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A new EU programme to give some leadership insights to young women of North Africa was arranged for 5 of each country to come to visit Brussels and eventually get involved with a crash course on democracy.   The programme’s scope these days however might be put into question especially with respect to preparing them for the challenges that lie ahead.  The ladies of North Africa were in fact invited as part of the ‘Femmes Leaders de Demain’: Agents of change in North Africa’s future (Women Leaders of Tomorrow) programme.  A leadership course that was designed to give them the skills, support and inspiration they need to shape the futures of their communities and countries.

In this context, women leaders have taken on an invigorated importance, hence the programme’s focus.  The Five young women from each country, as well as a few from Belgium, were selected from their respective current political, social and cultural elites, for this year-long course.  The visit to the parliament is an extra, a chance to meet established female politicians as role models.  Previous modules have taken place in Morocco and Tunisia, and they are here in Brussels for module three: ‘Change’.

“All the women in the room are here today precisely because they want to be agents of change”

President Julie de Groote said one morning in the francophone parliament addressing the women; a rather different audience to her usual parliamentarians, adding: “In this society going through transition, you show to what extent women can be real agents of change, can make things happen.”

They knew that de Groote is not only referring to Europe, but talking about their native countries: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia.  They are each involved in political and/or legal roles.  They are politicians, presidents of NGOs, activists and sometimes all three.

Activist Simone Susskind, the programme’s Belgian founder, has spent a lifetime campaigning for peace in the Middle East and in the wake of the Arab Spring, she turned her attention to North Africa, seeing what she calls a ‘veritable laboratory for democracy.’  It’s an important moment for the region, with considerable changes in the democratic structure in Tunisia, alterations to the family law in Morocco, and new quotas for women’s political representation in Algeria: women’s rights, human rights, democracy are dependent on these new initiatives.

It’s the same language that Susskind uses to describe what she sees as one of the major benefits of the programme: “I’ve seen (the participants) opening up, like flowers.  And I’ve seen how they are being enriched, each in their own way, by the experience.”

Started in the early days of 2014, the participants’ enrichment already seems to be bearing tangible results.  On this first day in Brussels they have recovered themselves, and stand looking out: “In trying to take a step forwards in an unknown territory – because politics has always been the realm of men – ‘Femmes Leaders de Demain’ is a guide through the darkness.”

The next day, the women move to a residential conference centre just outside Brussels, where the real work of the programme will take place.  In a large, airy conference room, the women arrive on the first morning as Hetty Einzig, one of the course’s designers and coaches, introduces the module; whispers die out and everyone becomes business-like.  Over the course of the day, it becomes clear that Susskind’s judgment is correct; no one is afraid to voice their opinion.  Hard to believe that many of these articulate women were too shy to speak up at their first session in Morocco, Tunisia or Algeria.

Further reading is on Your Middle East .

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