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The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa


This project was funded, in part, through the Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) under Cooperative Agreement number S-NEAPI-10-CA-297. The opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed herein are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of State. MEPI partners with local civil society organizations, community leaders, youth and women activists, and private sector groups to advance their reform efforts in 18 countries and territories. MEPI’s approach is bottom-up and grassroots, responding directly to local interests and needs. In the wake of the Arab Spring, MEPI has significantly increased support to countries undergoing democratic transitions – supporting free and fair elections, the expansion of civil society, and a greater voice for citizens in shaping their political, economic, and legal systems.

The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa

Dea r Reader, It is with great pleasure that I introduce the Policy Advocates for Women’s Issues in the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA) case studies on behalf of Vital Voices Global Partnership. This set of case studies shows the impact of women’s leadership on their communities during a time of unprecedented transition. We know that a country cannot prosper if half its population is not enlisted in its development. These studies demonstrate women’s contributions and represent their ongoing commitment to jointly shape the future of their countries. The following five stories document advocacy campaigns that were part of the twoyear Policy Advocates program, which was supported by the U.S. Department of State Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). This program was launched just days after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, one of the many milestones of the Arab Spring, and continued throughout one of the most important transitional periods in the region, concluding in October 2012. Working with women leaders, and men, in MENA during this historic time of uncertainty has lent Vital Voices a distinct perspective on the nuances of the region’s social, political, and economic shifts and women’s role in navigating this new landscape to advance specific objectives for their communities. These case studies share the best practices and lessons that emerged from dynamic advocacy campaigns. We hope that they will provide insight into the contribution of women in the region and demonstrate the importance of empowering women leaders. With Vital Voices’ continued support, these women, and others like them all over the world, have a huge impact on their community, their country, and on future generations of women leaders. Empowering women as leaders is a fundamental and strategic value of Vital Voices. These five stories provide evidence of the real outcomes that come from investing in women leaders who improve their societies, and ultimately our world. Sincerely,

Alyse Nelson President & CEO Vital Voices Global Partnership


The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa

Introducing “A Journ ey Through Transition” When Vital Voices first began implementation of the Policy Advocates for Women’s Issues in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region program in the fall of 2010, the umbrella program under which each of these country projects took place, the world was a very different place than it is today. In August of 2010, governments throughout the MENA region still stood strong. There was no such thing as the Arab Spring, and the advocacy project that was just being launched was formulated with that political environment in mind.

Little did anyone know that in December 2010 the region would embark on one of the most important journeys in history. At Vital Voices, the MENA team was glued to their computers, watching the news, talking to people on the ground, and trying to navigate this new world; the team knew these events would have a huge impact on their work forever. Eight days after the fall of President Mubarak in Egypt, on February 20, 2012, Vital Voices convened 40 women and men from ten countries across the MENA region in Amman, Jordan to launch the project. These participants, selected through an open application process and selected through a careful process to bring together civil society, business, and the government, came together to receive training on advocacy skills, leadership, and media. They learned from one another, and developed plans to implement advocacy projects in their own countries based on issues they identified as critical for women in their communities. Teams from Yemen were inspired by the stories of the Egyptian delegation, and everyone solemnly acknowledged the inability of the Bahraini delegation to leave their country. It was a time of great uncertainty and an opportunity to embrace a new future. Over the last two years, Vital Voices has worked closely with each of the country delegations to strategically plan and implement their advocacy campaigns. Each team targeted a critical issue affecting women in their countries, identified its solution, and collaborated to make that solution a reality. With the technical and financial support of Vital Voices and US Department of State Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), each of the country teams embarked on their own journey to make change in their communities. These case studies tell the stories of each of those teams, highlighting the unique political and social implications within the MENA region and showcasing the amazing achievements, as well as the real challenges, each team has faced. The stories contained within are the stories of women and the impact they can have.


The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa

About the Policy Advocates for Women’s Issues in the MENA Region program

The Policy Advocates for Women’s Issues in the MENA Region program convened representatives of the public and private sectors and civil society to embark on campaigns to improve the lives of women in their home countries. The program included teams from Tunisia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman, Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan and the UAE, which received training on advocacy, teambuilding, social media and program management. This training empowered teams to develop action plans for advocacy on women’s issues. Each campaign was unique; teams independently created campaigns that affected policy, procedural or legislative decisions in their home countries, based on the issues they identified as crucial for women in their communities. Drawing on the present atmosphere of change in the Middle East and North Africa, the campaigns emphasized the critical roles that women play in the creation of a new future for the region. 

About Vital Voices Global Partnership

Vital Voices Global Partnership (Vital Voices) is a preeminent international non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to improving the political, economic and social status of women. It began as the U.S. government’s successful Vital Voices Democracy Initiative, established in 1997 by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to promote the advancement of women as a U.S. foreign policy goal. In 2000, Vital Voices became an independent organization. Vital Voices identifies, trains, and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, enabling them to create a better world for us all. The organization is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has local Vital Voices chapters in 15 countries around the world. Our international staff and team of over 1,000 partners, pro bono experts and leaders, including senior government, corporate, and NGO executives, have trained and mentored more than 100,000 emerging women leaders from over 144 countries in Asia, Africa, Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East since 1997. Our Global Leadership Network consists of 12,000 members who in turn impact additional women, men, and children in their communities. Vital Voices has worked in the MENA region for more than eleven years and has built extensive networks and partnerships with local business leaders, civil society organizations, judges, lawyers, educational institutions, and individual leaders. Vital Voices has worked to build the capacity, connections, and credibility of women in the region for political participation, economic development, public-private partnership, and business entrepreneurship.


The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa

Egypt Straight from Tahrir Square, Egypt’s Policy Advocates team arrived at the Vital Voices Advocacy Workshop in Amman, Jordan in February 2011, eight days after Mubarak’s resignation. At the height of their revolution, these five Egyptian women saw firsthand what advocacy could achieve. As one team member said, “It’s important to see women’s rights as political rights. But we don’t expect it to be easy. Tahrir Square was a utopia, and society doesn’t change in 15 minutes.”

Facing uncertainty in Egypt, the team recognized the importance of women’s voices being heard and represented in the new government. The team decided to create a gender platform, a women’s agenda that would include the opinions of Egyptian women of all ages, regions, religions and backgrounds. This platform would be presented for inclusion in the new Egyptian Constitution and all electoral platforms, as well as in any political, social and economic decisions which will affect Egypt’s future. In the months following the Advocacy Workshop in Amman, women almost disappeared from public view in Egypt. Despite having stood side by side with men in Tahrir Square, women were not only absent from post-Revolution leadership, but also in the judiciary, academia and key ministerial positions. Additionally, the military government abolished the Mubarak-era quota that mandated 64 seats in Parliament be reserved for women. Despite these setbacks, the advocacy team began collecting opinions of women throughout Egypt through focus groups and surveys. However, the research phase of the campaign faced significant internal and external 11


challenges. At the time the team wanted to begin research, Egyptian civil society organizations were accused of inciting civic unrest during and after the revolution and encountered an unprecedented crackdown by the government.11 Following the fall of the Mubarak regime, millions of dollars of foreign aid flowed into the country to fund democracy promotion efforts. Many civil society and NGO leaders, including those on the team, reported that the transitional government, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), accused them of receiving millions of dollars from foreign funders to undermine the country’s security. The SCAF claimed that none of the NGOs had informed the government about funds received from foreign sources as required under Egyptian law,12 specifically related to a 2010 bill that gave state security the power to approve or deny international funding to these organizations.13 As a result, in July of 2011 the Minister of International Co-operation launched an investigation of foreign funding of unregistered NGOs, claiming such funding was considered “an intervention in our internal affairs.”14 Egyptian banks were ordered to report any transactions

Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), “Egypt’s NGOs face tough post-revolution reality,” The Guardian, October 27, 2011, egypt-ngos-clampdown-military-rulers


Egypt, Law on Non-Governmental Societies and Organizations, Number 84, 2002.


IRIN, “Egypt’s NGOs face tough post-revolution reality”


IRIN, “Egypt’s NGOs face tough post-revolution reality”

The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa

Your Voice For Egypt

between NGOs and charity groups to the Central Bank of Egypt and the Ministry of Social Solidarity.15 Despite proper registration completed by representatives from three civil society organizations on the advocacy team, this pressure on NGOs caused significant disruption to the campaign activities; team members were asked by their respective organizations to withdraw from the campaign or act in their personal capacities only. The team member directly responsible for leading the research phase of the campaign was asked to act in her personal capacity, but given the upcoming Egyptian elections she found that she was unable to devote adequate time or resources to complete the research. When team member Esraa Abdel Fattah Rashid was given a Glamour “Woman of the Year” Award16 in New York in November 2011, the Jenzabar Foundation donated an additional $25,000 to support the Policy Advocates campaign in Egypt, which motivated the team and

their organizations to work together despite the external political challenges and the continued investigations and prosecutions of NGOs in Egypt. The team worked quickly to find a new researcher, who began traveling throughout Egypt conducting focus groups in the beginning of 2012, asking women their opinions on social and political issues, especially regarding their rights and the nature of their role in the Constitution. 1,000 women were interviewed over a period of four months, ranging in age from 21 – 58 years old. They were surveyed on three axes: 1) women’s roles in public and political leadership 2) economic, social and family aspects 3) and other women’s rights. After the focus groups were concluded in April 2012, the team began compiling answers, analyzing the results and putting together a list of the top demands listed by the women interviewed. During this period, both houses of the Egyptian Parliament approved the formation of a Constitutional Committee

The Egypt Policy Advocates team was the only team evenly split with male and female participants. The team felt that one of the successes of the campaign was raising men’s awareness of the issue.


 armel Delshad, “Unwanted: NGOs in Post-Revolution Egypt,” World Policy Institute, November 1, 2011, C


 arah Robbins, “Esraa Abdel Fattah, ‘Facebook Girl’: The World-Changer,” Glamour, October 31, 2011, S


The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa

tasked with preparing a constitution; the Committee consisted of equal parts members of Parliament and the general public. This decision was hotly debated within Egypt, and many felt that it was unconstitutional because it violated Article 60 of the Constitutional Declaration, which states that whoever works on the new Constitution should be elected by the Parliament but not belong to Parliament.17 The decision also violated the principle of equality between citizens, since women were not represented equally on the Committee. Since both houses of Parliament had extremely low levels of female representation, the requirement to include members of Parliament did not guarantee female representation on the committee. As a result of the exclusion of women, many decided to boycott any decisions of the Constitutional Committee, including the liberals, Copts and many other social groups. Amid all of this uncertainty, the team completed the focus groups and compiled the top results into a gender platform. The initial plan had been to submit their research findings to the Constitutional Committee. The two organizations leading the campaign held several meetings to decide whether or not it would be useful to cooperate with this Committee, eventually deciding to join the boycott of the Committee and seek other ways to present their demands and raise public awareness. In order to gain publicity for the gender platform, the team decided to hold a campaign launch event on May 30, 2012. The team targeted youth in Egypt since they are the most likely to have an effect on the Constitutional Committee. They invited a popular folklore singer who is interested in women’s issues and has toured the country collecting old folk songs about women to include in her


performance. The team also invited the NGO ACT Center for Development and a civic initiative by independent youth called Let’s Write Our Constitution to present their studies and experiences on constitutional reform to a large and enthusiastic audience. The Policy Advocates campaign, now called “Your Voice For Egypt,” also presented their research during the event. By mid-June, the Supreme Constitutional Court canceled the first Constitutional Committee and rendered all its work defunct.18 A new Constitutional Committee was formed by the end of June. Once the new Committee members were announced, the team contacted members they knew and sent the platform demands to a number of members. The team held a meeting with a Committee member who was the April 6th movement coordinator and a member of the sub-Committee of Suggestions. They also met with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party, who invited the team to present the gender platform to the full Committee on July 17, 2012. Since civil society organizations cannot petition to present their suggestions to the Constitutional Committee without invitation, the team was thrilled that they were asked to present their gender platform to the Committee. One of the team members presented the list of 14 demands and asked that the Committee respond to presentations. She also suggested that presentations be organized by theme – a suggestion which was well received by the Committee. The 14 demands asked that the Constitution: state equality for creed and gender; state women are allowed to hold all job positions, including in government; ensure women and girls in rural areas receive health services; ensure women


 Constitutional Declaration 2011 of the Arab Republic of Egypt,” Egyptian Government Portal, 2011, “


 avid Kirkpatrick, “Blow to Transition as Court Dissolves Egypt’s Parliament,” The New York Times, June 14, 2012, D html?pagewanted=all&_moc.semityn.www

The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa

account for a minimum of 40% of the parliament and shura council; criminalize acts of violence against women and punish those responsible; allow access to equal opportunities; protect women from being fired due to motherhood or marriage; give women the right to pass on Egyptian citizenship to their children; ensure women and men have freedom to choose transportation and a place to live; allocate a budget to support women; put into effect Article 11 of the Constitution of 1971; activate all articles in CEDAW; require the highlight of women’s names in electoral lists to ensure her place in local councils; and obligate each party to include a percentage of women. In coordination with their lobbying efforts and presentation to the Constitutional Committee, the team launched a media campaign. A press statement was sent to media outlets and five articles were published in the

days following their Committee hearing. The team is hopeful that there will be another wave of media coverage with the next phase of their media campaign. A Facebook page was also created to enable visitors to download all campaign documents to be used for lobbying purposes. As of September 2012, the team was developing a campaign webpage. The team prepared a statement describing the gender platform and sent it to NGOs with similar missions. Thus far, they have received signatures from eight NGOs expressing their agreement with the gender platform. The team also began working with the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) on a project on women’s constitutional rights. ECWR recently conducted a comparative constitutional study on the status of women and they invited the team to present their findings together in order

Egyptian women complete a survey describing their top priorities for women’s needs in Egypt


The Journey Through Transition: Stories of Women-Led Change in the Middle East and North Africa

to show an on-the-ground study that worked with women throughout Egypt. In order to keep the campaign in the public eye, the team decided to create a television ad that would air for one week. The team has had several meetings with a popular TV station (OTV), and hopes to air the ad at the release of the first

draft of the Constitution, along with the gender platform and comments on the Constitution, so that the public can evaluate the actions and position of the national Committee in respect to women’s rights. After the ad airs on television, the team will upload the video to Youtube and other media platforms for continued lobbying efforts.

Lessons Learned: Remain flexible! When circumstances prevent the campaign from proceeding as planned, try other avenues, connections and strategies to be effective.


To learn more about Vital Voices and the women we work with in the Middle East and North Africa, visit or contact: (email) 202.861.2625 (main) 202.296.4142 (fax)


Vital Voices - The Journey through Transition

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