A Lebanese nonprofit strives to give women a stronger voice

Nada Toufayli runs Debating and Community Service training for Teaching Women English Program teachers. (Supplied)
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Nada Toufayli runs Debating and Community Service training for Teaching Women English Program teachers. (Supplied)
Nada Toufayli runs Debating and Community Service training for Teaching Women English Program teachers. (Supplied)
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Nada Toufayli runs Debating and Community Service training for Teaching Women English Program teachers. (Supplied)
Rawan Yaghi, founder of USPEaK, trains women to engage, speak up and even run for political office
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Rawan Yaghi, founder of USPEaK, trains women to engage, speak up and even run for political office
USPeaK run computer courses for refugees and host community in Baalbek and Jib Jannin, Lebanon. (Supplied)
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USPeaK run computer courses for refugees and host community in Baalbek and Jib Jannin, Lebanon. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 January 2021

A Lebanese nonprofit strives to give women a stronger voice

USPeaK run computer courses for refugees and host community in Baalbek and Jib Jannin, Lebanon. (Supplied)
  • Rawan Yaghi, founder of USPEaK, trains women to engage, speak up and even run for political office
  • The social enterprise offers English classes to help boost employment opportunities for women

BEIRUT: Lebanese women have long fought against gender discrimination in the system. While activists have made great strides this year in terms of political and social awareness, national legal protections from domestic violence and sexual assault remain inadequate. The country also has a weak framework for basic women’s rights, especially in matters such as divorce, property rights and responsibility for children after divorce.

Rawan Yaghi, a former teacher based in Lebanon’s northeastern region of Baalbek, set up social enterprise USPEaK in 2009 with the aim of giving the country’s citizens a voice, particularly its women. The organization’s main objective is to create a democratic community that engages citizens through education.




USPEaK founder Rawan Yaghi. (Supplied photo)

“In my earlier career as a teacher, I was very active in social activism,” said Yaghi. “I was invited to International Women’s Day in Washington. I saw women being celebrated and honored for the enterprises they had started and thought, ‘oh, I can do that.’”

Yaghi registered USPEaK as an NGO in 2015. Since then, 2,600 women have been taught English and 1,200 have been taught about entrepreneurship. She has also overseen the education of about 10,000 Lebanese 7th and 8th grade students, who are taught a set curriculum based on themes such as citizenship and democracy.

INNUMBERS

2,600 Lebanese women taught English by USPeaK.

1,200 Lebanese women taught about entrepreneurship.

2015 Year when USPEaK was registered as an NGO.

One of the main areas that USPEaK focuses on is teaching English. Yaghi believes the English language is one of the most important tools Lebanese women can have when seeking employment.

“It’s like a passport. When they learn English, they’re able to access information that they are not usually exposed to,” she said. “They can know more about the media and the social work of others and they can get inspired by different ideas.”

Yaghi used her savings and a bank loan to launch USPEaK. Around a decade later, her civil rights work is gaining recognition on a global scale, receiving funds and grants from Germany, the UK and the US among others.

“Many of our funds come from the US Embassy, especially for education — teaching English and (hosting) spelling bee projects,” said Yaghi. “We have other donors through UK Aid and ActionAid where we’re working on social cohesion.”




Some 2,600 women have been taught English and 1,200 have been taught about entrepreneurship via USPeaK since 2015. (Supplied)

Besides promoting democratic engagement, USPEaK is also focused on helping women reach positions of power in government. The enterprise has worked with 57 potential female candidates with the ambition that women will eventually make up a sizable proportion of elected representatives.

“We have supported independents in running for office,” said Yaghi. “I was training potential women candidates in many different places in Lebanon. We support all of our social work through low-cost English courses. We work on many different things related to women candidates — this is where you can speak up, raise your voice, and express yourself.”

USPEaK currently employs 10 full-time staff alongside four part-timers and 80 contractors. The mission is not only to increase general political awareness, but also to shed light on more serious subjects, such as preventing violent extremism, the role of women in raising their children to be non-violent citizens, anti-sectarianism, and preventing child abuse.




Nada Toufayli runs Debating and Community Service training for Teaching Women English Program teachers. (Supplied)

Reshaping the political landscape is a tall order for Yaghi and her team, but she believes a positive mindset is crucial for any social enterprise that wishes to achieve its goals.

“If you feel like you are a successful person, you will be a successful person,” she said. “If you have an inspiring idea, believe that it will be good; it will get money and be funded.

“Get the ideas, get the business plan, believe in yourself and go for it.” 

 

This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack
Updated 25 January 2021

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack

Fears of Iraq execution spree after Daesh attack
  • More than 340 execution orders “for terrorism or criminal acts” were ready to be carried out
  • The orders came after twin suicide attacks claimed by Daesh killed 32 in Baghdad

BAGHDAD: Rights defenders fear Iraq may give the green light to a spree of executions of convicted militants in a show of strength, days after a deadly suicide attack in Baghdad.
On Sunday, an official from Iraq’s presidency told AFP more than 340 execution orders “for terrorism or criminal acts” were ready to be carried out.
“We are continuing to sign off on more,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The orders were disclosed to AFP after twin suicide attacks claimed by the Daesh group on Thursday killed at least 32 people in a crowded open-air Baghdad market.
The blasts were a jolting reminder of the persistent threat posed by the jihadists, despite the government declaring victory over them in late 2017.
The official, along with judicial sources contacted by AFP, could not provide additional details on when the executions may take place or if they included foreigners convicted of belonging to IS.
A 2005 law carries the death penalty for anyone convicted of “terrorism,” which can include membership of an extremist group even if they are not convicted of any specific acts.
Rights groups have warned that executions were being used for political reasons.
“Leaders resort to announcements of mass executions simply to signal to the public that they’re taking... (these issues) seriously,” said Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The death penalty is used as a political tool more than anything else,” she told AFP on Sunday.
In mid-2018, outgoing Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi announced 13 executions under the Counter-Terror Law, and for the first time authorities published pictures of the hangings.
That came after Daesh killed eight civilians.


Since the official declaration of victory over Daesh, Iraq’s courts have sentenced hundreds to death for crimes perpetrated during the jihadists’ 2014 seizure of around a third of the country and their brutal three-year hold over cities including Mosul.
But only a small proportion of the sentences have been carried out, as they must be approved by the president.
Barham Saleh, who has held the post since 2018, is known to be personally against capital punishment, and has resisted signing execution orders in the past.
Some Iraqis took to social media to demand tougher action from Saleh after Thursday’s attack, accusing him of “not carrying out the sentences” and risking a prison break.
Despite Saleh’s moderating influence, Iraq in 2019 carried out the fourth highest number of executions among nations worldwide, after China and Iran, according to Amnesty International.
Iraq carried out 100 executions that year — one out of every seven worldwide.
Judicial sources told AFP at least 30 executions took place in 2020.
They include 21 men convicted of “terrorism” and executed at the notorious Nasiriyah prison in November.
The move sparked condemnations from the United Nations, which described the news as “deeply troubling” and called on Iraq to halt any further planned executions.


Rights groups accuse Iraq’s justice system of corruption, carrying out rushed trials on circumstantial evidence and failing to allow the accused a proper defense.
They also condemn cramped conditions in detention centers, saying those arrested for petty crimes are often held with hardened jihadists, facilitating radicalization.
Iraq’s government has declined to provide figures on detention centers or prisoners, including how many are facing terrorism-related charges, although some studies estimate 20,000 are being held for purported Daesh links.
UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said late last year that given such gaps in Iraq’s legal system, implementing capital punishment “may amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life by the State.”
Ali Bayati, a leading member of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission, told AFP the country had “limited options.”
“Capital punishment is part of the Iraqi legal system — and we do not have real rehabilitation centers,” he said.
“We lack clear guarantees and real transparency in the interrogation and ruling sessions, and in allowing human rights organizations to play their role.”