I arrived in Cairo a few days ago, excited to meet with Marianne Ibrahim and Esraa Abdel Fattah, the leaders of the Policy Advocates team in Egypt. Over the past year, their team conducted focus groups with over 1,000 women across Egypt, asking them about their priorities and opinions, and compiling the top results into a gender platform. Interesting side note: The Egypt Policy Advocates team was the only team evenly split with male and female participants. The team felt that one of the successes of the campaign was raising men’s awareness of the issue by asking women what was important to them.
When the second Constitutional Committee was formed in June, the Policy Advocates team arranged for meetings with members of the Committee with whom they had personal relationships, where they presented the gender platform and discussed their priorities. These meetings led to an invitation for the team to present the gender platform to the full Constitutional Committee on July 17, 2012!
Since civil society organizations cannot petition to present their suggestions to the Constitutional Committee but must be invited, the Policy Advocates team was thrilled that they were asked to present to the Committee. Esraa Abdel Fattah presented the gender platform and also suggested that the Committee be allowed to respond to presentations. She also suggested that future presentations be organized by theme – a suggestion which was well received by the Committee.
Since Esraa was given a Glamour Woman of the Year Award in New York in November 2011, the Jenzabar Foundation donated an additional $25,000 to support the Policy Advocates campaign, which the team has decided to use for a media phase of the campaign. They are planning to create a television ad that will run for a week around the release of the first draft of the Constitution, along with the gender platform and comments on Constitution so that the public would be able to evaluate whether the national Committee is respecting women’s rights. After the ad is aired on television, the team will upload the video to YouTube and other media platforms for continued lobbying efforts.
While I was in Cairo, I also had the opportunity to join Riham Helmy, a former Fortune Mentee (2011), as she led a training-of-trainers program with support from Vital Voices for five founding members of a new businesswomen’s association, the Pioneers Libyan Businesswomen’s Association, on gaining key business skills and learning how to pass those skills on to others. I was able to observe the group presentations on topics such as facilitation skills, writing a business plan, and basic accounting – all of which will equip the women to provide the training in Libya as part of a service to the newly founded Association.
As the case studies are finished in the coming weeks, I am so excited for people to read even more details about the amazing work all of these teams have accomplished under incredible circumstances in the past year and a half. Despite constantly-changing political environments, they have shown tremendous flexibility, creativity and grace. In my own work, they have taught me to be patient, think outside the box, and to make the most of relationships and connections in order to achieve great results. Most importantly, they have shown me that when a small group of women stand up for a cause, even in the most tumultuous circumstances, they can achieve results beyond what any of us dreamed possible!
Christie is a regional program manager on the Middle East and North Africa team at Vital Voices.