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irls and women in Syria face regular violence; many are exhausted trying to keep their family safe, whilst struggling to find food, water and shelter. They are often the main providers of the household, but during the brutal conflict women have also been subject to arrest, detention, physical abuse and torture. The rise of ISIS is also threatening their equality with reports suggesting it is “legitimate” for girls to be married to fighters at the age of nine and emphasising their role as wives, mothers and home-makers. Funded by the UK Conflict Pool and the European Union, Adam Smith International has been working in partnership with communities in contested parts of Syria to deliver basic services. Such areas have no formal governance, limited public services and are plagued with hundreds of armed militia. The Tamkeen project, which means ‘empowerment’ in Arabic, is providing grants which communities use to plan and implement projects. The purpose is to help communities to meet their basic needs and to strengthen the emerging system of local governance in the country. Community representatives form Tamkeen committees which receive a block grant and training in community participation, budget prioritisation, project design and implementation to ensure that good governance principles inform the actions of the committee throughout the project cycle. The programme is not just delivering projects; it is stimulating the demand for good governance, holding decision-makers to account and reducing conflict by bringing fractured communities - both men and women - together for a common goal. Tamkeen committees work together with existing local councils and nongovernmental organisations to assess community needs: delivering services that benefit the community. It is paving the way for when a legitimate, formal administration develops.

Women & Power

Even before the Syrian conflict, women were rarely involved in political decision-making in rural areas. Women were overlooked due to a lack of confidence in their abilities and social taboos around men and women working together. Tamkeen has begun to break the taboo of female involvement in governance. Women’s subcommittees are being formed in communities which have low female participation. This allows women to be included in the governance process without causing social disruption, and creates a space where Tamkeen can provide targeted mentoring and capacity development for women in its communities. A women’s sub-committee in Aleppo has designed and implemented a skills training centre. More than 100 women have signed up, courses are being delivered and a women-led management team is already planning how to expand its offering using fee revenue that is being collected.

Overcoming stereotypes Initially, some committees begrudged women making decisions about public services: it was considered culturally inappropriate. Forcing committees to allocate some of their funds to a women’s sub-committee could have caused conflict and resentment towards women. Instead, Tamkeen provided an incentive: an additional US $5,000 per community as a matching grant for projects implemented by, and for, women. Since the community stands to gain an extra US $5,000 in funding, it has a strong motivation to allocate part of its existing grant to the women’s sub-committee. Now sceptical members of the community have begun to see the impact women can have on good government and societal development. Despite a bloody and unforgiving conflict, localised, modest positive change is happening.

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Closing the Gender Gap