It is in 1990, on the occasion of the Congress of Liberal International (LI) in Helsinki, that the decision was taken by the group of women representing 11 countries (Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) to establish The International Network of Liberal Women, “open to liberal women members of parties, organizations and groups, and to individual liberal women”. Barbro Westerholm, MP from Sweden, became the Network’s coordinator.
At the same time that we explored the avenues to become a “member organization” of LI, we organiced seminars of women at each LI congress.
In 1991, in Lucerne, Lorna Marsden made a presentation on “The year of the Girl Child”. In 1992, in Mainz, Lucie Pépin addressed the question of “Women’s representation in international bodies”. In 1993, we organised a seminar in Saint Petersburg with a group of liberal Russian women. In 1994, we met in Reykjavik. In 1995, in preparation of the Beijing Conference, we published a booklet on the Status of Women, with contributions on a whole range of subjects concerning women with contributors from 15 authors from different countries. A delegation from INLW attended the LI Beijing Conference.
In 1996, at the LI Congress held in Noordwijk (Netherlands), it was decided by INLW to establish a Steering Committee with the task of producing a constitution, and initiating the steps to obtain formal recognition by Liberal International. The Committee members were: Elisabeth Brandenburg, Elizabeth Sidney, Tina van den Stroom, and Marie Thérèse Bianchi.
Marie-Thérèse Bianchi was the Secretary-General and one of the driving forces of the restructuring of the INLW’s Management Board. In 2000 unfortunately she passed away.
In October 1996, the Steering Committee met and approved a first draft of the Constitution. We submitted our demand to become a member of LI; the Bureau of LI accepted our request in January 1997. In order that the Congress accepted the INLW as an Observer (it is the first step before becoming a member), a change in the Constitution of the LI was needed. Both decisions were approved by the Congress of Oxford in 1997.
It took 50 years for Liberal International to recognise Women as a group within the organization.
The Bureau of LI established the criteria to be applied for upgrading INLW from observer to member. The criteria were: minimum number of individuals and/or group members, the organisation should have its own activities and publications, and should stand on its own feet financially.
Once the criteria were met, the Bureau recommended the Congress the granting of Member status to INLW. In that year’s Brussels Congress, INLW obtained full member status. A record short period since the granting of Observer status. The LI Congress in Brussels in 1999 approved the recommendation of the Bureau.
In fourteen months we have achieved something that most parties and groups would achieve in a minimum of thirty-six months.