Women’s empowerment is a priority for many activists and advocacy groups around the world. In the Middle East, many women are not active participants in politics or in the workforce and experience domestic abuse and sexual assault. However, many non-governmental organizations have stepped up in recent years to promote women’s empowerment in the Middle East. Numerous NGOs support women’s economic, social and political growth in this part of the world. The following five charities are all taking meaningful steps toward women’s empowerment in the Middle East. Their tactics span economic empowerment, political activism and more.
Organizations Promoting Women’s Empowerment in the Middle East
- The Center of Arab Women for Training and Research. Founded in 1993, this organization supports women’s empowerment in the Middle East through education and operates in multiple countries. The Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) is dedicated to training Middle Eastern women in useful skills to enable them to find meaningful employment. In December 2019, CAWTAR launched the InnovAgroWoMed program to help women find jobs in agriculture and food production. It plans to run the program until 2022 in Italy, Spain, Tunisia and Palestine. CAWTAR also launched a program to empower Syrian refugees living in Lebanon by teaching them computer skills and accounting so that they can support themselves financially. Finally, CAWTAR conducts research on Arab women’s participation in the workforce. In doing so, it aims to break the stigma about women’s roles in the economy and the public sphere.
- Arab Women Organization in Jordan. For fifty years, this Jordan-based group has been dedicated to gender equality and ending violence against women. Founded in 1970, the Arab Women Organization in Jordan (AWO) works to advance women’s rights. It advocates for government policies that support women, encourages women to run for office, and engages in general activism. Additionally, AWO leads workshops to teach women leadership skills and provides free counseling and services to survivors of domestic or sexual violence. As of 2019, AWO owns and operates two women’s centers that provide aid to local women as well as to Syrian refugees. Counseling at these centers helps women identify signs of abuse and provides them with the training they need to become independent and self-sufficient. To commemorate AWO’s fiftieth anniversary this year, the organization’s leaders publicly reiterated their dedication to women’s empowerment in the Middle East and their goal to continue providing leadership programs to women in Jordan.
- Daughters for Life Foundation. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish created the Daughters for Life Foundation in 2009 after the tragic deaths of his three young daughters. Her mission is to promote peace and political stability through women’s empowerment in the Middle East. The foundation grants scholarships to Arab women in various countries throughout the Middle East so that these women can access higher education and pursue their dreams. Scholarships for graduate and undergraduate programs in the United States and Canada are available in a variety of subject areas. DFL also hosts an annual gala in Toronto to honor its scholars’ success and connect them with local leaders in business and media.
- Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Since 2003, the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) has protected women’s rights and fought violence against women. The group also advocates for the victims of so-called “honor crimes,” widowed women and women in prison. OWFI operates six women’s shelters across Iraq to protect survivors of rape and abuse. All shelter locations are secret so that the survivors will not have to fear retaliation from their abusers. As of 2020, more than 500 women have passed through OWFI shelters. OWFI has braved pushback from the Iraqi government, even facing a lawsuit accusing the NGO of supporting revolution. Despite the government’s attempts to shut them down, OWFI leaders are adamant that they will continue to fight for women’s rights in Iraq.
- Women for Women International. Founded in 1993, this global organization provides support to women in eight countries in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, including Afghanistan and Iraq. Women for Women International not only offers a variety of economic and social programs for women, but it also offers men’s groups to teach men how to be better feminist allies. Since 2002, the charity has run a year-long women’s program that teaches local women skills, such as husbandry and beekeeping, to help them achieve financial independence. In the past eighteen years, more than 100,000 Afghani women have completed the program, which also teaches healthy decision-making, financial skills, and self-protection. Women for Women International has also been active in Iraq since 2003. There, it serves not only Iraqi women but also Syrian refugees living in the country and indigenous Yezidi women. The organization has opened “opportunity centers” where women can go to find economic resources, connect with their community and find political opportunities. Importantly, Women for Women International sponsors frequently keep in contact with the women who have gone through their various programs over the years.
With years of experience and extensive programming, these five organizations will continue to advocate for women’s empowerment in the Middle East. They all educate women to become confident, independent individuals with the necessary skills to support themselves. Hopefully, they will continue to touch women’s lives in meaningful ways for years to come.
– Jackie McMahon