Over the last several years, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has empowered Syrian women, youth, and marginalized groups to be part of a meaningful discourse over their country’s future. IFES has built the capacity of these groups on key topics and challenges around a democratic transition so they can contribute to policy discussions and advocate for inclusive, democratic practices. IFES has also connected participants with decision makers and transitional leaders to increase two-way dialogue between civil society and Syrian opposition leaders.
IFES’ work targeting Syrian youth introduces young people to issues such as democracy, political inclusion, and transitional justice while providing them with the skills and knowledge needed to play an active role in Syria’s future. During meetings, adolescents gather to discuss what it means to hold elections, be a citizen, and volunteer, all while working in groups to brainstorm and present their ideas as part of a larger discussion. One of IFES’ core activities targeting Syrian youth is the “Building Leaders” program, designed to develop adolescents’ abilities and capacity to be leaders in their communities.
Through a framework of concrete skill building, such as public speaking, combined with exercises to increase self-confidence and develop knowledge, participants have advanced to creating and implementing independent projects and proposing new activities. As one program participant said after accepting a scholarship to study in Istanbul, “[Without] attending [these activities] with my friends and the things we learned in ‘Building Leaders’ program … and all the skills we learned with [its coordinators], I would have run away from school the first day." To date, IFES has engaged over 1,000 participants through these critical programs.
The program’s work with Syrian women focuses on increasing their exposure to the political process and creating opportunities for them to become decision makers and representatives for their communities within the transitional period. Women gather to discuss issues ranging from gender empowerment and women’s rights to transitional justice, while establishing key relationships with transition officials and opposition stakeholders to allow for a re-establishment of the linkage between government and civil society. Under this initiative, Syrian women have been able to voice their concerns and push for changes to address issues of inclusion and participation. Activities also connect women with activists and civil society organizations so members can expand their networks and learn more about ways to get involved in Syria’s future. IFES has directly engaged with over 1,660 participants to date through these inclusion and empowerment activities.
IFES’ transitional work with Syrians has also utilized digital and social media to engage with a broader swathe of the Syrian population spread out across the Middle East and beyond. Since its creation, over 434,000 people had visited the social media and website platform for program activities as of December 2017. A robust, active social media has allowed IFES’ local partners to reach current and prospective members and share the activities and results of our joint efforts.
IFES’ programming in Syria continues to have significant impact on women and youth and their role in the country’s future. Its work with Syrian youth is building a cohort of young people ready to take on the mantle of Syria’s future leaders, while also helping Syrian women gain a voice in the country’s transition. As participants continue to discuss issues facing Syria and design solutions, they are sharpening the capabilities and skills they need to advocate for themselves and their communities while taking advantage of the opportunities the project is creating for them.