Wednesday, August 5, 2015

It’s Time to Change, Time to Make a Stand

“Step towards Municipal Elections” a LOST Program funded by The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Lebanon is in its third cycle, with every cycle reflecting a growth in participation and success. Now participating in the program are women from the regions of Deir el Ahmar, Kasr, Hawsh L Rafeka and Ein.
The “Step” programs’ main goal is to increase the number of women taking part in political decision making. This program is designed to educate women on active citizenship, civic participation, collecting the right information and leadership.
The culture norm of the Lebanese community is that a woman has no business in government, especially in the presence of a man. This norm is outdated and this program is engraining in the minds of women of all ages that it is crucial for every citizen to engage in their local communities, even on a small scale. Participant from cycle one of the program, Jihan Assad agrees.
Jihan Assad, a teacher of math and science in Beqaa public schools, said the “Step” program represented a change in the Lebanese community.
Assad feels her experience in the program changed her life. She said, “ Even though I am an educated person, our society is still very closed to ideas such as women participating in campaigns.”
This program gives power to women to use what is available to let their voices be heard online and in real life. Before being involved in this program Assad never participated in political discussion around men.
Assad said, “The program helped me gain confidence about my political stance and things going on in the country, I was actually able to take part in discussing politics with whoever was talking.”
An influx of social media activism has occurred between the recent months and before the program started a year and a half ago. Women are using social media tools on the Internet like, Facebook, specifically the Women Political Empowerment (WPE) Facebook page, Twitter and blogging sites to discuss political matters that will hopefully foster development.
Before the program Assad didn’t use social media, and now she said if the world comes to end she wouldn’t give up using Twitter to voice her thoughts.
It is the natural basic right of every Lebanese citizen to have a say in his or her countries’ political processes’, and to deny that right is only hurting the country as a whole. “I have a voice, I am a person like any other man, it is important to say ‘Hey, I am here’.”
“It opened our eyes, made us feel valuable and that we are entitled to participate in decision making, to be involved and to make our presence known, so we can change this reality we live in and get over the timidity that women have in the society,” Assad said.
At the end of first two cycles about 200 women participated in a mock campaign organized by LOST. Twelve participants, six from each cycle ran for candidacy.  They discussed politics, problems and how to harbor about change in their speeches. At the end everyone got a vote. This was a hands-on experience for the participants to show their readiness to implement change in their communities. It was also an opportunity for the participants to hear from powerful female figures, like Judge Rania el Lakkis.
Assad feels her experience in the program changed her life. She said, “ Even though I am an educated person, our society is still very closed to ideas such as women participating in campaigns.”
LOST members encouraged the volunteer groups to go out into their municipalities and stand up for their right as Lebanese citizens.
Assad plans to participate in the next election and running for office. She said, “Even if I don’t win, it is important to say I tried.”
The “Step” programs’ agenda to enlighten the female population through knowledge and basic leadership skills in order to cultivate change is eye-catching.
Everyone wants to see change but there is a fear embedded in women from men that they can’t handle the responsibility and it is not in a woman’s place to do such things [politics].
Assad said, “This is my right, they need to keep designing programs like this for more women to participate, so more women can be knowledgeable about these matters, the things I didn’t know before this program was immense!”
 “I know now, I won’t surrender that right.”

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