A Day in the Life — Women of the Arab World
From learning new skills, to starting their own businesses, to fighting for equal rights and coping with crisis, women across the Arab world are building brighter futures every day — sometimes against difficult odds.
Meet some of the inspirational women UNDP works with across the Arab States.
Yasmina is a lawyer by training, but after marriage became a housewife with no plan to work outside of the home — let alone run for office in what traditionally has been a highly-patriarchal public service. But when UNDP rolled out a training programme to support Algerian women interested in running for office, she was among the first to sign up.
It wasn’t easy at first, owing in part to the traditions of her village in Djefla Province, hundreds of kilometers from the capital. “Leaving the house every morning to go to work and then running for local elections was like an affront to the people of my village,” Yasmina says. “It was initially very difficult for me and my family to cope.”
Armed with new skills, Yasmina ran for the local assembly, and won. “We have come a long way since I decided to leave my house to go work, and became the first elected woman from my commune,” she says. Now she is a role model and young girls visit her often to ask for advice.
Yasmina is one of 300 women that have participated in the training, which has the objective of ensuring that 30% of all elected seats in Algeria are held by women. The programme is funded by Canada, the Netherlands and Norway.
Imagine being forced to flee your home to escape a brutal war. That’s the situation Ahlam and her family faced, leaving city life in Damascus to a rural area over 100 miles away.
Ahlam’s husband was once a successful baker, earning enough income to provide for their family of five. Uprooted, the family had to find a new way to make ends meet. At first they helped other families graze their sheep — but the income wasn’t enough.
With support from UNDP Syria, Ahlam was able to stop working for others and become an entrepreneur with her very own sheep. “It’s a new beginning for us, something to build on, and it’s a good source of income. We benefit from the wool, the milk, the hides and meat,” she says.
Hayfa Sdiri is a 19-year-old blogger and social activist currently studying at Paris Dauphine University, in Tunis. She is the founder of Entr@crush, a new type of online platform for Tunisian youth who have entrepreneurial ideas, to network with like-minded people, donors and entrepreneurs. She describes it as especially useful for women entrepreneurs located outside of major cities.
“I prefer not to tell people my age at first — people tend to not take me seriously because I am a young woman,” she says. “If you see the laws on the books in Tunisia, everything is equal. But there are limits. If you are seen as being too bold, trying to break the stereotypes or the glass ceiling, you would raise concerns.”
Hayfa was among 12 change makers from the Youth Leadership Programme designed and implemented by UNDP with the support of UN Women in the Arab States region, to present at the 2017 ECOSOC Youth Forum at the UN Headquarters.
“One day, I want to wake up to find gender equality is real,” she says. “I will stay out late that night; I will wear whatever I want to, without worrying about being harassed. I will be free to live by myself if I wanted to; I will earn as much as a man.”
Nusaiba lives in the South of Yemen, a country hard-hit by war. When an armed group tried to enter her neighborhood, she feared her hometown would transform into a battlefield. Determined to preserve peace for her community, Nusaiba led a march to the fighters’ fort. Her persistence paid off; she met the commander of the group and persuaded him to stand down.
“At the beginning, we faced strong objection from the youth who viewed our actions as shameful and undermining of local men,” she says. “Also, as women we weren’t allowed to pass through a local market while heading to where the armed group was stationed.” but she finally garnered support.
Nusaiba picked up her expert negotiation and mediation skills in training sessions supported by UNDP’s Enhanced Rural Resilience in Yemen Programme, which aims to make rural communities in Yemen stronger in times of crises. The programme is funded by the European Union and implemented along with FAO, ILO and WFP.
Kawthar, Saudi Arabia
It’s no secret that the role of women in Saudi Arabia is hotly debated — but significant progress towards equal rights for women and girls has been made.
Involving both men and women in the conversation is crucial to making headway — and a key role for the UN team in Riyadh is to facilitate and encourage those conversations about pathways to progress.
Speaking at a UN event on the role of Saudi women in promoting social cohesion, Kawthar highlights the need for peace and tolerance, drawing upon her deeply personal experience of losing her son in a bomb blast at a mosque a year earlier. “After all the immense sadness, the voice of truth remains — we must all pay attention to it,” she says.
Sagal Abdirisaq Isaq is a Member of Parliament in the Government of Somalia. She says that she was always curious about politics and thought that better political practices could make a difference in Somalia.
“I feel a huge responsibility is on my shoulder … and I am determined to do what ever possible that can be done gives me strength and hope that I will excel.”
Sagal credits UNDP with having been instrumental in her taking office, as UNDP was among the parties who supported Somali institutions to introduce a 30% quota for women in Parliament.
Widowed at an early age, raising five children including a disabled son is a tough struggle for a woman who cannot read or write. Now a proud owner of the only minimarket in her neighbourhood, 40-year-old Karima is able to sustain her family.
In Basra, South of Iraq, Karima lost her husband to war — adding to her grief, she struggled to provide even the most basic needs for her family.
When Karima heard about vocational training and support for micro businesses supported by UNDP in partnership with Shell, she was determined to seize the opportunity.
Through the programme Karima was trained in running a business and was supported financially to set up her own — a mini market catering to local families. On average today, her market generates a monthly income equivalent to US$100.
“With the income I have, I am now able to prioritize my son’s health, take him to the doctor and even manage to buy him medication,” said Karima.
Thousands of women in Basra are faced with the same challenges as Karima, bearing the brunt of war and forced to become their family’s sole breadwinner.
One of the pillars of the UNDP Shell Partnership is social inclusion and ensuring that the most vulnerable and marginalized groups are reached
“I can’t read or write, so I was in desperate need to gain skills in order to make money and take care of my children,” said Karima.
To learn more about UNDP’s work in support of women’s empowerment and gender equality across the Arab States region, please follow @UNDPArabStates and @UNDPArabic and visit our website at arabstates.undp.org