‘We are women, before anything else’

Female empowerment is a phenomenon that is growing both within and beyond our national borders. This autumn, the Netherlands hosted the second edition of the Female Leadership Programme. Participants Rania Seddik (Egypt) and Fauzia Alfaki (Libya) aim to help women in their respective countries gain the self-confidence they need to step up and join in the workforce – just as they have done.

Focusing on women leaders from 11 countries from the Middle East and North Africa, the Female Leadership Programme provides women with the opportunity to further develop their personal leadership skills, enables them to network with Dutch organisations, and promotes knowledge exchange, working for social change and equality in societies across the globe.

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Rania Seddik

It’s a tough environment

Rania and Fauzia aim to improve and raise the voice of women in their countries. They tell us about the main challenges they face in their work. ‘Men don’t always take us seriously,’ says Fauzia, a consultant and founding member of the Libyan Women in Business Committee. She expresses her concerns about the judgments made behind her back, as well as the problems women face in a militarised Libya: ‘It’s a tough environment, and it’s getting worse.’

Rania, CEO of GebRaa, a supplier and exporter of Egyptian handicrafts, says: ‘In Egypt, women are still undervalued, despite their growing importance in the workforce. More than half of the artisans I work with are women. Women provide for more than a third of households.’ For Rania and Fauzia, empowering their feminine identity has become a priority on their agenda ‒ ‘After all, we are women, before anything else.’

With a job, they don’t think about fighting

Despite the challenges, Fauzia and Rania still have faith in a brighter future. By advocating and promoting their businesses and their leadership position, they are able to stimulate parts of their countries’ economy and provide jobs, and with it empowerment for the women they aim to help. Fauzia wants to help the construction and factory-based industry grow. ‘If people have a job, they don’t have to think about fighting.’

Rania’s goals go even further. With her local handicraft projects she aims to give her country a self-made economic future and a national identity as well: ‘If your food is not of your own hands, neither are your decisions,’ she says, adding ‘We already have so many identities forced upon us: Arabs, Muslims... We need to remember what it means to be Egyptian.’

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Fauzia Alfaki

We’re no longer ashamed

The Dutch Female Leadership Programme aims to provide a platform and training ground for women to promote their projects and voice their ideas for female empowerment in their region. Rania and Fauzia acknowledge its helpful impact. The recognition in each other’s stories provides them with energy, hope and a platform for speaking up and claiming their voice at the table. Fauzia says: ‘We’re no longer shy or ashamed.’ In this way the programme brings them one step closer to the future they want to see. Next time, men will take them seriously.

Rania Seddik is founder and CEO of GebRaa, a supplier and exporter of Egyptian handicrafts, as well as the founder and Trustee Board President of the Karama Foundation for social and cultural development. She previously worked for USAID and Doctors Without Borders.

Fauzia Alfaki is a consultant for International Business Development, as well as a founding member of the Libyan Women in Business Committee. She has developed industry trade missions for the Libyan Ministry of Economy and is a member of the Council of Arab Businesswomen.