Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues
September 6, 2005
U.S. Commitment to Women in the Middle East
"Here in the Middle East, that same long hopeful process of democratic change is now beginning to unfold.. Millions of people are demanding freedom for themselves and democracy for their countries. …There are those who say that democracy is for men alone. In fact, the opposite is true: Half a democracy is not a democracy. As one Muslim woman leader has said, 'Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken.'"
– Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice,
As part of the United States’ strong commitment to advance freedom in the Arab world, President Bush, in December 2002, launched the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). MEPI recognizes women’s empowerment as one of four key pillars integral to reform in the region along with political, educational, and economic advancements. Women are full beneficiaries of programs in all of the MEPI pillars. In addition, specific programs to end barriers to full participation by women in the political and economic life of 14 countries and the Palestinian territories account for 13% of the $293 million that the United States Congress has committed to MEPI through FY 2005 with the percentage rising in that year to 20%. Programs also reach schoolgirls through the U.S.-funded ACCESS English-language micro-scholarships (for relatively disadvantaged youth), My Arabic Library, the Jordan Education Initiative (JEI), and Student Leaders project. The projects listed below are representative of MEPI and other State Department programs for women. More information is available on the MEPI Web site http://mepi.state.gov, specifically under the Women’s Pillar section of the MEPI Web site: http://mepi.state.gov/c10127.htm. For more information about the State Department International Visitor Leadership Program Web visit http://www.exchanges.state.gov/education/ivp/ .
Political Participation and Civil Society
Preventing Violence Against Women. Freedom House, a U.S.-based non-government organization (NGO), is building the capacity of public institutions and NGOs in Jordan, working as a coalition, to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to prevent domestic violence, sexual abuse, and honor killings. This program, recently awarded a second year of funding, will also expand the Jordanian government’s awareness-raising program to promote a human rights-based approach within the judicial system.
Empowering Women’s Organizations in Jordan and Egypt. With MEPI funding, the American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) and the General Union of Voluntary Societies of Jordan are working together to improve the capacity of small- to medium-sized women’s community-based organizations to participate effectively in political dialogue and democratic reform. Funded by MEPI, the Center for Development and Population Activity (CEDPA) is conducting a similar program for grassroots women’s organizations in four governates in Egypt, working in partnership with the National Council of Women. The first annual Arab Women’s Forum, organized by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, was held in May 2003 to discuss how to overcome obstacles faced by Arab women.
Arab Women and the Law Workshop. MEPI and the Government of Jordan hosted a workshop in Amman on women and law in February 2004. Nearly 90 women from 16 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region gathered to discuss key issues affecting women in the legal profession and to develop plans for future collaboration. At the end of the conference, MEPI announced it would support two follow-up activities: the establishment of a regional association for women in the legal profession and a public legal education campaign on women’s rights and equality. These activities are part of a 2-year, $6.5 million joint program on the Rule of Law and Women and the Law to be implemented by the American Bar Association. More information is available on the Arab Judicial Forum Web site: http://www.arabjudicialforum.org/.
Business Women’s Summit. Over 200 women entrepreneurs attended a Business Women’s Summit in Tunis, Tunisia, May 24-26, 2005. Several leading American businesswomen attended and volunteered their time to lead sessions on management and leadership skills to the Middle Eastern women who represented 16 countries and the Palestinian territories. There was also high-level participation from top U.S. officials including, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky, and Ex-Im Bank Vice Chair, April Foley.
MEET-U.S. The Middle East Entrepreneur Training program (MEET-U.S.) is specifically designed to provide skills training, professional networking, and alumni support systems to increase managerial and entrepreneurial skills and the number of voices championing a larger role for the private sector in Arab economies. Of the 45 Information and Communication Technology and Business Services sector professionals who attended the three-week entrepreneurship training in San Diego, California in February and March 2005, 19 were women. Trainees in the Middle East Entrepreneurship Training (MEET-U.S.) program participated in two-day internships with local businesses during their stay. Previous sessions in June 2003, and September 2003 were conducted for hospital administration and women entrepreneurs.
Educational and Women’s Awareness Programs
Rural Girls' Education. With the goal of keeping rural girls in school through the middle grades, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched and supported a local NGO in Morocco (the Comite de Soutien a la Scolarisation des Filles (CSSF), or the Rural Girls’ Educational Support Committee. Through continued support by MEPI, CSSF and Moroccan NGOs will establish five new homes in addition to the 14 currently in existence -- to ensure that the girls have safe and culturally acceptable living quarters near their school during a three-year period. MEPI will provide school supplies for 400 girls over the next three years.
Outreach to Saudi Women. The State Department has offered extensive teacher training for Saudi women over the past several years, and has hosted an educational research-focused International Visitor (IV) Leadership Program for six Saudi women leaders. The U.S. Embassy in Riyadh works closely with women journalists and two private Women’s Colleges in Jeddah.
There are numerous joint programs through which the United States and MEPI partners support women throughout the wider Middle East. Some examples include:
Health Care. USAID funds the Forty-Day Program to provide postpartum care to mothers and infants in Tunisia, Jordan, and the West Bank. Safe Motherhood and Child Survival programs provide antenatal and postpartum care, safe delivery, and treatment of obstetric complications to women in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, and Morocco. To date, USAID has invested about $20 million to implement this program in 51 hospitals and 182 primary health care facilities in Egypt. This support to the Government of Egypt’s neonatal and safe motherhood programs established essential obstetric care and neonatal services in public hospitals in nine Upper Egypt governorates. The Healthy Mother/Healthy Child project involves upgrading delivery and operating rooms, as well as neonatal units of general and district hospitals, where women are admitted with life threatening emergencies related to childbirth.
In West Bank/Gaza, USAID puts a priority on the emergency and daily health and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable Palestinians -- mothers and children. USAID funds programs to improve the health of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian mothers and their children. USAID projects have upgraded and equipped more than 80 health clinics, distributed essential medicines to 150 health facilities and, in FY 2004, trained health care providers to educate women on birth spacing, family planning and well-baby care. Another 108,000 women living in isolated communities received health education kits explaining danger signs during pregnancy, newborn care, breastfeeding, and nutrition.
During the summer of 2005, a group of Syrian nurses took part in an ECA Leadership Program that demonstrated how to develop a standard of care for psychiatric nursing, how the diversity of mental illness is handled in the U.S., and what constitutes a manageable caseload.
Life Skills. New Horizons is a life skills program for girls and young women in Egypt who are not enrolled in the formal education system. The results of the program include an increase in health, education, and community participation of its participants. There is also a similar program for in-school boys and young men. To date, 22,884 girls and young women in Upper Egypt have received scholarships and training from this USAID-supported program.
Microcredit Programs. Since 1996, the United States, through USAID-supported programs, has granted more than 60,000 loans worth over $24 million to Palestinian women and entrepreneurs. These programs have helped thousands of Palestinian women to transform their subsistence labor into sustainable, income-generating enterprises. Microcredit programs for women have proven to be wise investments with an average repayment rate of over 90%, and, as a result, Palestinian banks are accepting more female loan applicants.
Through support of the Jordan Micro Credit Company, USAID-supported microfinance activities have changed the lives of thousands of Jordanians, especially women, who account for 82% of all clients. Together, four micro finance institutions in Jordan have provided over 90,000 loans -- 85% of which are to women -- to over 49,000 borrowers, with a total cumulative value of approximately $48.8 million.
Women’s Functional Literacy. Through support from USAID, CARE Yemen will work with local communities to develop functional literacy programs designed to help women in agricultural production, savings and loan clubs, environmental management, maternal and child health (including HIV/AIDS awareness), political participation, and women's rights. Helen Keller International has provided literacy training to 20,000 women in southern Morocco. The project then shows women how to apply their new literacy skills.
Marketing Natural Foods in Lebanon. USAID supports a training program in natural food preservation techniques and marketing. The program enables rural women to capitalize on traditional food production and preservation methods. To date, 623 women have been trained in quality, hygienic food processing techniques. Now 32 groups transform surplus, low-value agricultural produce into a wide-variety of 100 percent natural products for some of Lebanon’s most upscale supermarkets and specialty shops around the world.
Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues