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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

Lebanon Prior to the Vital Voices Advocacy Workshop led by Vital Voices in Amman, Jordan in February 2011, the Lebanon Policy Advocates team had many campaign ideas concerning issues affecting women in their country. Working with local NGO partner Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB), the participants decided that in consideration of the group’s religious and political makeup, as well as that of the country, the best strategy would be to focus on advocating for amendments to a social security law and a taxation law that had discriminatory provisions for women.

However, shortly after the team began research for their campaign, the Lebanese government amended the taxation law to eliminate discrimination against women. The team decided to rethink their advocacy strategy in order to be most effective in their campaign. The team held many meetings with government officials, NGOs, lawyers and activists in order to form relationships with stakeholders and gain knowledge about laws regarding women’s rights in Lebanon. In order to research other laws that still needed advocacy work, the team spoke with prominent judges and key people in the government, such as the former managing director of the Social Security Administration who was the person behind drafting most of the social security laws. After receiving conflicting messages from government officials about whether there was in fact discrimination against women in Lebanese law, the team met with the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering, a prominent NGO that published a report several years ago about gender discrimination in Lebanese law. Although the organization had changed its focus in subsequent years, representatives confirmed that gender discrimination still existed and suggested 4

that the team meet with an attorney who is a director for the National Commission of Lebanese Women (NCLW). The NCLW was formed by the Lebanese Government as the official body responsible for ensuring the implementation of resolutions taken at the Beijing Conference in 1995. Headed by the First Lady with a board of highly influential political and social figures, it is the official national mechanism responsible for realizing women’s advancement and gender equality in Lebanon and works specifically on issues related to women in the workforce. With this encouragement, the team scheduled a meeting with NCLW and a colleague from Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action (CDTR-A) in September 2011. At this meeting, NCLW stated that they created a campaign called “Wein Baadna” (“The Long Road Ahead”) where they identified, redrafted and submitted proposed changes to 15 gender discriminatory laws (though two were passed during the summer of 2011) in the areas of taxation, labor, social security and inheritance. Although much progress had been made by NCLW on the legal work, the Policy Advocates team (comprised of

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

The partnership between the team and NCLW gave the legal work of NCLW an energetic boost to kick-start the advocacy campaign, with all parties enthusiastic to begin working together.

Wein Baadna: The Long Road Ahead

many leaders in the business field) had not heard of these laws or campaign for the proposed changes. NCLW said that they did not have the time or capacity to focus on lobbying for the legal changes. Therefore, NCLW asked the team to help them advocate for the passage of the remaining 13 draft laws with members of Parliament and directors of relevant government bodies. NCLW also asked the team to help raise awareness of these issues with the general public and help gain the support of the NGO community. The team held several meetings with NCLW in order to gain an in-depth understanding of the 13 laws, learn about work done in the past, understand the current legal and political situation, create an action plan for 2011 and 2012 and decide upon contribution opportunities for the team. In February 2012, the team and LLWB signed a memorandum of understanding with NCLW and started implementing a threepart action plan: 1) an online awareness campaign, 2) a lobbying campaign and 3) gaining the support of civil society.

The team prioritized identifying a lawyer to join their team to lead the lobbying part of the campaign and receive training from NCLW on lobbying specifically for the remaining 13 laws.28 After interviewing three attorneys, the team decided to hire a woman who had previously worked with NCLW and has experience working on Parliamentary issues. NCLW began training her to lobby the relevant Parliamentarians, heads of government departments and ministries, and key political party officials who could influence legislative change. The team also created an online media strategy to raise awareness of their lobbying efforts. The strategy included an advocacy page on the LLWB website in English and Arabic,29 a social media campaign30 and an e-marketing campaign. The web page incorporated into the LLWB site includes an introduction about the advocacy campaign, details on the NCLW program, explanation of the current state of the laws and desired reforms and logos of prominent stakeholders. They have also made contacts with television stations, radio and magazines, hoping to get future coverage of the campaign through traditional media outlets. In March, the team met with NGOs such as AMIDEAST, Endeavour, Women in Technology and the Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering, which showed support for the campaign by circulating information to their members and supporters. They also lobbied contacts who are members of Parliament. The team met with Bank of Beirut in May


 complete list of all the gender discriminatory laws the Lebanon Policy Advocates team is currently lobbying on can be A found at


Lebanese League for Women in Business, accessed September 27, 2012,


 Lebanon Policy Advocates Campaign,� Facebook, accessed September 18, 2012, “


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

and June to initiate a partnership and potential additional financial sponsorship for the campaign and requested a meeting with the First Lady to get her support for their campaign efforts. During the spring of 2012, the growing civil conflict in Syria overshadowed much of the team’s efforts. Deadly clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli, Lebanon started in February 2012,31 along with a series of kidnappings during July and August of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon in retaliation for Shia kidnappings in Syria, increased sectarian tensions in Lebanon.32 As of early August 2012, over 35,000 Syrians refugees had fled into Lebanon, receiving protection and assistance from the Lebanese government, the UN and NGOs.33 Since many Lebanese politicians felt that basic needs such as electricity and security must take a priority, they were reluctant to spend much time focusing on gender discriminatory laws during this conflict period. In Beirut, the proximity of the clashes, influx of refugees into the country and outages of electricity and Internet have contributed to an overall sense of unpredictability and insecurity. The Lebanese warily observed each new political development and how it would affect the political stability of their country. In the meantime, the team was determined to continue their campaign as long as the relevant legislative Committees continued to meet. Despite these difficulties and the unstable political environment, the team continued to gain public support for the campaign. Unlike most social cause Facebook pages in Lebanon, which


receive a few hundred likes within the first few months, the team launched a hugely popular Facebook page with nearly 3,000 “likes” in a little over six weeks.34 The team continued to advocate among the civil society community to gain support for their efforts, hoping to partner with at least 35 additional NGOs by the end of 2012, which would allow them to reach over 6,000 individuals in the workforce. By sending email updates on the campaign, the team hopes to create a viral network of support throughout Lebanon. In May, NCLW approached the team to collaborate on another law regarding women and nationality. According to Lebanese law, a Lebanese mother is not eligible to give her nationality to her children if the father is non-Lebanese. Since this law has political and social implications affecting the sectarian divisions within Lebanon, NCLW began lobbying with the relevant political parties and discussing reforms for the law.35 In the meantime, the team plans to continue their campaign for the foreseeable future since the initial funding helped them set up key pieces for their campaign. Their online campaign has been wildly successful, growing rapidly in a matter of weeks. Their attorney has begun the lobbying campaign and is working with NCLW to learn specific information about each of the 13 remaining laws they want to change, two of which are in the final stages. She has begun identifying the main obstacles to the passage of each law, the key individuals opposing the redrafted laws, as well as knowledge of the arguments for the passage of these laws happening behind the scenes.


 Deadly clashes over Syria in Lebanese city of Tripoli,” BBC News, August 21, 2012, “


 amien Cave, “In Lebanon, Sunnis Threaten Shiites as Kidnappings of Syrians Rise,” The New York Times, August 16, D 2012,


 UN Inter-Agency Update,” United Nations High Commission for Refugees, July 27-August 3, 2012, “


“Lebanon Policy Advocates Campaign,” Facebook.


 ajor opponents of the law claim that it would disrupt the religious balance in the country, which would affect voting and M elections. Many Lebanese also do not want to give Lebanese nationality to Palestinians.

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

Finally, approximately 10 NGOs have agreed to support the campaign and disseminate the information about the laws to their members; the team plans to continue approaching other organizations to join the coalition in order to create a large network of support for the campaign. The team will apply for additional funding from the private sector in order to continue campaign activities

and anticipates broadening their scope to include other women’s labor and economic empowerment issues. During the Policy Advocates program, members of the Lebanon team had a chance to meet with the Jordan team, and were inspired by the work they are doing to implement daycare centers in corporations. The Lebanon team decided to consider this as a possible future campaign based on the success and model of the Jordan team.

Lessons Learned: Create a broad spectrum of support through contacts with NGOs, stakeholders in the private sector, and mass public awareness through social and traditional media.


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 Lebanon


Vital Voices - The Journey through Transition Lebanon