The Global Life Stories Project has several objectives


1. To better understand how women experience qiwamah and wilayah, the disconnect between textual (religious or legal) constructions of the concepts and women’s lived realities, how this disconnect is manifested in women’s lives and how it affects their life choices and experiences.


2. To highlight the voices of Muslim women from different walks of life and diverse national contexts and reveal insights they have gained from their life experiences, recognize the alternative knowledge they can offer and reflect their concerns and interests.


3. To collectively build alternative knowledge and develop a methodology that reflects our understanding of egalitarian Islamic ethics and feminism, thus working to counter the patriarchal ethos that informs Muslim family laws, practices and the production of knowledge.


4. To promote collective learning and capacity building in Muslim legal tradition, focusing on Islamic feminist knowledge that revisits patriarchal interpretations and engages critically with the tradition.


5. To produce knowledge that can contribute to social change in the participating countries and to Musawah’s activities and advocacy at the global level. Each national team tailored the methodology to their local contexts based on their specific agendas for women’s rights advocacy, public education or other work for legal and policy reform at the country level.



Musawah developed and implemented the Global Life Stories Project over several years. In 2011, a team formed in Indonesia to conduct a pilot project by developing the methodology, deciding on the scope and testing their process by documenting a number of stories. The team comprised five activists from Alimat, an Indonesian coalition working on reforming religious knowledge to advance gender equality and justice. The team decided to approach the project as a collective and mutual learning experience that is inter-disciplinary and grounded in national activism and the process of movement building. Over the course of a year, the Indonesian team worked carefully to better understand the issues, decide how to undertake the process in an ethical and principled manner and actually document the life stories of five Muslim women from different regions of the country.

At the conclusion of the pilot project, the project coordinator recruited Musawah Advocates from 12 countries (see box) to take part in the global project as country teams. Ranging in size from one to seven persons, the national ‘teams’ implemented the project with the guidance of one or more coordinating members. Team composition differed from country to country but included individuals from different disciplines such as Islamic theology, anthropology, law, literature, agriculture, development studies, gender studies, etc., who worked in a range of fields such as academia, women’s rights and advocacy work, international development, education, family law, human rights, etc. Most teams were supported by non-governmental organizations that worked on women’s issues within the country.

Given limited resources, the implementation phase was limited to a selection of regionally representative Muslim-majority and -minority countries, with the potential for expanding to more countries later. Musawah Advocates from 12 countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Egypt, the Gambia, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Philippines, the United Kingdom) agreed to join the Global Life Stories Project. The organizations from Afghanistan, Jordan, and the Philippines eventually withdrew their participation because of other priorities in their national work, so the project was completed in only nine countries.

At the April 2012 initial Methodology Workshop in Bali, Indonesia, the Indonesian pilot team, the Musawah Knowledge Building Working Group, and representatives of the country teams worked together to clarify objectives, reflect on feminist principles and Islamic guiding values, understand concepts and develop a methodology for the global project building on the Indonesian framework. After this workshop, the country teams further elaborated on goals and work plans that they would implement in their specific contexts in accordance with their own advocacy agendas, then conducted interviews and documented the stories. We collaborated through online discussions and a series of Skype meetings between the project coordinator and the country teams.
The nine teams eventually documented life stories from 55 women. As discussed below, teams recruited the women based on a variety of factors, including how their stories spoke to various issues within the country and how well the women would be able to talk about such personal and sensitive matters. Interviewers generally met the resource persons for several extended sessions, discussing details of their stories as well as emotions, reflections, hopes and plans for the future. Teams offered a variety of support services as necessary for each woman. Many of the women felt the process of telling their stories to be empowering, and wanted to share what they had experienced in order to help others. These women shared their stories, experiences and insights, contributing valuable resources to both national and global movements for equality and justice. Consistent with feminist research methodology, we thus recognized and referred to them as resource persons and not merely respondents or passive subjects.
In December 2012, we held a Mid-Term Review Workshop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to explore in more depth the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah and their linkages to the documentation of stories. We discussed the teams’ progress and challenges and developed a collective framework for analysis that the teams could adapt to their specific contexts as they saw fit. After this workshop, the teams and project coordinator continued to hold regular Skype meetings to address obstacles teams encountered in implementation, share analysis processes, further develop the framework for analysis and discuss key articles in Muslim legal tradition related to themes revealed in the life stories in a collective learning process.
Each country team produced a final report from which this global report was written in ongoing consultation with the teams. The resource persons whose stories are shared all consented to having their stories included in those country reports and this global report.