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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

Yemen The Policy Advocates workshop in Amman, Jordan in February 2011 brought together six women from Yemen with diverse backgrounds—team members included journalists, NGO representatives, and businesswomen. The team discussed several different campaign topics during the workshop, and eventually settled on the issue of inheritance for women as a focal point for their advocacy efforts. The team agreed that they would work to equalize policies regarding a woman’s ability to inherent from her parents and/or spouse.

However, the February workshop in Jordan coincided with the start of the Arab Spring and a period of intense uncertainty throughout the region, including in Yemen. Although Yemen has long faced challenges resulting from a separatist movement, tribal conflicts, and Al-Qaeda activity, Yemen experienced even greater political unrest as citizens took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Violence peaked in March 2011, when the government forcefully suppressed those protests and Army snipers killed more than 45 peaceful protestors. Throughout the spring and summer, protests and violence continued throughout the country, making the establishment of the planned advocacy campaign impossible. MEPI, as a result, temporarily suspended the advocacy project activities. After over 10 months of continuous protests, the ruling and opposition parties of Yemen agreed on a settlement to help end the violence with the support of the Gulf Cooperation Council, United Nations Security Council and the European Union. The agreement, signed in November 2011, established the resignation of President Saleh and scheduled new elections for 2012, and also included the revision of the Yemeni constitution and electoral and legal processes through National Dialogue. Following the agreement and the 4

removal of President Saleh, early 2012 saw a relative calming of the situation in Yemen, and MEPI lifted the suspension. During the period of suspension, several team members had become engaged in other political transition issues and lacked the time to continue participating in this program. Vital Voices began working closely with the remaining Yemen team members in the spring of 2012 to reinitiate their advocacy campaign project. Given the change in political climate, the team decided that the project concept should be reformulated to address the new opportunity of influencing national dialogue and a revised constitution, as well concretely addressing the circumstances being faced by women in Yemen—an already poor economic environment in which only 25% of women participated in the workforce (among the lowest in the world) had been exacerbated by the conflict. Thus the initiative was redeveloped to advocate for gender equity in economic policies and procedures with decision makers in the government and major institutions, such as donor agencies and large NGOs. The campaign was designed to utilize a three-tiered approach: seminars with decision-makers, economic empowerment of women themselves through skills-building trainings, and a media campaign. The project focused on increasing opportunities for

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

employability, entrepreneurship and business growth for women. To begin, the team surveyed women in Yemen’s northern and southern areas (primarily female internally displaced persons, or, “IDPs”) in order to better understand these women’s perceptions on current aid initiatives and their major challenges in establishing or growing micro- or small businesses. The survey also served as a needs assessment for beneficiaries of potential trainings, to better understand baseline levels and provide more targeted capacity building. The survey results demonstrated the need for women’s improved access to finance, business support centers, and overall policy reform. Using this information, the team convened a gender equality workshop, bringing together over 30 key stakeholders from civil society, local and national government, and target beneficiary groups. Participants represented key influencers in public policy discussions, including leaders of the Social Fund for Development, Amal Bank for Microfinance, Yemeni Women’s Union and government officials from the National Committee for Women, and local councils. The workshop discussions resulted in the following policy and procedure recommendations to create

a more woman-friendly economic environment in Yemen: • Increase access to capital for women by establishing an open and flexible government micro and small business lending unit • Fully implement the Tenant Protection Act • Reduce tariffs on basic services for micro and small businesses • Identify a specialized center to establish a database of small and microenterprises to improve service provision and better disseminate information • Activate the role of the media in highlight and promoting targeted programs to support women-owned small and micro-enterprises • Support effective partnerships between civil society organization, the local council and the private sector • (For participating CSOs and instutitions): Commit to provide more targeted, needs-based trainings that take into account key elements of business, including marketing, human resources, customer service, and product development • Include issues of economic empowerment of women in the proreform strategy and constitution of the

Strong partnerships with public and private institutions allowed the Yemen advocacy team to ensure that their efforts after will continue in 2013, as the nation continues its public policy dialogue and constitutional drafting.


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

General Union of Yemeni Women and the National Commission for Women • Establish the Awan Social Association for Development-Aden as an incubation site for start-up womenowned businesses and to provide opportunities for these businesses to market their goods A follow up committee was formed, including private and public sector actors, to continue to monitor the implementation and advocacy of the above recommendations beyond the life of the project grant. Utilizing the recommendations, the team held two additional gender sensitization seminars in both Sana’a and Aden for key policymakers, implementers and development practitioners on the importance of integrating gender issues in their day to day work. These seminars stressed the importance of analyzing the different


development needs of women and men if sustainable development is to be achieved in Yemen. In addition to calling for increased funds, programs and trainings for women’s economic empowerment, the seminars highlighted and discussed the barriers to integrate gender into development assistance. The team leveraged the inclusion of key stakeholders in the seminars and workshops to obtain a number of oneon-one meetings with local officials. They were dedicated to getting buyin from local officials on the policy recommendations they established. After extending invitations and including a number of local policymakers in their seminars and roundtables, the team successfully recruited Governor of the Abyan Province of Yemen, as a major supporter of the project. The team met with the Governor for a targeted discussion on the policy and procedural recommendations and key measures the

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

Abyan Governate should take to improve economic opportunity for women. Through these targeted meetings and by leveraging the visibility of the seminars, the team successfully began a petition, signed by over 20 public and private sector institutions across Yemen, to advocate for the inclusion of its recommendations by development practitioners in their programming, as well as in local and national policy. Strong partnerships with public and private institutions allowed the Yemen advocacy team to ensure that their efforts after will continue in 2013, as the nation continues its public policy dialogue and constitutional drafting. These advocacy efforts were supplemented by real action—the team leveraged the learning of the needs assessment to develop a targeted women’s economic leadership and business training for 30 women, primarily from the Aden Governorate. The training lasted one week and covered integral topics including media presentation, confidence building, specific employability and vocational skills, sessions on gender equality, and rights awareness. The thirty participants received graduate certificates and signed on to become spokespeople for the advocacy efforts. Their stories, including how the training and increase in support have impacted their lives, were integral to putting a face to the advocacy efforts undertaken during the project. The team utilized traditional and social media to

highlight these success stories and open channels for discussion. The campaign used articles in traditional newspapers, online newspapers, Facebook, Twitter, and radio with the aim to highlight, create dialogue, and mobilize concerned partners to increase awareness about economic gender equity through the provision of policies and programs to enhance women’s economic empowerment. The team coordinated with a number of local and national media outlets to circulate a series of participant success stories. They also formed a partnership with Aden Al Ghad newspaper, which agreed to highlight the successes and findings of the follow-up committee. The newspaper highlighted the seminars and the skills-building opportunities to increase commitment and engagement by both beneficiaries and partners. The team also succeeded in ensuring integral follow up services to the participants of the business training workshops. This included partnering with local microfinance organizations, including GIZ and the Aidroos Association, to provide followon services and interest-free small loans to the participants of the business training workshop to start and grow their own enterprises. Through continued coordination with media outlets and partner organizations, the team intends to continue providing visibility and services to training participants and advocating for the inclusion of the policy recommendations through 2013.

Lessons Learned: Policy recommendations should be made from and for the perspectives of all key stakeholders to encourage concrete action and practical partnerships. Hosting an array of participatory events including roundtable discussions, seminars, trainings, and one-onone meetings provides a variety of opportunities for individuals across sectors and party lines to engage and contribute. 7

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 Yemen

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