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The successes achieved by social justice advocates at a series of important UN and other international gatherings throughout the 1990s molded transnational civil society strategies and in many ways, raised expectations about what is possible. In addition to policy gains, these efforts managed to shift the discourses of gender equality, sustainable development, and human rights and helped to forge national and international movements and alliances. Since 2001, however, while campaigns may be more polished in some ways, international policy processes seem to yield fewer successes and more frustrations for civil society activists. As organizations grapple with the difficult questions of where and how to invest their scarce resources, they are thinking ever more critically about how change happens and how to be more selective and strategic about policy work and advocacy broadly. This dialogue among 35+ women’s rights and social justice advocates and supporters, convened by Just Associates at the AWID Forum in October 2005 in Bangkok, set out to explore what makes a global policy space strategic in the current context and which policy spaces turn out to be “black holes” that sap or divert the energy of women’s movements and potentially undermine their change efforts over time. What made global policy opportunities and civil society strategies in the 1990s bear fruit and what has changed since then? What are the range of strategies beyond policy engagement needed today to build and use the kind of political power necessary to produce and sustain real changes for women’s rights, equality and sustainable development?

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