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Enabling Women's Agency: Arab Women Speak Out
Unformatted Document Text:  Tracking #: ICA-19-11265 Enabling women’s agency: Arab Women Speak Out Myriad women in the Arab world are active participants in day-to-day practices and struggles that create opportunities and improve the conditions under which they live. Yet the popular media and the academic press alike conventionally portray Arab women as passive, powerless victims of patriarchal societies 1 or parrot Hollywood’s reification of women as glamorous commodities for the male gaze. Such images of disempowerment are both self-perpetuating and inaccurate. There are few accurate portrayals of Arab women in the media today. The stark contrast between mediated images of Arab women and the everyday experiences of actual Arab women prompted the development of the Arab Women Speak Out project. 2 This advocacy and training program highlights ten video profiles of women who are actors in their own right, rather than objects of other peoples’ decisions or of others’ representations. The programmatic goal is to help Arab women overcome social, economic, educational, and political obstacles to achieve their potential inside as well as outside the home. The training workshops give women the analytic tools that enable them to rethink their assumptions, to analyze critically opportunities as well as obstacles, and to propose their own approaches or solutions to the problems or barriers they face. Arab women researchers and filmmakers produced the materials, which feature realistic examples of women who have taken the initiative to make positive changes in their lives. This article describes the conceptual framework that guided the development of this participatory communication program, describes the program, and evaluates the outcomes of participation in the program. Conceptual Framework Empirical evidence demonstrates that gender inequality slows economic growth, inhibits poverty reduction, impairs the health of young and old, women and men, and hinders the evolution of civil society. 3 Inclusive social development, or the broad-based participation of women as well as men from all sectors of society in social, economic and political life, enhances the overall wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. In many communities around the world, however, women have not been socialized to assume equitable responsibility within the family and have often been discouraged from participation in the broader community. Despite barriers to social, political and economic activities, multitudes of women around the globe contribute to the economic wellbeing of their communities, yet their contributions too often remain uncounted, their voices muted. 4,5 Inclusive and sustainable development is only viable when women’s voices are heard, when women are enabled to discover and benefit from new opportunities, and when women as well as men have access to the resources, both tangible and intangible, needed to guide the direction of and participate in the development of their societies. 6,7,8 As democracy and decentralization make inroads into regions where power has historically been centralized and vertical, power at the local level is, if unevenly and haltingly, increasingly disperse and horizontal. By enhancing self-efficacy together with collective efficacy, strengthening the capacity to act, enabling broad-based participation in decision-making, and facilitating access to intangible as well as tangible resources, communication initiatives can engender new sources of power and, thereby, further the diffusion or wider distribution of power

Authors: Underwood, Carol R. and Jabre, Bushra.
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Tracking #: ICA-19-11265
Enabling women’s agency:
Arab Women Speak Out
Myriad women in the Arab world are active participants in day-to-day practices and struggles that
create opportunities and improve the conditions under which they live. Yet the popular media and
the academic press alike conventionally portray Arab women as passive, powerless victims of
patriarchal societies
1
or parrot Hollywood’s reification of women as glamorous commodities for
the male gaze. Such images of disempowerment are both self-perpetuating and inaccurate. There
are few accurate portrayals of Arab women in the media today. The stark contrast between
mediated images of Arab women and the everyday experiences of actual Arab women prompted
the development of the Arab Women Speak Out project.
2
This advocacy and training program
highlights ten video profiles of women who are actors in their own right, rather than objects of
other peoples’ decisions or of others’ representations. The programmatic goal is to help Arab
women overcome social, economic, educational, and political obstacles to achieve their potential
inside as well as outside the home. The training workshops give women the analytic tools that
enable them to rethink their assumptions, to analyze critically opportunities as well as obstacles,
and to propose their own approaches or solutions to the problems or barriers they face. Arab
women researchers and filmmakers produced the materials, which feature realistic examples of
women who have taken the initiative to make positive changes in their lives.

This article describes the conceptual framework that guided the development of this participatory
communication program, describes the program, and evaluates the outcomes of participation in
the program.
Conceptual Framework
Empirical evidence demonstrates that gender inequality slows economic growth, inhibits poverty
reduction, impairs the health of young and old, women and men, and hinders the evolution of
civil society.
3
Inclusive social development, or the broad-based participation of women as well as
men from all sectors of society in social, economic and political life, enhances the overall
wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. In many communities around the world,
however, women have not been socialized to assume equitable responsibility within the family
and have often been discouraged from participation in the broader community. Despite barriers
to social, political and economic activities, multitudes of women around the globe contribute to
the economic wellbeing of their communities, yet their contributions too often remain uncounted,
their voices muted.
4,5
Inclusive and sustainable development is only viable when women’s voices
are heard, when women are enabled to discover and benefit from new opportunities, and when
women as well as men have access to the resources, both tangible and intangible, needed to guide
the direction of and participate in the development of their societies.
6,7,8
As democracy and decentralization make inroads into regions where power has historically been
centralized and vertical, power at the local level is, if unevenly and haltingly, increasingly
disperse and horizontal.
By enhancing self-efficacy together with collective efficacy,
strengthening the capacity to act, enabling broad-based participation in decision-making, and
facilitating access to intangible as well as tangible resources, communication initiatives can
engender new sources of power and, thereby, further the diffusion or wider distribution of power


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