there is still a wide gap between the engagement and decision-making of men in society, and of women. There is a discrepancy between men’s and women’s wages almost everywhere in the world. In many of the countries where WLP operates, there is a substantial lag between the passage of progressive laws that promote and protect women, and actual compliance with those laws. And while most of the world has signed and ratified international human rights treaties and women’s rights treaties, governments are not fulfilling the promises they made.

The WLP Partnership is working to address these gaps, discrepancies, and unfulfilled promises—locally, regionally, and globally—because we know that when women are given equal opportunities, the whole world benefits from their productivity and contributions. Women are not just the most frequent victims of poverty and violence, they are also the world’s greatest untapped resource for leadership, reform, and progress. 

WLP President Mahnaz Afkhami
WLP’s office in Bethesda, Maryland, acts as the programmatic and organizational secretariat for the Partnership.
Board Member Barbara Phillips
The WLP Board of Directors is composed of scholars, activists, and CSO leaders who are advocates for human rights and the global women’s movement.
Hafsat Abiola-Costello and Karima Bennoune
We work with external advisors and consultants, many of whom have an extensive history with the organization, to assist with curriculum development, technology development, training programs, organizational development, and program evaluation.
Samira Bikarden of WLP Morocco ADFM 2011
All WLP programs and activities originate with the partners. At WLP’s annual meetings, the partners share challenges and strategies and prioritize and plan WLP’s activities, serving as WLP’s programmatic board.