The world today is shaping a new platform for women to use their voices and be more aware of their rights; it is helping women reset boundaries and open up the uncomfortable conversation that was only discussed within communities of women. One of the biggest conversations happening worldwide is surrounding the #MeToo movement; a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault of women. This movement has been a powerful message from women to step up and unite against sexual assault and to start a new era of equality. Sudanese women are not too far from this conversation.
Traditionally, well established organizations tackled empowerment issues, but we’re now also seeing youth initiatives created with a focus on specific women issues and capacity building. These youth initiatives are emboldened to confidently stand up for their rights, speak their truth and build communities in which they can work together to solve their problems and share their Ideas. AMNA is a youth run initiative that was established to support women and provide a safe place for them to share stories about sexual harassment and the backlash of going through such an experience. AMNA, which derives from the Arabic word meaning “it/she is safe” hosts talks to discuss women rights and feminism.
The organization was founded by Moneera Yaseen, a recent economics graduate, a women’s rights activist and a social entrepreneur. Moneera set about identifying ways to solve the hardships women - specifically young women - are experiencing. She explored different fields before she founded IECRC (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Community Research Chapter) to support entrepreneurs in Sudan. She represented Sudan at many summits including the Knowledge Summit in Dubai and Africa Summit in Morocco. Moneera also spent 5 weeks studying social entrepreneurship at California State University. She is an Alumnus of UNDP’s Youth Leadership Program and a Fellow at Stanford University with AMENDS (American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue). Moneera is a mentor with the YLP network in the Arab region. To understand the role of AMNA and the various programs it is running we had a chat with its founder, Moneera Yaseen.
Andariya: What was the inspiration for founding AMNA?
Moneera Yaseen: During the UN Women’s 16 days campaign to end violence against women in 2017 I used Saraha (an anonymous messaging website) to ask women on social media platforms about their experience with violence. When I shared their stories, I got attacked by people questioning the credibility of these stories. At that moment I understood that gender inequality is not just a behavioral issue, it’s an epidemic which will eventually affect the development of the country. For that reason I founded AMNA.
At AMNA, we challenge and aim to change thinking, actions and policies that contribute to violence against women and gender inequality. Using innovative and engaging tools, we try to address and change the attitudes that make violence against women possible. That means building the capacity of communities to respond to gender-based violence in the local context. It also means empowering women and girls through education, health and livelihoods opportunities. We plan on supporting women to speak up for their rights. And crucially, it means engaging men and boys to break the cycle of violence.
AMNA means safe in Arabic, and it’s also a female name. I have created a personality around the initiative, AMNA represents any Sudanese girl who has faced violence; and our goal is to make any Sudanese girl
AMNA or “safe”. As an abstract for hope, AMNA’s logo is a phoenix drawn as the name Amna in Arabic alphabets. We chose the phoenix as our symbol because it resembles the female strength, and her endurance, for every difficulty, violence, and aggression that caused her pain and burned her insides she should realize -as the glorious phoenix- that she’ll rise stronger than ever.
Andariya: What are some of the major issues AMNA is tackling?
Moneera Yaseen: I believe gender inequality is a critical and growing issue which our world is experiencing. Gender inequality is not a mainstream issue as today’s media portrays it; all the propaganda which our media is creating around gender inequality, has blinded communities to look at the issue as it is. I was born in a community where you would face discrimination based on your gender, sexual orientation or your beliefs and ideas. Being a woman is one of the hardest things in such communities. Since the first day in your life you will face all types of violence, from female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, economic exploitation etc.. I was fortunate enough to be born in a supportive family that succeeded in shaping me into a strong woman, but things aren’t the same outside my home; I face violence and discrimination in the streets, work place, school and almost everywhere I go. This has inspired me to take part in the 2017 UN Women’s 16 days campaign and from there it all began.
Andariya: What are AMNA’s core activities and achievements to date?
Moneera Yaseen: We work on raising awareness about the danger of VAW (Violence against Women) and highlight the existence of this issue in our community. We conduct researches to collect data about Sudan, organizing workshops to train youth on how to advocate against VAW. Our goal is to raise awareness about the issue of VAW among young people and to make young people advocators against VAW.
I have designed innovative and interactive awareness training, which is more attractive and engaging for young people, instead of the lecture-style trainings. The training sessions were designed to engage men and women in a conversation about the existence of the issues in our community. Then the training introduces trainees to the tools of advocacy to make them aware that acknowledging the existence of the issue is not enough on its own; we need to stand up and take actions. In order for them to take the right actions, we train young people on design thinking. Through the four steps of design thinking we help them develop initiatives and ideas to advocate against VAW. Also, we reach out to young people in universities through hosting what we call “Gaa’dat” or chat sessions, where we host baking sales and bring a musician or band. Through the chats we start a conversation inside the universities on VAW.
In addition, AMNA is considered a social enterprise; it’s a self-sustained organization where we generate income from each activity we host to guarantee the sustainability of our work. For example we take a small amount of money as registration fee at the advocacy workshop, and young people pay to have the training on design thinking. We take the income generated from the workshop and direct it to organize the next workshop and so on.
Andariya: Who are your biggest supporters?
Moneera Yaseen: AMNA wouldn’t be here without the support of young women and men, who dedicated their time and effort to make this a reality. I remember getting dozens of messages on Facebook from people who believed in the issue and empathized with each and every single story I have shared. It was astonishing how storytelling can move us from the inside and motivate us to lead change. I also want to mention my family who were very supportive, they sponsored the first workshop when we started with a zero budget, My Mum Nadia, Dad Hussien, my Aunts Rasha and Jamila and my grandmother Hayat. They all contributed financially and effectively to help us in organizing the first advocacy workshop.
One important aspect that drives our work is the AMNA community. We believe in creating a community around the issue of Violence against Women, because it’s an important issue that requires solidarity, standing up and advocacy. We believe that the more people who believe that women shouldn’t be facing violence in our community, the less women will face it.
Follow AMNA on Twitter to keep up with their activities.