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Vital Voices Project Aims to Improve the Lives of Women Across the Region
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Vital Voices Project Aims to Improve the Lives of Women Across the Region

November 13, 2012
Policy Advocates panel discussion at the Brookings Institution

On October 25, 2012 Vital Voices hosted a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. at which participants shared successes, challenges, and lessons learned from the MEPI-funded Policy Advocates for Women Issues in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) project. Launched in 2010, this women’s rights advocacy project convened civil society leaders who cultivated partners within the private sectors to collaborate on improving the lives of women throughout the MENA region.

Over the past two years Vital Voices mentored teams of women activists in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen and provided them training in advocacy, social media outreach, and project management. Each country team selected a public policy issue identified as a priority by women in their communities, then implemented a nationwide campaign in order to lobby both local and national decision makers for needed reforms.

Many of the MEPI advocacy teams were highly successful in their endeavors. The Morocco team successfully raised awareness around the dangers of child marriage, engaging the public through a mix of radio, television and online media. Their outreach campaign also targeted decision makers and as a result, the Moroccan Parliament is currently discussing changes to the related legislation in order to further eradicate underage marriage.

The Lebanon team embarked on a  campaign to reform legislation that discriminates against women including provisions related to maternity leave, tax credits, and sexual harassment. Despite a number of challenges, this advocacy team established a coalition of civil society organizations, which is now partnering with legislators to push forward redrafted laws that will greatly benefit women and their families.

Although the MEPI project recently ended, these inspiring women’s rights advocates continue to engage in their campaigns.  MEPI project participant Marianne Ibrahim of Egypt discussed the long-term and wide-ranging objectives of her campaign during an October panel discussion moderated by Tamara Cofman Wittes, former MEPI Deputy Assistant Secretary and current Director of the Brookings Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington. Ibrahim shared that she and her fellow Egyptian advocates are seeking “health care benefits, changes in the electoral system, that political parties to be formed with 40 percent of women on the board, and that a percentage of the national budget be devoted to women.”