Arab Women Speak Out – A Force for Self-empowerment

UNICEF supports the Arab Women Speak Out initiative by the International Rescue Committee in Lebanon which delivers a package of services strengthening the resilience of at-risk women and girls.

Simon Balsom
3 women sit concerned
Fouad Choufany
23 November 2017

UNICEF is committed to preventing and responding to all forms of gender-based violence (GBV). As part of their response, UNICEF supports the Arab Women Speak Out (AWSO) initiative by the International Rescue Committee (LRC) in Lebanon which delivers a package of services aimed at strengthening the resilience of at-risk women and girls.

By offering a safe environment to these women, they are able to cover five key subjects: gender based violence; self-esteem and self-confidence; negotiation skills; social support networks; and the ability to take decisions.

One of a series of psychosocial support programs, the LRC’s AWSO sessions are designed to empower women within this environment by facilitating the acquisition of life skills through the sharing of experiences and knowledge with their peers. It is currently, and successfully, helping women to see themselves in a way that is different from how their community looks at them. Changing one life at a time.

 

hdhd
Fouad Choufany

Wafaa, a 30 year old Lebanese, is one of the many women to have seen their lives changed through involvement in the program.

“Before AWSO became part of me, I didn’t have the courage to speak out or to express my thoughts,” she comments assuredly. “Today, I have confidence in myself, in what I say, and in everything that I want to do.”

“The program empowers women; it boosts our self-confidence. I encourage every woman to participate in this program - it will become very valuable to her. She can benefit from the experiences of other people, and learn to recognize her rights and responsibilities.

She’s keen to impress upon us the value the program has given to her life and to highlight the changes it has made, continuing, “The project taught me, above all else, that I should have confidence in myself and in the decisions that I take. It helped me realize that, as a woman, I can speak and I have the right to make my voice heard. It has also showed me that women are able to work and contribute to society as equals with men.”

We’re invited to sit in with the ladies during an AWSO session in north Lebanon. We become part of their circle, and we join the women as they engage – somewhat hesitantly at first in our presence as strangers – with each other and their LRC counsellor.

Today’s agenda includes activities and learning exercises developed to increase their negotiating skills; to enable them to identify key sources of information and support; to gain access to the benefits of these sources; and to better understand the balance of gender roles within their daily lives.

 

Two women reading
Fouad Choufany

Sobhiya came to Lebanon from Syria with her children one year ago. She reflects similar AWSO experiences to Safire, and shares her enthusiasm as she tells us, “The project helped me to build a stronger personality and made me able to express my opinion in exactly the same way that men do. I became able to take decisions by myself, and even learned how to engage with others and agree on group decisions”.

The positive effects of AWSO extend beyond the circle, and have been reflected on Sobhiya’s family and friends too.

“The program changed the way I’m raising my children - I now realize that there are no real differences in the way we should treat girls and boys! It inspired me to start to take better care of myself, and I also began to discuss family issues with my husband and I became part of the decision-making process with him”.

Having seen her life evolve through AWSO, Sobhiya is keen to deliver a key message and to encourage other women to become involved in the program.

“The program empowers women; it boosts our self-confidence. I encourage every woman to participate in this program - it will become very valuable to her. She can benefit from the experiences of other people, and learn to recognize her rights and responsibilities.

“I hope that many more women will be able to join this program as it continues to grow”.

 

Woman lecturing with poster behind her
Fouad Choufany

Throughout the course of this innovative advocacy project, the LRC have worked with women who didn’t value themselves, and who felt that they could play no active role in society. That is until they met and engaged with other women similar to themselves; similar indeed to Safire and Sobhiya.

At that moment, each and every one of them became a force for self-empowerment, and a powerful force for social change.

 

This Programme is funded by the Governments of Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. 

 

Woman lecturing other women.
Fouad Choufany