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Enabling Women's Agency: Arab Women Speak Out
Unformatted Document Text:  Tracking #: ICA-19-11265 This approach underscores the vital importance of grassroots women’s networks in stimulating changes crucial to the development process, for it is often through face-to-face interaction that women learn about alternative ways of thinking and acting. These gatherings, when focused, can give women the opportunity to increase their sense of self-confidence, to distinguish between independence and interdependence, to meet potential role models, and to discover new opportunities. The question remains: how best to stimulate the process of conscientisation? Social learning theory, which was originally developed by Albert Bandura in the 1970s and 1980s, provides a method. Bandura 21 proposed that a cognitive modeling mechanism, coupled with positive reinforcement, enables individuals to learn new behaviors as well as to identify their own strengths by seeing those capabilities modeled by others. According to this theory, the cognitive process of learning a behavior involves the following: ♦ Attention to a behavior being modeled by another person ♦ Retention or remembering the behavior observed ♦ Reproduction or copying the new behavior ♦ Reinforcement or receiving positive results from the new behavior and after testifying on behalf of the behavior or modeling it, witnessing its adoption by others. Compelling role models draw the intended audience’s attention by conversing or acting in memorable ways, thereby giving members of the intended audience reasons to emulate them. Realistic role models with whom the audience identifies can contribute to better knowledge and information, enhanced self-efficacy and, thereby, strengthen the capacity or propensity to act. Communication initiatives that focus on role models analyzed in a group setting may enhance self-efficacy, strengthen the capacity to act, enable broad-based participation in decision-making, and facilitate access to intangible as well as tangible resources, thereby engendering new sources of power. According to Vygotsky’s cultural-historical activity theory, 22 the human agent relies on tools to mediate between self and the world, to develop new sources of power. Tools, which can be cognitive or material, shape the way human beings interact with—and derive meaning from—reality. Group discussions that analyze role models and their actions serve to internalize the external activities of others, thus allowing participants to simulate potential interactions with others or with their environment without actually performing the activity. Thus, the stories of individual women discussed within the context of group meetings become part of the constellation of cognitive tools that helps participants explore a wider range of options than would be possible absent the internalization process. The value of activity theory, which is not so much a theory as a conceptual approach, for this discussion is the focus on the social context that enables or inhibits praxis or action. Drawing on Hegel's discussion of the master and the slave in The Phenomenology of Spirit, 23 Marx and neo-Marxists further developed the theory that human beings learn through practice. This focus on action is important in examining the effects of Arab Women Speak Out and takes us beyond the individual bias of behavior change theories that have influenced so much of the research on communication effects. Behavior change theories foreground the individual, often treat the individual as isolated from the larger social-relational context, and rarely take social structure into consideration. Yet, the individual and society are mutually constitutive. Our focus on human agency—or the ability to take purposive action, resist domination and change one’s conditions (if only at the margins)—rather than on behavior highlights the inherently relational nature of everyday life. Sociologists distinguish action from behavior in that action is intentional

Authors: Underwood, Carol R. and Jabre, Bushra.
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Tracking #: ICA-19-11265
This approach underscores the vital importance of grassroots women’s networks in stimulating
changes crucial to the development process, for it is often through face-to-face interaction that
women learn about alternative ways of thinking and acting. These gatherings, when focused, can
give women the opportunity to increase their sense of self-confidence, to distinguish between
independence and interdependence, to meet potential role models, and to discover new
opportunities.
The question remains: how best to stimulate the process of conscientisation? Social learning
theory, which was originally developed by Albert Bandura in the 1970s and 1980s, provides a
method. Bandura
21
proposed that a cognitive modeling mechanism, coupled with positive
reinforcement, enables individuals to learn new behaviors as well as to identify their own
strengths by seeing those capabilities modeled by others. According to this theory, the cognitive
process of learning a behavior involves the following:
Attention to a behavior being modeled by another person
Retention or remembering the behavior observed
Reproduction or copying the new behavior
Reinforcement or receiving positive results from the new behavior and after testifying on
behalf of the behavior or modeling it, witnessing its adoption by others.
Compelling role models draw the intended audience’s attention by conversing or acting in
memorable ways, thereby giving members of the intended audience reasons to emulate them.
Realistic role models with whom the audience identifies can contribute to better knowledge and
information, enhanced self-efficacy and, thereby, strengthen the capacity or propensity to act.
Communication initiatives that focus on role models analyzed in a group setting may enhance
self-efficacy, strengthen the capacity to act, enable broad-based participation in decision-making,
and facilitate access to intangible as well as tangible resources, thereby engendering new sources
of power.
According to Vygotsky’s cultural-historical activity theory,
22
the human agent relies on tools to
mediate between self and the world, to develop new sources of power. Tools, which can be
cognitive or material, shape the way human beings interact with—and derive meaning from—
reality. Group discussions that analyze role models and their actions serve to internalize the
external activities of others, thus allowing participants to simulate potential interactions with
others or with their environment without actually performing the activity. Thus, the stories of
individual women discussed within the context of group meetings become part of the
constellation of cognitive tools that helps participants explore a wider range of options than
would be possible absent the internalization process. The value of activity theory, which is not so
much a theory as a conceptual approach, for this discussion is the focus on the social context that
enables or inhibits praxis or action. Drawing on Hegel's discussion of the master and the slave in
The Phenomenology of Spirit,
23
Marx and neo-Marxists further developed the theory that human
beings learn through practice.

This focus on action is important in examining the effects of Arab Women Speak Out and takes us
beyond the individual bias of behavior change theories that have influenced so much of the
research on communication effects. Behavior change theories foreground the individual, often
treat the individual as isolated from the larger social-relational context, and rarely take social
structure into consideration. Yet, the individual and society are mutually constitutive. Our focus
on human agency—or the ability to take purposive action, resist domination and change one’s
conditions (if only at the margins)—rather than on behavior highlights the inherently relational
nature of everyday life. Sociologists distinguish action from behavior in that action is intentional


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