Despite daunting cultural and institutional obstacles, women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continue to make strides in politics. Initiatives that help empower the next generation of women leaders are a cornerstone of NDI’s programs in the region.
In July 2008, NDI organized the inaugural MENA Regional Young Women Leaders Academy in Doha, Qatar. Thirteen undergraduate and graduate students and activists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar and Yemen participated in the Young Women Leaders Academy. Most of the women had never participated in any type of formal training and some had never travelled outside their country or had an opportunity to interact with like-minded peers from neighboring countries. The program was designed to provide young women with the intellectual tools, comparative knowledge and practical skills necessary to become leaders in their communities, gain practical political work experience in parliament, political parties and civil society organizations, and actively network with other young women engaged in politics in the region.
Each participant came to the academy with the shared desire of strengthening the role of women leaders in her own country. During the nine-day academy, participants attended sessions on women’s leadership and social and political issues in the Middle East. The participatory seminars were reinforced by group work and extended discussions. Students also improved their leadership skills through a series of intensive sessions on topics including public speaking, conflict resolution, advocacy and fundraising.
Midway through the academy, the women participated in a virtual panel discussion with three successful young women leaders in Washington, D.C. The panel took place in Georgetown’s Global Classroom, a unique venue that contains a high-definition video connection between Washington, D.C. and Doha, built to make users feel like they are in the same room. Academy participants engaged the panelists in a discussion about their experiences working in politics, legislative advocacy and civil society, and also how to balance the competing demands of career and personal life. Throughout the week, the women worked in small groups to design their own political campaign. Each group elected a candidate, a campaign manager, a policy director and a communications/media manager. The groups then developed campaign platforms, outreach and media plans that they presented to an audience on the final day. Following the presentations, the group voted on which candidate they would elect to office.
Building upon the intensive academic and training components of the program, the participants have undertaken internships with political parties and civil society organizations. The internships provide the young women with opportunities to gain hands-on experience in political processes, build professional skills and valuable relationships, and continue becoming more effective leaders.
Feedback from the inaugural program demonstrated that the experience left participants feeling inspired and more equipped to engage in politics. Many indicated that while they were previously interested in politics, they would not have considered a career in politics before participating in the Academy. Through their internships and efforts following the Academy, the alumnae have proven that they are able to apply the lessons learned during the Academy and have taken ownership of their own professional development. The small size of the group allowed for participants to form close relationships with each other and since the Academy, participants have continued to communicate with each other as well as NDI staff and trainers using dedicated Academy pages on iKNOW Politics and Facebook, creating a network of the next generation of women political leaders.
Published on Dec. 17, 2008