The transitional countries of Southeast Europe and North Africa share much in common. All are in the process of moving from authoritarian rule to a system founded on human rights and the rule of law. Against the backdrop of a changing political landscape, these countries are expanding the role of civil society in decision making and governance. Progress is being made for women in leadership. Most signs point to a more consultative political process for peoples across the Mediterranean.
But much remains to be done. The urban-rural divide in these countries is significant. In contrast with Southeast Europe, North Africa lacks significant cross-border economic and social integration from the grassroots to the highest levels. Women played a central role in the Arab Awakening, but in many places are in danger of marginalization.
Empowering women and civil society in the public sphere and the political process is recognized as one of the surest ways to promote sustainable growth in transitioning countries. The SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations and the America-Bosnia Foundation, in partnership with the Agency for Gender Equality of Bosnia and Herzegovina, are hosting the Mediterranean Women in Leadership and Civil Society Conference in Sarajevo to address these issues in a regional context, with a view to strengthening the transatlantic relationship with these countries.
The conference will also serve as a launching pad for the program as the new platform for promoting women in leadership in the Mediterranean. Experience from Southeast Europe informs our understanding of the longer-term nature of transition. With this in mind, the new network, from its headquarters in Tunisia, will coordinate a comprehensive civil society and women’s empowerment campaign across the region.
It will organize capacity building programs for women in business, politics, and civil society through networking, training, and mentoring schemes in the Mediterranean and in Washington. It will convene and mediate cross-border public-private dialogue in North Africa to address major challenges to economic growth and regional integration and cooperation. Grassroots programs focused on increasing democratic participation and economic opportunities in poor and remote regions of the Mediterranean, fighting corruption, promoting corporate governance, and conducting youth and entrepreneurship education will also be introduced. It will also launch an online platform to increase connectivity and operational efficiency of network members.
Follow-up events, organized by this new network in partnership with the Center for Transatlantic Relations and the America-Bosnia Foundation, will take place across the Mediterranean, in Brussels, and in Washington.