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Enabling Women's Agency: Arab Women Speak Out
Unformatted Document Text:  Tracking #: ICA-19-11265 and purposive in nature, whereas behavior may result from conscious or unconscious processes. "An agent . . .has an active role in pursuing whatever goals she has reasons to support and promote." 24 Yet, much can be gleaned from the behavior change literature in our understanding of active human agency. Over the past two decades considerable research has been conducted to test theories of behavioral change and, in the process, researchers have incorporated variables such as perceived risk, social norms, self-efficacy, collective efficacy, and discussion of new ideas or innovations into the framework. Gradually, it became clear that behavior change results from a constellation of factors. Many of these same factors constitute ’tools’ for social change as well. Cleland and Wilson use the term “ideation” when referring to the collection of psycho-social variables associated with behavioral change. 25 Their central contention is that a common language and geographical proximity allow “changing perceptions, ideas, and aspirations” to be shared—that is, communicated—with members of one’s community. While communication often serves to reinforce shared beliefs, values and attitudes, communication channels can also broadcast reconstructed beliefs, attitudes and social norms that result from new ways of thinking. This study seeks to answer this central question: “Was participation in this particular communication program related to changes in the aforementioned variables and, ultimately, to human agency or the propensity to act?” The Arab Women Speak Out Project The aforementioned theoretical approaches guided the development of the Arab Women Speak Out project. 26 The principal goal of the project was to give women the analytic skills necessary to re-orient their assumptions and to critically analyze both obstacles and opportunities to enhance the likelihood that they would be empowered to exercise agency. One of the driving forces behind this project was recognition of the multilevel nature of empowerment and the central importance of the social sphere in the process. A guiding principle of the project was to profile women who could provide realistic role models for other women in the region, in line with Bandura’s principle that “the impact of modeling on beliefs of personal efficacy is strongly influenced by perceived similarity to the models.” 27 Studies of elite women can be instructive; however, they are unlikely role models for village and urban women of limited means who constitute the majority of women in most societies. Therefore, women profiled in Arab Women Speak Out come primarily from modest backgrounds. They are women with whom many others can identify—women whose concerns and priorities are broadly shared at the grassroots of their societies and whose strategies for change are compelling and instructive. They have contributed to the expansion and redefinition of women’s familial and public roles. Female social scientists and film producers from the five Arab countries included in the project—Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen— met on multiple occasions with program staff who were familiar with the region to select who would be included in the case study publication and the videos. Over the course of lengthy discussions on several continents, role models were selected who: ♦ are engaged in social, economic or political change ♦ are known and admired in their communities ♦ come from modest backgrounds ♦ have had limited access to formal education, and ♦ are credible role models for other women.

Authors: Underwood, Carol R. and Jabre, Bushra.
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Tracking #: ICA-19-11265
and purposive in nature, whereas behavior may result from conscious or unconscious processes.
"An agent . . .has an active role in pursuing whatever goals she has reasons to support and
promote."
24
Yet, much can be gleaned from the behavior change literature in our understanding of active
human agency. Over the past two decades considerable research has been conducted to test
theories of behavioral change and, in the process, researchers have incorporated variables such as
perceived risk, social norms, self-efficacy, collective efficacy, and discussion of new ideas or
innovations into the framework. Gradually, it became clear that behavior change results from a
constellation of factors. Many of these same factors constitute ’tools’ for social change as well.
Cleland and Wilson use the term “ideation” when referring to the collection of psycho-social
variables associated with behavioral change.
25
Their central contention is that a common
language and geographical proximity allow “changing perceptions, ideas, and aspirations” to be
shared—that is, communicated—with members of one’s community. While communication
often serves to reinforce shared beliefs, values and attitudes, communication channels can also
broadcast reconstructed beliefs, attitudes and social norms that result from new ways of thinking.
This study seeks to answer this central question: “Was participation in this particular
communication program related to changes in the aforementioned variables and, ultimately, to
human agency or the propensity to act?”
The Arab Women Speak Out Project

The aforementioned theoretical approaches guided the development of the Arab Women Speak
Out
project.
26
The principal goal of the project was to give women the analytic skills necessary to
re-orient their assumptions and to critically analyze both obstacles and opportunities to
enhance the likelihood that they would be empowered to exercise agency.
One of the
driving forces behind this project was recognition of the multilevel nature of empowerment and
the central importance of the social sphere in the process. A guiding principle of the project was
to profile women who could provide realistic role models for other women in the region, in line
with Bandura’s principle that “the impact of modeling on beliefs of personal efficacy is strongly
influenced by perceived similarity to the models.”
27
Studies of elite women can be instructive;
however, they are unlikely role models for village and urban women of limited means who
constitute the majority of women in most societies. Therefore, women profiled in Arab Women
Speak Out
come primarily from modest backgrounds. They are women with whom many others
can identify—women whose concerns and priorities are broadly shared at the grassroots of their
societies and whose strategies for change are compelling and instructive. They have contributed
to the expansion and redefinition of women’s familial and public roles.
Female social scientists and film producers from the five Arab countries included in the project—
Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen— met on multiple occasions with program staff who
were familiar with the region to select who would be included in the case study publication and the
videos. Over the course of lengthy discussions on several continents, role models were selected who:
are engaged in social, economic or political change
are known and admired in their communities
come from modest backgrounds
have had limited access to formal education, and
are credible role models for other women.


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