Although women were at the forefront of the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world, their voices are still not being heard in many areas. Here Serena Tramonti introduces our gender justice programme in the region, and the new innovation fund for women's organisations, which is now open for applications.
Three years ago, weeks before the centenary of International Women's Day, I remember sitting in my living room in the UK, watching on TV with hope and astonishment the brave women and men who were taking the streets in the Arab World, reclaiming their right to live a dignified life and to make free decisions about how their countries were run.
I remember watching young and older women in Egypt, standing tall and proud in Tahir Square, asking for their voices to be heard
Women were at the forefront of the Arab uprising protests. Images of women protesting, interviews with young women activists, were all over global media. A window of opportunity for real change seemed wide open: the governments of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen were overthrown, new transitional political processes were introduced and leaders sworn in. This seemed a time ripe with opportunities for the advancement of women's rights in most Arab countries.
As a woman, campaigner and activist myself, I could not but be moved and inspired by the courage of these women. I remember watching young and older women in Egypt, standing tall and proud in Tahir Square, asking for their voices to be heard. Women whose names most of us will never know, but whose faces and gestures had such an impact on so many others around the world.
Bringing amal - hope
Three years on, on the eve of International Women's Day, women in most countries are still struggling to achieve the changes they aspired to. I am still a mere spectator, but this time I am a little closer to the action, since I am working directly with those women who have been campaigning during the Arab uprisings, as
part of AMAL.
The AMAL (amal means hope in Arabic) programme, is working in four of the countries affected by the Arab uprisings, Tunisia, Morocco, Palestine and Yemen, in partnership with 13 local organizations.
Through the AMAL programme, Oxfam and women's organizations are working together with women from poor communities, strengthening their confidence, knowledge of their rights and their campaigning and advocacy skills.
The programme enables these women to become leaders who can, together with their communities, reclaim their right to political and civic participation to achieve long lasting positive change. As I am writing, one of Oxfam's partners in Morocco, La Fédération de la Ligue Démocratique des Droits des Femmes, is mobilising civil society to call for the implementation of Chapter 19 of their new Constitution, which states clearly the end of discrimination and the equality between men and women.
In rural Yemen too, Oxfam's partner, the Yemeni Women's Union is creating spaces for women to come together to share their experiences, needs and aspirations and equip them with the practical skills and confidence to influence change in their lives and communities. Word about these activities is spreading so fast amongst Yemeni women that more discussion sessions than anticipated are being organized.
A new fund for innovation
It is the energy of women like these, who are hungry for change and hopeful for a better future where they can be the masters (mistresses!) of their own lives, that Oxfam and its partners would like to celebrate this International Women's Day.
That's why, on 8 March 2014, as part of the AMAL programme, Oxfam is launching an Innovation Fund, extending small grants to emerging and new women's organizations in Tunisia, Yemen, Palestine and Morocco. The fund has been set up for organisations and groups, who have innovative ideas they would like to experiment with and who would like to lead on actions that will bring positive change in women's lives. Grantees will be able to access awards of and in-kind support of up to $35,000.
My colleague Rania Tarazi, Oxfam, Amal Programme Manager, can better explain the purpose of the fund:
"In the aftermath of the Arab uprisings in the region, political spaces have opened and regardless of the outcomes in each country, the relationship between citizens and states has changed irreversibly. As a result of this, many new organisations, groups and movements are emerging. They have great ideas for change but not necessarily the funds, support or capacity to make them happen.
"The AMAL Innovation Fund is a tool to enable new organisations and emerging groups in particular with their innovative, out-of-the-box ideas, and to support emerging partnerships between established organisations and newer more spontaneous community groups and movements."
Three years after the Arab uprisings, the energy and hunger for change, and women's influence and strong leadership within this, is needed more than ever if lasting change in women's lives is to become a reality. This time, I am pleased to be able to do more than just watch.
Read more and apply for the fund
Applications for the Oxfam Amal Innovation Fund will be open until 15 April. Apply using the form below, forms should be returned to Amal@oxfam.org.uk.
Photos: Women attend workshops as part of the AMAL programme in the West Bank (top and bottom), and in Yemen.