In 2011, people all over the the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region went to the streets to demand their rights. During that time, the hopes and expectations for a just, democratic and prosperous region were high, and women played a central role in these events. New initiatives addressing the role of women in society and politics flourished, women’s rights were debated, and women’s groups showed a willingness to put aside their differences in order to work together on common goals. It was in this context that the Women on the Frontline programme was developed. This programme was set up to strengthen women’s groups across the region to contribute to the meaningful participation of women, and has set up partnerships with thirty women’s organisations from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Unfortunately, in many cases the hopes and expectations of 2011 did not materialize. In the past years, several countries have seen intensifying national and international conflicts and an increase in sectarianism and polarization amongst its populations. Extremism and fundamentalism is on the rise in many countries, limiting the movement and rights of women. In others, governments have continued or even intensified tactics of authoritarianism and repression. Despite these negative developments, many women and activists still work hard every day to build a society based on peace, equality and human rights.

In these challenging circumstances, Women on the Frontline continues to support these women working towards these important goals. It strengthens their skills and capacities through tailor made trainings. It offers them financial support to implement activities inside their countries to increase women’s participation, and enables them to build informal alliances and networks. In addition, it helps to bring their messages across to a wider public and to decision makers on the national and international level, in order to make sure that women play a vital role in reaching peace, security and equality in the MENA region. As a result, several women have taken part in peace negotiations, have arranged local cease-fires, put violence against women on the public and political agenda, and held their governments accountable to protect women and grant them their rights.

Women on the Frontline is lead by Hivos and implemented together with Oxfam, PwC, and IWPR. The programme is supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a total of €5.8 million.