Maat Concludes a Conference on
“The Civil Society in Arab Countries and its Perspective Role in Post-Arab Spring"
December 28, 2011
Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights (Egypt), in partnership with the Study Centre for Civil Society (Palestine), and Broderskap Religious Social Democrats Movement (Sweden) organized a two-day conference on “The Civil Society in Arab Countries and its perspective role in post-Arab spring” on Dec. 19th & 20th, 2011 at ARMADA Nile Ship in Cairo.
The conference gathered a number of Arab civil society actors, researchers, non-states actors, journalists, and officials from Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan. The participants debated six working research papers that were prepared jointly by Palestinian and Egyptian researchers throughout Sep. – Nov, 2011, in Cairo and Gaza. The proposed papers covered three pillars,
1) Woman Status and anticipated role following to Arab Spring; 2) Youth Movements during and after the Arab Spring; and 3) Role of Civil Society in making the basis for the Arab Spring and assumed foreseen role.
This conference is part of the long-term partnership between Civitas, MAAT, and Broderskap which aims at developing the civil society performance and capacity in the region since 2007. Moreover, the partnership aims at broadening the experiences and knowledge of both Palestinians and Egyptians via exchange, and broadening learning opportunities towards improving the overall performance of civil society, in order to play a meaningful role in the foreseen democratic transition.
The conference addressed four main themes:
- Gender: The Palestinian Case presented by the researcher and activist Iman Shannan (Palestine), and the Egyptian case presented by the activist Hala Morgan (Egypt).
- Youth Political Movement: Two working papers presented by researchers Walaa Gad Al-Kareem (Egypt) and Ramy Morad (Palestine).
- The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Post-Arab spring: Two working papers presented by The Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Maat Ayman Okeil (Egypt), the researcher and activist Tayseer Meheisen (Palestine).
- The Role of the Arab Media in Promoting the National Dimension of the Arab Revolutions and the Fight Against Political Corruption: Presented by Reem Obeidat ( Jordan), the first president of the UNESCO, Chair for Women and the Media in the Gulf States and the Jordanian media expert, and Mohamed Al-Baba, Palestinian journalist.
The conference included small working groups which discussed the recommendations in order to be presented to decision makers, parties and political forces, civil society organizations and the media to serve the goals of democratization and peaceful transition of power and the benefit of the Arab Citizen.
Recommendations resulted from the Conference:
The Recommendations focused on the need to reform the regulatory environment and change the laws that stifling freedoms in the Arab region to serve the goals of the advancement of women and youth empowerment, promotion of social role of civil organizations. The participants also stressed on the need to focus on civic organizations during the transition to ensure the integrity of the process of democratization, such as communal tensions and low awareness of the political and economic damage.
The most important recommendation resulted from the conference was to broaden the base of collaborative work between the institutional and civil society organizations in the Arab region in the next phase.
Maat is a grantee of the Foundation for the Future since 2009
RDC Concludes a Workshop on "the New Media Tools and Advocacy Campaigns"
December 22, 2011
The Resources for Development Centre (RDC) in Egypt has completed a 2-day workshop on “New Media Tools and Advocacy Campaigns”. The workshop was conducted on December 16-17, 2011 in Minya, in the context of the Reform 2.0 project, supported by the Foundation for the Future.
Reform 2.0 project is very much invested in the Egyptian youth, who has been eager to answer to the challenges brought in by the January 25th Revolution. Reform 2.0 is an Egyptian initiative to tackle issues of political and socioeconomic reform. Reform 2.0 is designed to enable new generation of activists affiliated to pro democracy NGOs, political parties, and socioeconomic movements to use internet in building constituency, civic participation, political membership, voting, advocacy, and public engagement.
The workshop was attended by 32 participants including youth activists, included university students, representatives of parties and civil society organization working in fields of human rights, youth political engagement and women empowerment. Parity was respected as the number of female attendees exceeded the male representation (17 female, 15 male).
The 2-day training program was built on two main components. The first one was political and included the issues of New media definition, new media criteria, identity question on virtual space, advocacy campaigns, preparing and developing advocacy campaigns, and so forth. The second component was technical and included the use of internet for advocacy campaigns, how to implement effective campaigns via Facebook, models of advocacy campaigns via Facebook, practical applications via Facebook, and so forth. At the end of the workshop, an evaluation form was distributed and the participants received attendance certificates.
Some of the points that created interesting and critical debates during the two- day workshop:
· Identity question on virtual space after years of former regime aggression on public space.
· What is the number of famous pages via Facebook reflect: Useless or activism.
· Impact of fast application development on connection all new media tools like: Facebook, Yahoo,
Google+ twitter, linked in and E-press …
At the end of the second day participants were divided into three working groups to conceptualize three advocacy campaigns using new media tools through three Facebook pages:
· Second Egyptian revolution on 25 Jan. 2012.
· Together …to change.
· We…create perfection.
The Resources for Development Center (RDC) is an independent think-tank and consultancy organization dedicated to the advancement of sustainable human development in Egypt and the Arab region through the promotion of Democracy, Good governance and the Rule of Law. RDC was founded in 2005. With an overarching concern for women, youth and disadvantaged groups, RDC seeks to address developmental challenges by targeting three overlapping sectors: Promotion & Protection of Human Rights; Civic & Political Participation; and Accountability & Transparency.
French Ambassador in Amman Honors Tamkeen Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights
December 15, 2011
Foundation for the Future partner Tamkeen Centre for Legal Aid and Human Rights received early this month the French Republic's “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” Award in recognition of its efforts in defending the rights of vulnerable groups.
On the occasion of International Day of Human Rights, the award ceremony was organized with the presence of French Minister of State and Minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé. Mr. Juppé highlighted that the prize aims to acknowledge Tamkeen’s efforts in defending the rights of foreign domestic workers in Jordan and encourage the centre to continue its work.
French Ambassador in Amman Corinne Breuze held a press conference at her residence last Wednesday, to honor Linda Kalash, President of Tamkeen, to express the appreciation of the French government for Jordan’s advancement on areas of migrant workers, and to confirm its commitment towards human rights.
Linda Kalash, President and founder of Tamkeen center dedicated her time and effort to helping migrant workers in Jordan obtain their basic human rights. She has successfully proven that governments and civil society organizations can work together effectively to reach their goals.
Tamkeen Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights was established in 2007 to ensure conditions under which migrants are employed are just and in line with international human rights standards. It is the only non profit organization in Jordan providing legal aid exclusively to migrants. Thus, it protects the Human Rights of this segment of workers and promotes the rule of law. This is being done through working on legal advocacy with different governmental entities and the use of media to ensure related legislations are activated and implemented. In addition to providing legal aid to migrant workers either through using mediation, legal consultations, addressing official authorities or legal representation, building the capacity of legal practitioners, research and documentation on issues related to migrant workers in Jordan and raising awareness among migrant workers, employers and recruitment agencies.
Tamkeen is being funded by the Foundation for the Future since the beginning of 2011. A new funding for 2012 was approved recently by the Foundation Board of Directors in recognition of the great work done and result achieved by the Center.
Pakistan’s The Nation Newspaper highlights the work of the Sindh Community Foundation
December 8, 2011
Following the 2010-2011 floods in parts of Pakistan, Sindh Community Foundation, a grantee of FFF since 2010, has conducted a seminar entitled “Impact of Floods 2010-11 on Students in Sindh”. The purpose of this action is to shed light and reflect on the overwhelming situation of at least 12,138 students of Sindh University since the floods.
Many students are indeed in difficult financial situation as their families have been relocated to relief camps after having lost their livelihood. Flood-hit students are consequently at risk of dropping out, which would also have negative consequences for the state as many would remain uneducated. The seminar attendees therefore called for the Sindh government to support students finish their degrees.
Sindh Community Foundation is a CSO working on youth empowerment through trainings on issues of democracy, civic participation, human rights and so forth. It is currently implementing the FFF-funded project entitled: “Strengthening Youth Participation and leadership for promoting and protecting Human rights and democracy in Sindh”. The project is involving youth in social activism to promote and protect the human rights and democratic values to be adopted by youth in the political sphere of Pakistan.
FFF Grantee (ACT) in Egypt Receives Madeleine K. Albright Grant
November 28, 2011
NDI presented its $25,000 Madeleine K. Albright Grant to Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development (ACT), a woman's rights organization in Egypt. Nearly 700 guests attended the awards event.
"We helped make the revolution. Now we want to shape the society that will emerge," said Dr. Azza Kamel, director of ACT, who accepted the award on behalf of the organization. "Working together, we can achieve what seemed impossible a few short months ago — democratic rights for all and the proper place of women in Egypt's public life."
To read the whole article on NDI website click her
Ramallah Center for Human Rights & Arab Network for Tolerance Organize the 6th Annual Tolerance Art Exhibit on the Occasion of the International Day for Tolerance on November 16th, 2011
16 November 2011
Ramallah- Palestine, Ramallah Center for Human Rights and the Arab Network for Tolerance Organize the 6th Annual Tolerance Art Exhibit on the Occasion of the International Day for Tolerance on November 16th, 2011 in the West Bank and Gaza. The Exhibition will continue until Sunday 19th, 2011.
To read more about the Exhibition, please visit WEBSITE
AMFED Organizes a Second Training Workshop on Media Coverage Scenarios for the Upcoming Elections
October 31, 2011
With the support of the foundation for the future, the Arab Media Forum for Environment & Development (AMFED) in cooperation with the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University has organized the second Training Workshop “Media Coverage Scenarios for the Upcoming Elections” on Oct. 23- 25, 2011. This training comes as part of the Program on “Media Monitoring to Promote Democracy through the Transitional Phase in Egypt”.
This Training focused on developing core skills to more than 55 media youth practitioners from different communication divisions such as printed media, radio & television. This training was also attended by a number of media personalities and TV figures, in addition to electronic media representatives from six selected Governorates (Greater Cairo, Alexandria, Sharqia, Suez, Menya, and Qena). This workshop aimed at developing the participants’ skills to enable them to professionally monitor and report the upcoming elections.
The opening session saw a number of prominent civil society activists who shared their views and expertise on the media coverage process in the region. Ms. Randa Fouad, president of AMFED stated that “the idea of establishing Media Monitoring Unit for the Parliamentary & Presidential elections would be considered one of the essential priorities of the media through the current Transitional Phase in Egypt”.
Mr. Salah Eissa, Editor of Chief of Cairo Newspaper argued “the upcoming elections would witness many of new phenomena created by January Revolution”, he added “which would be displayed in a rise of a wide sections of the past silent majority, who was reluctant to participate in the previous general elections. This silent majority was mainly made of young people and segments of the lower classes”.
Dr. Hassan Emad, Dean of Faculty of Mass Communications, Cairo University highlighted the role played by his Faculty being a regional expert in the field of Media studies. He considered that “ the whole world would be waiting and keeping an eye during the next few months on the electoral process in Egypt and will monitor the performance of the media, which would require us all to commit to professionalism in the work considering it the only way to achieve credibility and professionalism during the media coverage”.
Dr. Mahmoud Alam El-Deen, Professor of Journalism at the Faculty of Mass Communications, Cairo University announced at the closing session the launch of the “Training Manual for media coverage through the elections of the transitional Phase in Egypt”. He added, “Publishing the Training Manual at this time would be critical evidence as a guidance tool to the media practitioners”. He also clarified that the content of the manual resulted from an in-depth discussions with media, political and public figures in a High Profiled Round Table Discussion, in addition to the recommendations that have resulted from the First Media Training Workshop.
Mossawah Center for Civil Society Development launches a Research Study on the Political Participation of Youth and Women in Mafraq, Jordan
October 26, 2011
Mossawah Center for Civil Society Development launched a research study on the political participation of youth and women in the Mafraq. This one of a kind research study in Mafraq, was funded by foundation for the Future and aimed to identify the reality of political participation of youth and woman with a focus on the forms and levels of political participation as well as the obstacles they face, and reviewed mechanisms to increase the level of participation and activate their role.
Mr. Suleiman Khawaldeh, head of the center stated that this study will be a reference for interested professionals, researchers and civil society organizations.
To read the research study, please click here
Reform 2.0 Youth Take Actions for Egypt Democratic Transition
October 31, 2011In the context of Reform 2.0 project, supported by the Foundation for the Future and implemented by Resources for Development Center, a training program on Egypt Democratic Transition to two different groups of active youth on October 15- 18, 2011.Each group consisted of 30 participants from university students, specializing in mass communications and political science, and representatives of civil society organizations working in fields of human rights, youth political engagement and women empowerment.
YCCR Releases a Set of Recommendations for the Attainment of a Civil State
October 20, 2011
Yemeni Center for Civil Rights organized a workshop entitled “Political and Legislative Guarantees of the Civil State in Yemen” on October 7th, 2011, in Hodeidah. This workshop came as part of the second phase of the project funded by Foundation for the Future on “Reform in Yemen: National Discussions on Initiatives of Unity”. The project contributes in providing solutions for the current political predicament in Yemen and maintaining its unity and stability, through creating a nationwide debate on political reform initiatives.
The workshop was attended by more than sixty participants from different social groups, where they reviewed background papers and discussed the current political situation. A number of recommendation resulted from this meeting that emphasized the efforts and initiatives to be taken for the next step.
The participants confirmed their complete refusal of using religious Fatwa in political conflict.
The participants strongly agreed that a Yemeni Constitution, based on equality and indiscrimination, is to be the sole social contract reference for the citizens.
The participants took notice that a democratic, civil state is the common denominator of the calls by the majority of the people, and is considered the solution for the current political stagnation.
The participants agreed that reducing the power of the tribe, the sheikhs, the military and the religious scholars are the first step to the modern civil state.
The participants called upon the international community to uphold its responsibilities in building a new Yemen that reflects the values of democracy, human rights, equal citizenship and true participation.
The participants regarded gender equality and indiscrimination as one of the most important factors of building a modern civil state.
The participants reflected on the advancement of the Judiciary and its complete independence as one of the main pillars of establishing a modern civil state.
Youth Development Organization Releases an Electronic Forum and Newspaper "Sharek" in Partnership with FFF
Youth Development Organization (YDO) releases an electronic forum and newspaper "Sharek" part of the project entitled Enhancing Yemeni Youth Understanding of the Concepts of Citizenship and Democracy, in the City of Taiz, funded by the Foundation for the Future (FFF).
This electronic forum and newspaper aims at raising awareness of youths about the concepts of citizenship and democracy through an electronic library that includes a number of books, documents and reports about citizenship, democracy and youths' political participation.
To read the press release, click English - Arabic
For more information about YDO, please visit WEBSITE
Afghan Women’s Network, First Foundation’s Grantee in Afghanistan
9 September 2011
In August, the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) officially initiated the project “Women as Decision Makers – Enhancing Effective Women Participation in the Political and Peace Processes in Afghanistan”, becoming the first grantee of the Foundation for the Future in the country.
Operating since 1995 as a non-partisan network of women and women’s NGOs working to empower Afghan women and ensure their equal participation in Afghan society, AWN is now a cluster of 84 organizations and over 5,000 individual members. The idea of establishing a network to promote unity and cooperation among Afghan women originated from the participation of Afghan women rights activists to the UN 4th World conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The network has progressively built its reputation and effectiveness by undertaking various networking, advocacy and lobbying campaigns aimed at creating gender policies for NATO-led provincial reconstruction, improving security and protection of Afghan women, fostering the equal representation of women in the political process or protecting their social and economic rights.
AWN is now a leading voice in Afghanistan on issues such as gender-based violence, girls’ education and youth empowerment. In 2010, the network organized a well-attended 2-day parallel meeting on the occasion of the High Peace Jirga (council) meeting, and has been striving ever since to advocate for women to have a say in political decision-making and peace negotiations. General director Afifa Azim is well known for a long-standing engagement towards women’s rights and children’s rights.
The challenge for the inclusion of women in the Afghan society is immense: a recent survey of more than 200 international gender experts has found that Afghanistan is the most dangerous country in the world for women, far ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia. Threats on women are many, ranging from sexual and non-sexual violence to health threats, lack of access to educational and economic resources, ingrained gender stereotypes or hostile cultural and tribal practices. International human rights groups have extensively reported on the recent deteriorating situation for women’s rights in Afghanistan, highlighting that while the plight of women and girls under the Taliban have generated international sympathy a decade ago, and much progress was made then, “women’s rights have not been a consistent priority of the government or its international backers (…) the gains made by Afghan women and girls since 2001 in areas such as education, work, and freedom of movement are under serious threat” (Human Rights Watch).
Women who speak out and take on public roles – police officers, members of parliament, journalists - are often the targets and victims of violent acts of intimidation, which remain largely unpunished due to an environment of impunity for gender-based crimes. Even so, AWN believes that change will come if more women role models emerge – in politics in particular. Indeed, and as stated by the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, “without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspectives at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved”. This is particularly true in recent months in Afghanistan: at a time when the dialogue between various factions and groups is reopened, political and institutional arrangements are being negotiated with limited inclusion and consultation of women leaders, creating the risk of political marginalization and a lost momentum for women.
The “Women as Decision-Makers” project intends precisely to impact the state of affairs in Afghanistan by promoting the political empowerment of women and increasing their participation in the national peace process, targeting existing or potential women leaders from various backgrounds (High Peace Council, parliament, local councils, civil society, etc). Over the course of this 15-month initiative, AWN will make use of the grant provided by the Foundation for the Future to build the capacity of the 9 women who sit on the High Peace Council meetings. These women, as well as others who show potential and willingness to become leaders, will be guided by a network of over 50 female leaders and MPs, who will contribute by sharing their experience of pro-gender equality advocacy and leadership skills. AWN hopes that at the end of this process, at least 20 women will be ready to take on national political leadership roles and advocate for gender equality. In parallel, AWN will monitor the High Peace Council activities and decisions, will train observers to monitor the Parliamentary sessions, and will provide technical assistance to female leaders by sharing successful experiences from other countries. And because long-term change will not be sustained without a change in mentalities and mindsets, the network will also coordinate a vast national media campaign – seconded by numerous community mobilization events in Kabul, Herat, Jalalabad and Parwan provinces- on women and peace.
As the leading women network and advocacy center in Afghanistan, AWN is a strong first partner for the Foundation for the Future in the country. “The Afghan Women’s Network has an impressive and successful track record in implementing campaigns and projects that advance the cause of women in Afghanistan” says Aya Maraqa, Grant Officer for West Asia at the Foundation. “AWN is a very committed women-led network, an endogenous group with nationwide outreach, firm principles of action and technical expertise on the interaction between women’s rights, democracy and peace. This is essential to bring positive change through experience sharing at two levels: national political engagement and grassroots community mobilization. Supporting their work will also allow us, at the Foundation for the Future, to gain a better knowledge of civil society development and women issues in Afghanistan, as these are some of the key challenges facing the country today”. Fully aware of the highly fragile situation in Afghanistan, the Foundation foresees a prudent development of its activities in the country, despite an increasing demand for support.
For more information, visit www.afghanwomennetwork.af
Pakistan- PILDAT Assesses Quality of Democracy
Afghan Women’s Network, First Foundation’s Grantee in Afghanistan
Islamabad, September 15, 2011; The Democracy Assessment Group (DAG), convened by PILDAT, has cautioned that poor governance and economic disarray in the country are weakening the consensus on democracy. To prevent the erosion of this important consensus, citizens themselves bear a heavy responsibility to engage with and strengthen the democratic system. Citizens need to increase their political activism and constructive engagement with the political process.
To read the whole article: http://www.pildat.org/eventsdel.asp?detid=495
Egypt - First Successes for “Reform 2.0”
August 31, 2011
On June 6, 2010, police forces in Cairo brutally beat and murdered Egyptian blogger Khalid Said. The killing prompted the creation of the “We Are All Khalid Said” Facebook page, which subsequently served as an online space for collaboration and as a catalyst for youth mobilization in Egypt in recent months. Similar uprisings across the region have helped to bring the internet to new levels of political relevancy in the Middle East.
Long before uprisings and popular protests started to tip the political balance in the Middle East, the Cairo-based Resources for Development Center (RDC) understood the powerful tool for political mobilization that internet could be, sidestepping official restrictions on freedoms of expression, speech and opinion. RDC developed the ‘Reform 2.0’ project, thanks to a grant from the Foundation for the Future, and with the ambition to train 100 NGOs and 10,000 young internet users to advocate for change. Less than six months after the initiation of the project, RDC has already trained dozens of youth to develop online advocacy groups and campaigns, and drawn over 1,500 members – from Egypt and beyond - to the project’s Facebook page.
The following is a selected sample of the success stories already generated by the project after a first series of trainings in governorate of Alexandria, and another illustration of the contribution that engaged Egyptian youth can bring to the political and civic debate, provided they are given the tools and the chance to do so.
The Shayfak (“I’m watching you”) Group: this network of young citizens from Alexandria was created under the supervision and guidance of two human rights specialists, Ahmed Said (psychologist) and Eslam Arafaa (activist from the Alexandria Center for Human Rights). The group has the laudable but challenging goal to make Alexandria a democratic, safe and pleasant city – “to make it the bride of the Delta”, as they say. Through the Shayfak group they encouraged young people to use their technological “weapons” – camera, mobile phones, etc. - to officially report and denounce acts of corruption and injustice. The group also organizes online fundraising campaign, such as the civic initiative recently launched to support the families of the victims who died in the protests that led to the Egyptian Revolution earlier this year. The group is also vigilant on the role of the armed forces, reporting any abuse of authority against peaceful civilians and demonstrators.
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/246216028722900/
The Free Bird Forum: When Sara Refaee –a political activist from “Sahebt El- Kheer Association”– created the Free Bird Forum, she wanted to campaign for political awareness and encourage people to be active citizens. In her opinion, political change is meaningful and sustainable only if initiated by the citizens themselves. She moved forward by creating a group called “Baladna Hattghayer Ben’a”, (“Our country will be changed by us”), which acts as an open forum of discussion where Alexandrian youth can share their opinions and perceptions about the meaning of political change. The group focuses on the positive achievements which have followed the Revolution, on the possibilities for further changes brought in by the Revolution itself, as well as on the monitoring and detection of the shortcomings and negative aspects still existing in the Egyptian political life and institutions.
Ana Mosh Mo’ak (“I Am Not Disabled”) Group: Islam Jamal and Mohamed Fathalla, both professionals from the Alexandria Center for Services and Development, launched this group to foster the rights of people with disabilities. The message is that everyone has the right to achieve its dreams and the group aims to mobilize the community and give disabled citizens the opportunity to give voice to their needs. This is a pressing but often undermined or “forgotten” issue in the country, and in the region at large. By coalescing demands and support for the cause, the group acts as an online advocacy center, and has already made its claims heard to local authorities.
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/ ???-??-????-???-?????-???-????/2149889
Thakafa wa Wa’ay (“Culture and Knowledge”) Group: When Radwa Abd El Fattah –from the Haby Center for Environmental Rights– created this group, he wanted to shed light on the issue of environmental rights. Radwa is a beacon and a pioneer: the awareness and sympathy for environmental causes is still low in Egypt. Radwa started his online campaign with a simple question: “our environment is neglected and needs a revolution, is there any protest?”. A forum and dialogue has started, specifically targeting young citizens and raising awareness on what can and should be done to protect the environment. Radwa has encouraged and spurred the environmental discussion by organizing roundtables on environmental problems. During these meetings participants have been able to critically analyze the role and activities of concerned authorities, to discuss what can be done to preserve natural resources, fight environmental pollution and deliver environmental awareness among citizens. Radwa went as far as trying to put the youth group directly in touch with the Ministry of Environment.
Informed citizenship. Political engagement. Rights of persons with disabilities. Environmental rights. These were issues hardly heard of in Egypt until a few months ago. What Reform 2.0 has already achieved is to support the emergence of free spaces of self-expression initiated by youth and channeling demands and specific concerns of the population. In a country where 29% of the population is aged between 15 and 29, this project is only providing youth with positive outlets, but will harness their energy to impact Egypt as it currently hangs in the delicate balance of democratic transition.
Reforms in Morocco: "Evolution" more than "Revolution" according to Association Initiative Urbaine
The original version of this article is available in French. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of the Foundation for the Future.
The popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have initiated a vast movement for freedom and reform that has been affecting many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Morocco. On February 20, the first protest took place in the country, and was the first step in a surge of non-violent pro-democracy demands. On June 16, King Mohammed VI delivered an expected speech, in which he detailed an ambitious program of constitutional and political reform. Following a national consultation which began in March and a commission under the chairmanship of lawyer Abdeltif Menouni, the announced measures could lead to the emergence of a constitutional monarchy in Morocco. They include: a wide devolution of the executive power to the Prime Minister and an expansion of the rights and powers of Parliament; a preamble asserting the primacy of universal rights such as freedom of worship, freedom of expression, equality between men and women, tolerance, prohibition of torture; the principle of independence of the judiciary; the recognition of distinct linguistic and cultural rights of the Berber (Amazigh) community. Historical gains for some, institutionalization of “soft authoritarianism” for others. On July 1, the proposed constitutional reforms were endorsed through popular referendum by 98% of the votes, with a voter turnout above 72%.
Casablanca, the economic capital of the kingdom, has been one of the main locations of the protest movement. A city well-known to the Association Initiative Urbaine, who has been working for nine years in the low-income district of Hay Mohammedi. Hay Mohammedi is a combination of slums and workers’ neighborhoods, and symbolizes the contradictions of modern Morocco: a pocket of poverty and exclusion with 156,000 inhabitants, near the fast-growing Casablanca. School dropout, insalubrity, illiteracy, unemployment: the problems are countless and the need for youth participation and active citizenship has never been so high. It is a need that local civil society groups have decided to take on.
Abdeljalil Bakkar, President of the association, shared with the Foundation for the Future his views on the current situation in Morocco. Long-time activist, Bakkar is himself from the district of Hay Mohammedi. For over ten years, he has been making great strides to mobilize citizens throughout the area, so that practical solutions can be found to respond to local needs.
A new constitution has been approved by referendum. What do you think are the most significant reforms?
I personally think it is better to discuss the new constitution as a whole rather than this or that detail or measure. To do this, it will take time. The comparison between the old and the new constitution makes me to say that the King had courage while proposing these changes: the idea to consult with political parties, trade unions, civil society and various stakeholders remains a first-of-its-kind effort in the country, even if the process could have been even more comprehensive and inclusive.
Morocco has taken a major step towards a true constitutional democracy: the Prime Minister will have more power and will be accountable for national policies and choices, which is what we have been demanding for many years. It is certainly not enough, but it is a step forward by law. Things will follow their course, and the Constitution can always be revised and amended with experience. We can then specify the "who does what", judge what was done and plan what needs to be done.
All is not yet in place for this to work immediately. Political parties for example, have lost much of their legitimacy among the population. There have been cases of corruption, favoritism, collusion with too many investment groups and also in too close proximity to the Executive. Few have held their political line, to the point that today we can not make a difference between right-wing parties and leftist parties, those in government and those in opposition. Their programs are similar. We will have to deal with this because it is a reality in Morocco today. In my opinion, we can accept this democratic process to start with the same political parties and think about how to democratize the parties internally later on, to make them more representative and more inclusive of youth and women in particular.
Another reality that must change in Morocco is impunity. The judiciary has to become a real power, and its autonomy must be recognized in the new constitution. It is the only way for us to fight abuses of power and discrimination, and ensure full equality before the law.
The "Arab Spring" is mainly marked by radical and sometimes abrupt political changes (as in Tunisia) or by conflict (Libya, Yemen, Syria). Morocco is one of the few countries that have chosen the path of dialogue. Some even talk about a "negotiated transition to democracy" or "soft revolution". Do you agree with this?
Revolution against whom? In Morocco, no one challenged the regime itself, but a system. Only the movement "al wa al ALDE ihassane"-the Islamist movement that is not recognized by the regime-and some small extreme left parties demand a change without the monarchy. The other parties and the components of the so-called “February 20” protest movement call for more freedom, and demand that the King reigns but does not govern. This is now enshrined in the new constitution, although timidly.
Why is it so? What distinguishes Morocco from other Arab countries?
Why is change happening more smoothly in Morocco? Probably because there has already been efforts in recent decades. Let’s not forget that Morocco has conducted several political reforms since the 1990's. Let’s remember the appointment of Abderrahman El Youssoufi as prime minister in 1998; he was from the opposition party and was chosen to run the country at a time of political and economic crisis. Then there was the national reconciliation process and the acknowledgment of human rights violations of the years 1970-1990, the "years of lead". This is a beginning of justice and reparation.
These efforts make quite a difference today.
What may also explain the absence of "revolution" in Morocco is that the King has never been exposed to the dark side of the political game. When he was only Crown Prince, he was not involved in politics. He worked for the poor, the disabled, and it earned him a very positive reputation when he was crowned. He also dismissed some important figures of the old regime, and allowed for oppositions leaders such as Abraham Serfaty to return from exile.
Finally, Morocco has taken seriously the issue of economic and social development. In May 2005, a comprehensive national program of poverty alleviation was launched. In Tangier, a port is being built, the Tangier Med, which will be the largest in Africa. European industrialists are opening factories. Highways are built. Policies for renewable energy and energy independence are adopted.
Homes - nearly 200,000 - are built for low-income families. The role of civil society and associations is increasingly recognized. The Family Code (mouwadana) has been reformed, with considerable progress for women's rights. For me, all these projects have helped to "soften the blow" during the Arab Spring.
I would add also that what has fueled the revolution in Arab countries is the humiliation of the people - something that analysts and media neglect to mention. The daily humiliation, through the media, government, schools, universities, hospitals, transport, police and others. People lived in "Humiliocracies", institutionalized humiliation. Not in Democracy. What shocked Bouazizi in Tunisia was probably not the confiscation of his cart, but being slapped by a civil servant.
The most important reform movement that emerged in Morocco, especially after the call for protest of February 20, 2011, is particularly active in Casablanca, where the Initiative Urbaine is working. This movement has also built on claims of dignity and social justice for the most disadvantaged populations. What is its echo in neighborhoods such as Hay Mohammedi?
Not much after all. The February 20 movement itself has not had much resonance in our neighborhood, except for a sit-in outside the headquarters of the municipality to demand the resignation of its President. The local youth took part in protests at first, but the motivation faded away. These young people were not sufficiently accompanied to take part in the movement. I regret that the involvement of youth from neighborhoods such as Hay Mohammedi was not sought more.
I also regret the call to boycott the referendum. Instead, it was important to push the Moroccans to give their opinion! Let them say yes or no, but let them vote! We need young people in particular understand the stakes of an election. In future general elections, they will have to choose good representatives, and that's how real change can happen.
The project that you implement with a grant from the Foundation for the Future specifically addresses this need for civic and political participation at the local level, and you strive in particular to include young people in local civic dialogue. Tell us a little more about this project.
The "city of children" is an action set up in Hay Mohammedi in partnership with the council and the delegation of the Ministry of Education. It is about involving 500 children aged 8 to 12 to take part in local decision-making by offering opportunities for them to express their opinions and wishes on key local governance issues such as health, education, environment, infrastructure, etc.
The “Children Town Council” will be composed of 20 boys and girls, elected by their peers, and will be responsible for representing children with elected authorities. The idea is to bring adults to see development and change from the perspective of children, in a concerted and multi-stakeholder action. It's an idea we have matured over many years.
This project began precisely when the movement of democratization started in Morocco. Has this had an impact on your approach and your ambitions?
Indeed, the establishment of the "city of children" in Hay Mohammedi coincided with new political and social dynamics, and we see that the attitude of the authorities and mentalities have started to change. Authorities agreed to take part in the project, albeit with some reluctance at first. The steering committee includes six representatives of the municipality and the Ministry of Education. And we feel they start to believe it is possible to replicate the experience of the “City for Children” at the level of Greater Casablanca.
Today, with another program in Morocco, we are currently considering the creation of a youth municipal council involving young men and women aged 18 to 25, with similar approaches and methodology.
What are the key issues of political development for months and years ahead in Morocco?
The challenges of the coming months are numerous, as the deficit in Morocco is evident at all levels. We need to reinvest in areas that the state had neglected: health, education, vocational training, economic integration, and youth. At this condition only can we meet the needs of the Moroccan economy and its emergence in the global economy.
As I said, impunity is also a major problem. We have to give more freedom to the media and real independence to the judiciary.
Finally, the heart of the problem is still social injustice. Wealth should be distributed fairly, and the monopolistic control over resources and wealth must end. Economic power and political power also have to be disconnected.
Above all, Morocco has to find a path and a place of its own in the world. Surpass of the influences of old and new systems of "colonization". Give everybody a place in society, as a producer and actor, not just as a beneficiary and consumer. We must come to our senses, this world is shared by all its inhabitants, rich or poor, everyone should have a seat at the decision-making table.
Of course, there is much to do. The voice of Moroccans has to be heard by policy-makers and all government institutions have to become truly representative. But - and I will repeat here the words of Prince Hicham, a cousin of King Mohammed VI, who met recently with French journalists -: there will be an Evolution in Morocco, not a Revolution.
The Association Initiative Urbaine was established in March 2002 by local youth Hay Mohammedi. Defining itself as a neighborhood association, it offers various services and activities for young people and women to develop their strengths, talents and abilities. With a grant from the Foundation for the Future, the association has been implementing since March 2011 a project to promote civic participation of youth in Hay Mohammedi.
New Study on Youth and Women Civic and Political Participation in Mafraq to be Released by Mossawah
The Mossawah Center for Civil Society Development, one of the Foundations grantees in Jordan, published this month the findings of their recent in-depth study of political involvement in the Mafraq governorate of Jordan. This study took the ground-breaking approach of recruiting some of the most politically marginalized members of society- youth- to join the process of polling almost 1,500 individuals in 15 districts of the governorate about issues of political participation, especially among women and youth.
Mafraq, located in north eastern Jordan, is known more for its large expanses of desert, strong influences of conservatism and tribalism, and low income levels, than for its role in national politics. In fact, a strong impetus for the study to be undertaken was the lack of other information or statistics concerning political participation in the governorate. This study allowed Mossawah to gain a more accurate view of political engagement in Mafraq, positioning them to more effectively deal with the issue.
A general impression confirmed by the study is that, paradoxically, political awareness is limited in the governorate (with 2% of those polled participating in political parties and 6% believing that parties could play a role in raising political awareness) even though formal political participation is usually high, with 59% of survey respondents taking part in the last election and 69% intending to do so in upcoming ones. “Politics” is understood in a restrictive way –elections, mainly – and elected officials are generally perceived as mere service providers. The subject can even be taboo for certain citizens, who would be resistant to sharing opinions.
As the study made evident, the low levels of political participation in Mafraq are specifically concentrated amongst women and youth. While a significant percentage of women in Mafraq vote, 66% of those voting choose the candidate dictated by their tribe, and can face extreme consequences such as divorce for opposing this choice. An important contribution of the study is precisely to highlight such peculiarities in the voting patterns, which can significantly differ from large urban centres and Amman, the capital. However, the lack of female participation in politics can be attributed to not only male domination of the election process, but a deep-seated bias, as only 3% of those polled (including women) trust other women in positions of political leadership. “This was an interesting and surprising finding for us” explain Sulaiman Al Khawaldeh, project director at Mossawah. “A key obstacle to women political participation is the resistance from women themselves to envisage other women as capable when holding positions of power”.
On the contrary, youth marginalization can be attributed to the consequences that civic or political engagement can raise. Mazen, a young activist working with Mossawah to carry out field research and survey, explained that it is a common perception that any record of involvement in a political party could compromise one’s opportunity of employment in the army or civil service. In a country with 13% of the population unemployed, and more than half of these being youth, and in a region where a significant amount of the employment is in the army, these are extreme consequences indeed. “At first even I was resistant to get involved in the project, as I was warned by my family against possible consequences,” explained Mazen, “but with time my perception changed.”
For Mossawah, it was important to involve pairs of young men and women in the door-to-door survey right from the beginning of the process: “We organize the project like this to encourage youth participation. We like working with youth because they approach the project with a refreshing energy and eagerness to learn. We also know that by including them directly in the survey taking process they are gaining a very personal awareness of politics in the region and it makes them feel like they have a stake in their community. By involving youth we have the global objective of contributing to the emergence of a new generation of activists in Mafraq that understand governance and politics in a new way, and want to spread that understanding.”
The results of the Mossawah study will help the Center plan further outreach events, including sharing the findings of the survey with youths and communities, reaching out to local civil society organizations, and hosting dialog sessions and art contests to build political awareness. Mossawah’s efforts are extremely timely from both a national and a regional perspective. Jordanian municipal elections are likely to take place later in the year, and Mossawah will encourage new segments of society to participate. Mossawah is also helping to sustain a regional trend in which marginalized populations are finding their voices in the uprisings of the Arab Spring, and demanding more inclusive democracies.
The Mossawah Center for Civil Society has been receiving a grant from the Foundation since March 2011 to implement a project entitled “Enhancing Awareness on the Importance of Effective Political Participation of Youth and Women in Mafraq Governorate”.
Project ‘Smart Vote’ Engages Pakistani Youth in Hands-On Democratic Participation Training
7 July, 2011
The Development Dimensions Society (DDS), an NGO based in Lahore, Pakistan, recently held 4 launching ceremonies for 5 districts for their newest initiative, Project Smart Vote. The DDS was established in 2006 for the purpose of engaging children and youth in Pakistan to become active citizens, and creating an equitable society in which they have equal opportunities to realize their full potential. Through their most recent project they will be offering hands-on political awareness training to youth, teaching them about the democratic process by helping them engage in local government for the betterment of their communities.
Tahir Mahmood, Manager of Project Smart Vote, spoke about the importance of this project to the 139 attendees of the launching ceremony in Kasur. “Our youth are one of our country’s greatest assets, and they have the ability to bring about real change,” said Mahmood. “Through this project they will be putting pressure on their elected officials to pay attention to the issues facing their communities, and along the way will be learning more about the democratic process.”
Project Smart Vote is a six month initiative which will engage 75 youth, aged 18 to 35, in five districts of the Punjab and Khyberpakhtunkhwa provinces. The main purpose of the project is to educate youth about the principles of democracy by actually getting them involved in their local governments to enact real change. Youth will be organized into fifteen-person Smart Youth Groups (SYGs) and will undergo a series of trainings about voter rights, civic responsibility, volunteerism, and constituency relations. SYGs will connect with local press and members of their community to gain a better understanding of the issues facing their districts. They will then submit a Charter of Demands to their local elected officials and carry out a media campaign and a press conference about the Charters so as to pressure officials to sign them. Through this process, youth will learn about their responsibility as citizens to enact change for the betterment of their communities, and the responsibility of elected officials to partner with them for this change. The SYGs will also expand the impact of the project by carrying out focus groups with members of their communities and hosting a Peace Week.
According to a recent study published by the British Council, youth represent 62% of the Pakistani population. Only 33% of youth in Pakistan believe that democracy is a viable and beneficial option for the country, while only 10% have a great deal of confidence in national or local government. The report also noted that “many young leaders are no longer prepared to wait for others to act. They are actively seeking opportunities to build a stronger, more peaceful and prosperous society, and to develop a new relationship with the rest of the world… Leaders need to make the next generation their number one priority …engaging the youth as active citizens and future leaders.” (The British Council, 2010) This report highlights the pertinence of Project Smart Vote. At this point in their history, Pakistan has a profound opportunity and grave responsibility to engage its youth to play an active role in the development and the future of the country. Ayesa Muneer Shah, District Manager Sudhaar, an organization working in conjunction of DDS, perhaps summarized the situation best: “There is a dire need to promote youth political awareness and to help young people understand their rights as voters and their responsibility to work to improve their communities and impact society through political involvement.”
The Development Dimensions Society has been a grantee of the Foundation for the Future since April, 2011 for their Project Smart Vote. To find out more about DDS, please visit their website at www.ddsociety.org.
The British Council. (2010). Pakistan: The Next Generation .
Réseau Wassila/ AVIFE, 100th grantee of the Foundation
Last March, the Foundation signed its 100th partnership agreement with a young Algerian association, AVIFE. This symbolic "100th project" benchmark is crossed less than four years after the initiation of the Grant program of the Foundation. Symbols and coincidences go even further: AVIFE is an example of this ‘new Arab civil society’, with deeply rooted values and activism that the Foundation wants to encourage and support. The project implemented by the organization, a support program for women victims of violence in Algiers, is a valuable contribution to the advancement of women’s rights and empowerment, one of the major programmatic areas of focus for the Foundation: there can be no democracy and freedom if violence, discrimination and exclusion persist.
On this occasion, the Foundation discussed with Dalila Iamarene Djerbal and Fadila Boumendjel-Chitour, respectively sociologist and doctor, and both vice-presidents of AVIFE. Their experience is a clear illustration of the seriousness and extent of violence against women in Algeria, in the aftermath of a long decade of internal armed conflict and violence caused by Islamic terrorism. Women in particular paid a heavy price in the conflict, which has also made 100,000 direct victims. Consequences for individuals and the Algerian society as a whole are still felt today.
Tell us about your organization, AVIFE?
Wassila network / AVIFE was born in 2009, and is a relatively young organization as far as legal registration goes. It is, however, part of an older and well-established network, the Wasila Network, which has been active for more than twelve years now. This network was founded and is led by activists from all walks of life, most of them turning to civic engagement after the terrible decade of conflict that devastated the Algerian society. The Wasila Network aims at exposing and documenting the impact of such violence, particularly against women and children. Over the years, the network was growing and needed to be institutionalized, with the establishment of an organization mostly dedicated to the issue of violence against women. This is how AVIFE was born. We chose this name for its resemblance with the French term “à vif”, which means both ‘on edge’ and ‘open wound’ - we wanted to reflect the pain and suffering of victims.
In just two years, your organization has already established itself, and seems to be very active in advocating for women’s rights and protection. From the "Kif Kif before the law" campaign (a gender equality campaign) to the collective defense of women in Hassi Messaoud, you engage in many battles. Is this the identity of AVIFE?
Absolutely. AVIFE has this dual identity: a thematic expertise on the issue of violence against women, and a long-time activism. The choice to act against violence and its consequences has been easy to make, because it really is a pressing need in Algeria. The legacy of the armed conflict is very heavy – particularly for women and children. Because they are vulnerable, women have been both victims and weapons during the conflict: beaten, raped, kidnapped, killed, enslaved sometimes. We wanted to understand, analyze, testify, denounce all this and advocate for change.
Activism? Yes, this characterizes us strongly. Algeria has a long tradition of women's activism - already at the time of liberation and independence, women were involved and claimed their rights. Many members of the Wassila Network and AVIFE come from this tradition of ‘feminist’ activism for gender equality. But we are also proud to have been able to evolve and renew our membership base. The internal armed conflict has brought a new generation of active citizens, as people began to understand the extent of violence through their professional contacts with victims: social workers, teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, and activists of human rights ...‘Everyday people’ have become activists! They are volunteers at AVIFE, and this diversity enriches our vision and our action.
What is your approach?
In all actions or projects it initiates, AVIFE follows two parallel principles: solidarity with the victims, and advocacy. Our approach therefore combines measures of direct assistance to victims of violence, and advocacy in order to change laws and legal arrangements at first, and then change attitudes in response to this very serious phenomenon.
The voice of victims is at the heart of our action: their stories nourish our thinking. Our first project for example consisted in the publication of a series of testimonies of victims, the ‘White paper’, which continues to guide our actions today.
We also try to go step by step, gradually building our expertise. We have successively incorporated into our action themes such as child abuse, rape used as a "weapon" by terrorists during the civil war, violence against women workers, the situation of single mothers ... And more recently the issue of domestic violence. Most acts of violence Algeria take place within the family or household: probably 8 out of 10 cases that we deal with are cases of domestic violence.
Finally, AVIFE always intervenes in partnership with others. We are in contact with other organizations and services involved in the assistance to victims, and refer cases to each other whenever needed. We are also in contact with organizations whose mission is similar to ours, in Oran, Annaba, Constantine and Tizi-Ouzou.
Is it to say that Algerian civil society rise to this challenge of violence against women?
Within the limits of its resources and capacity to act, Algerian civil society certainly is concerned by this phenomenon! Fifteen associations have recently joined the Wassila Network and AVIFFE in founding the first Observatory on Violence against Women. We strongly believe in this initiative because it can join forces, strengthen effectiveness, and refine the understanding of the phenomenon of violence. Let’s not forget that today most of the efforts of support for victims of violence in Algeria is provided by civil society! Helplines, legal aid centers, shelters, advocacy and education: all this is the result of CSOs’ engagement.
What type of support and resources does Algerian civil society count on when it comes to fighting violence against women?
The role of government is still timid: the problem has started to emerge in Algeria only in the last fifteen years; therefore the public response still has gaps and shortcomings, because it is not yet a national public policy priority. We see it everyday: authorities react in very different ways from one initiative to another and one region to another. We are always amazed at the lack of access to public broadcasting for example, as if the theme of violence against women should not be "visible".
Another point to keep in mind is that in Algeria, all CSOs abide by the same regulatory framework, the ‘law on associations’, regardless of the topic or focus of the project. But this framework does not offer all guarantees and possibilities for civil society to have a large margin of action.
Support from international organizations, by contrast, is recent, but growing stronger. The issue of violence and women’s rights is of interest for them, and it is often their financial and technical support that allows us to have resources for our projects.
Another important support is the press, which has evolved and is now very receptive to this issue.
Many observers note that the situation is deteriorating on this issue in Algeria. NGOs refer to "critical thresholds reached" or "alarming proportions" of violence against women. We read here or there official statistics of 9000 victims each year. Do you agree with this assessment?
We absolutely agree with this observation, and our daily interactions with victims illustrate this trend clearly. But let’s first leave aside the statistics: they are impressive, but still far away from reality! These figures only show the cases identified by the police, that is to say women who filed complaints. Each year we receive more than 600 women victims of violence in our center, and more than 1500 calls to our helpline. However, most of these women do not file a complaint! For the majority of them are victims of domestic violence, a type of violence that is clearly under-reported, and hardly ends up in court: women victims of domestic violence are scared of being homeless, but also scared of dishonor and shame. The taboo and social pressures are too strong for the victims, because the family unit is "sacred."
What strikes us in recent developments is the worsening and the trivialization of violence. A few years ago, we met only a few cases of self-immolation, torture, murder, or even attacks with acid. Today these forms of violence are a reality, and there is an alarming proportion of victims who die of acts of violence committed against them.
How do you explain that the phenomenon is so serious in Algeria?
We see several explanatory factors. The first is historical, societal: Algeria has been marked in recent decades - not only with terrorism but long before - by episodes of extreme violence. Colonization, liberation war, were very violent episodes. Each family was affected. However, there has never been a process of restorative justice. Many of those who perpetrated violence were protected by an amnesty law, as if their crimes were silent or tolerated. This only feed a sense of impunity with which the younger generation grew up. How many times have we heard in courtrooms abusers deny their violence, or even be unaware of the seriousness of their actions! From a sociological point of view, it should also be noted that the armed conflict has caused many internal displacement and a complete disruption for many families. And precisely, these are factors that can usually trigger violence.
The second factor is sociological: women are in a position of inferiority and submission, or even legal guardianship. Algerian women have not yet gained equal status. Violence against them is somehow "tolerated."
The third factor is political and legal: the law is outdated, and it does not protect women and victims in general. Can we believe that many sexual assaults are legally classified as ‘indecent behavior’ or ‘public disturbance’, or other minor offenses like this one? The legal definition of rape is not in line with new international standards, the definition of sexual harassment is very weak ... the Criminal Code is replete with inadequacies that only increase the suffering of victims. Of course, the government is not inactive: Algeria is a signatory of several international conventions and due to this has started to take measures including statistics and epidemiological studies. But the answer does not yet go beyond these quantitative data, and remains very limited when it comes to reforming laws.
Your project is the 100th project supported by the Foundation for the Future. What does this partnership bring to you?
We contacted the Foundation three years ago now, during one of its visits in Algeria. The project that we put in place since March 2011 with the support of the Foundation allows us to address the issue of violence against women from a new angle. Certainly, sustaining the helpline and assistance center - which have existed for several years - is an essential element of the project. But moreover, we were able to consolidate an important advocacy work with key informants and actors: medical personnel, legal professionals and the media. We need these people to be stakeholders in the response to violence, because it is often their doors that victims go and knock on at first. We have just published a handbook to train medical staff in identifying key signs and symptoms of domestic violence cases, and the booklet is already out of stock! 60 polyclinics of Algiers received it, this is to show how strong the demand for training is! The partnership with the Department of Public Health has been a vital asset to the success of this first part of the project. A radio spot will air in June and will complement this effort to raise awareness and advocacy before a new series of workshops later this year. The radio spot is a new attempt to publicly and directly denigrate violence against women and have a wide impact on Algerian society.
How would you see AVIFE evolve on this issue of violence against women?
I think that rather than the evolution of AVIFE it is the evolution of the global response to this phenomenon that must be thought of. AVIFE just echoes the needs and the necessity to act. In the future, we know that the response has to evolve in very specific directions: first, we must develop a real policy of support for victims. Many women are penalized twice by violence: they are victims, and find themselves in precarious situations when they decide to escape, because then they have no home, no resources or support for rehabilitation. If you do not offer victims a way out, an exit strategy, they will not talk, they will be too afraid to be even more vulnerable.
Second: capacity building of professionals. We make many efforts in this direction, but we are well aware of our limitations! We outreach mainly to Algiers and its suburbs, but the problem is national. We need special units and multidisciplinary victimology units to be created, like what exists in Spain, the United States or elsewhere. One centralized unit where qualified professionals attend to victims. Today the situation is the other way around: it is the victim who runs from one department to another, from the police to the hospital, from the social worker to the judge! We need a new paradigm: that the victim is at the heart of public policy. It must even go as far as legal obligation for health, education and law professionals to report cases of violence.
Third: the criminalization of acts of violence. The criminal code must be revised, legal qualifications of offenses need to be rethought and sentences need to be increased. The victim is a citizen and entitled to protection by the State. That can help in eliminating the feeling of impunity of perpetrators: there cannot be any mitigating circumstances when it comes to violence against women!
The Wassila Network/AVIFE is receiving a grant from the Foundation for the Future since March 2011 for its project "Supporting victims of domestic violence in Algiers".
“More Than Just a Job”: On World Refugee Day, Naba’a Describes Work with Palestinian Women Refugees
20 June, 2011
On World Refugee Day, attention is focused on the 15.2 million refugees world-wide that have been forcibly displaced by armed conflict, political instability, and fear of persecution. Shedding light on the plight of refugees and supporting local civil society initiatives to address this issue is one element of the Foundation for the Future’s mandate and its broader efforts towards the promotion and defense of Human Rights.
On the occasion of Refugee Day, the Foundation discusses with Yasser Dowoud and Feiruz Hussein –Executive Director and Project Coordinator, respectively - at Naba’a, one of the Foundation’s grantees in Lebanon. Naba’a, or ‘Action without Borders’, is a Lebanese organization working with Palestinian refugees at the Ein El Helweh refugee camp outside the south-Lebanon town of Saida (Sidon). It is often forgotten that Palestinian refugees are the largest refugee population in the world, with 4.8 million Palestinians eligible for support services from the United Nations and 1.4 million living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Of the millions of Palestinian refugees spread across the region, those living in refugee camps in Lebanon face some of the worst living conditions. Reports from international organizations and human rights groups have pointed out the problems and hardships facing refugees in the twelve official camps in Lebanon: no proper infrastructure, overcrowding, poverty (sometimes even abject poverty) and unemployment. The Ein El Helweh camp, where Naba’a operates, is a typical example of this characterization.
Tell us a bit more about your organization, Naba’a.
Naba’a means ‘spring’ in Arabic, the new season of hope and rebirth. It was founded in 2001 by a group of men and women from varying backgrounds who had spent many years working with international organizations in the development and human rights sector. This allowed us to gain experience with development organizations, giving us the added bonus of acting like a local NGO with the spirit of an international NGO.
We have no problem with international NGOs but we just wanted to make a stronger stand on the issues that really mattered to us: Palestinian refugees. Going local allowed us to maintain a focus on what really mattered to us, and to apply the familiarity and expertise that comes with being run and staffed completely by local workers.
As an organization, Naba’a is characterized by diversity. Our office staff is very mixed as far as being part Lebanese, part Palestinian. But our field staff working in Ein el Helweh is mostly all Palestinian.
Tell us also about your experience in working in Ein El Helweh refugee camp in particular.
Naba’a has been working in Ein el Helweh for ten years now. It is the biggest refugee camp in Lebanon, with over 47,500 residents. The camp has been rocked by waves of violence that nearly destroyed it on two different occasions, and has also expanded to take in refugees from other camps during various periods of unrest in Lebanon. Of all the refugee camps in Lebanon, this camp has some of the worst living conditions and poverty rates. Our work addresses multiple issues and current initiatives include youth empowerment, education and vocational training, and combating drug use within the camp.
The community knows us, trusts our work, and knows that we are working to help them. When we work in Ein el Helweh, it is more than just a job for Naba’a. Some of us have been working in this community for decades and have a personal stake here. When we work with the refugees we know their stories and their struggles personally.
You have very recently received a grant from the Foundation for a new project will address the issue of women’s empowerment within Ein el Helweh Refugee Camp. But, if life is difficult for everybody in the refugee camps, what are the particular vulnerabilities facing women that make you want to target them specifically?
While life is difficult across the board in the refugee camps, women are the most widely discriminated against, making their lives by far the hardest. For example, security is a problem for the whole camp, but the lack of sufficient security forces affects women the worst. This is because there is not one woman representative serving on the Security Committee or working in any profession related to security in the camp. So there is virtually no mode of recourse for a woman as far as reporting or seeking justice for a crime committed against her. For instance, say a woman is a victim of a violent crime or sexual assault, if she goes to the police station, there are no female officers to register her report, and none of the male officers will speak to her because conservative influences dictate that this is improper. So, this woman would be denied justice and the perpetrator of a violent crime would go unpunished!
We have been trying in vain to change this by asking for the nomination of women on the Security Committee, or better yet on the Popular Committee that monitors it and governs daily life in Ein El Helweh. But the cultural norms against women in leadership, and the system of appointment just won’t let us. Women count for 53% of refugee camps residents but not a single one is member of the various supposedly ‘representative’ institutions we have just mentioned: this tells you how important the issue is. So now we work differently, to try and change attitudes and mentalities.
It all comes down to the fact that this society is a very male-dominated one. So while life in the camp is difficult for everybody, it is still geared more favorably towards men. Recent studies by the American University of Beirut in conjunction with UNRWA have shown this statistically. Let’s take the example of unemployment: poverty and unemployment rates for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, especially in Ein el Helweh, are devastatingly high. 72% of Palestinian refugees residing inside the camps across Lebanon live in a state of poverty, and 7.9% even in extreme poverty. A major part of these poor refugees live in the area of Saida. This is mainly due to an exceptionally high unemployment, and there again we observe the specific plight for women refugees: 56% of refugees in Lebanon are jobless but this rate bodes extremely poorly for women, especially in the area of Ein el Helweh, since two thirds of the jobs given to refugees in this area informal, manual labor jobs, such as street cleaning, deemed inappropriate for women. Only 13% of all Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon work! What these figures show is that life in refugee camps in Lebanon is extremely difficult wherever you are. However, to be a refugee in Ein el Helweh means that you live in some of the worst conditions among Palestinian refugees anywhere, and to be a woman in Ein el Helweh means that you most likely one of the most disempowered and discriminated against people.
So it seems that it is a well-documented fact that the conditions for women within the refugee camps are far worse than those for men and that their status is a pressing issue that must be addressed. How to you plan to act on this?
Well, in the first stage of our project, Naba’a is creating a consortium of 11 NGOs and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) that are trying to help women in Ein el Helweh as well. We are currently in the screening process, so we are trying to select NGOs with program s that have a strong focus on women, and that have a strong desire to work with women. We will take the lead in this consortium, with formal agreements with other organizations, but we will all have to demonstrate a strong commitment to join forces for the benefit of women refugees.
Then we will begin trainings with them on issues such as gender empowerment and engaging stakeholders in the community in gender equality efforts. Engaging other organizations already working in Ein el Helweh in our project gives us more manpower and allows us to expand our impact to reach more people. Partnership is leverage, and leverage is impact! It also means that we are empowering more local NGOs to continue to work toward gender equality long after the project has ended, making our efforts more sustainable.
What will be other steps to be taken?
Gender issues have to be addressed directly with and within the community itself. We are planning awareness activities, media campaigns and initiatives with youth at a later stage. But one approach that we would like to insist on is the dialogue with key stakeholders in the community, especially religious leaders. We decided to involve religious leaders in our efforts early on in order to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the community and to minimize conservative opposition to a project that will be quite controversial to begin with.
How confident are you about impacting positively the situation of women refugees in Palestinian camps?
It can be extremely challenging working in a community with so much need, but when we see the results of our work, that is our reward. This is why we are excited about this project. It is addressing an area of real need in the community and we truly believe that we can have a sustainable impact. When we see a few more women refugees find a voice to influence the community of Ein el Helweh, this project will have been worth our engagement.