To mark International Women's Day 2016, for which the official theme is #PledgeForParity, we are profiling some of our female peacebuilders around the world and asking them: What can gender parity mean for peace?
Aida Hussein works for Basmeh & Zeitooneh, an NGO that supports Syrian refugees and the communities that are hosting them in Lebanon and Turkey. Basmeh & Zeitooneh are working with International Alert on our peace education project.
Please describe your professional background and what you are currently working on.
I was born in Beirut in 1987 during the Lebanese civil war and raised in a Palestinian Lebanese family. Despite the fact that I was passionate about studying law in Lebanon, as a Palestinian refugee I was unable to, because of legal restrictions. I decided to study business administration instead. After completing my university degree, I worked as a contractor assistant. I then worked as a teacher of special needs children for five years.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, I wanted to find a way to support displaced people who were living in critical conditions, given my own background as a refugee. Basmeh & Zeitooneh, a local NGO working in relief and development, granted me that opportunity. I am currently working on two projects. I supervise a peace education project that uses playback theatre as a tool for helping children overcome traumas in their lives, and I am also a coach in another peace education project that runs recreational activities. Both projects aim to support children between the ages of 6 and 17 cope with living through the war that is dominating their everyday lives.
What impact have these projects had on your life and the lives of its beneficiaries?
This work has granted me the opportunity to accomplish my ambition of improving the lives of vulnerable people in a time of crisis.
Implementing the peace education programme inevitably presents great challenges, but both my colleagues and the children are achieving significant personal goals. Children have become more confident in expressing themselves, enabling them to cope better with their new community. They are also being empowered to overcome the effects of war on their personalities and lives. My colleagues have acquired new skills and experiences, which have also encouraged them to improve their lives.
One of the positive stories I can recall is of a courageous woman who, despite all her suffering, was able to support her children whilst also working as a facilitator in a peace education programme. This woman confronted her difficult life circumstances and succeeded in improving her career, ensuring a better life for her children whilst supporting other refugee children to overcome the horrific experiences of war.
There is also the story of a young Syrian refugee, who had a personality dominated by fear and insecurity because of what he had witnessed in Syria. During one of the peace education sessions, the child was recalling seeing his family house burn down, and he explained to the facilitator that this experience reoccurred when he felt unsafe in Lebanon. Later in the project, the child was expressing his thoughts and feelings more confidently in a friendly space where he felt secure and motivated – demonstrating a positive change in his mentality.
What role do you think gender equality/women's empowerment could play in long-term peace in Syria?
Empowering women and advocating for their importance in society supports the process of reforming and developing communities. Women become more confident, positive and successful when they see themselves as influential actors in major aspects of life.
In the past few years, women in the Arab world have called for reformations. In Syria, it is women who could access checkpoints, distribute medicines to those in vital need and relay important information. In Lebanon, women like me also participated in providing relief and development support for vulnerable refugees.
Considering all these achievements and successes, I believe that women actively participating together with men can attain peace in the future. As equal individuals, women and men should empower one another in order to build peace in the region.
Which women inspire you and why?
Sunitha Krishnan, an Indian social activist, really inspires me. She rescues and rehabilitates sex-trafficked victims, and reintegrates them into society. My favourite quote from her is: "I am fighting for a new world order, a world where there's no violation of any human being."
Will you be celebrating Women’s Day this year? How?
This year I am going to celebrate this day at Basmeh & Zeitooneh, where we will be working with all of the women’s workshop participants on the theme of self-appreciation and self-esteem. Each participant will receive a purple pansy as a symbol of appreciation and gratitude for their hard work and strength.
- Find out more about our work in the Middle East: http://www.international-alert.org/what-we-do/where-we-work/middle-east-and-north-africa
- Find out more about our work on gender and peacebuilding: www.international-alert.org/gender