Hadil Al-Ashwal, MENA (AGE) initiative
Equality Change Makers

Hadil Al-Ashwal : Founder of The Middle East and North Africa Advocates for Gender Equality initiative

Hadil Al-Ashwal is the Founder & Managing Director of the MENA Advocates for Gender Equality. Born and raised in Yemen, she has lived in different countries in the Middle East, Europe, and North America. Hadil holds an MBA from Cardiff Metropolitan University where she was selected as a representative, exemplary woman to inspire others. Currently, she works as a consultant at The World Bank. 

Hadil, could you please tell us about your work in reducing gender inequality in MENA region?

At MENA AGE Initiative our goal is advancing gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa. The initiative accomplishes this mission by creating engaging and educational videos and articles that discuss gender issues in the region. The content explores a wide range of issues as well as highlights inspiring stories, case studies, and reports of the widespread positive impact of gender equality on people, communities, and countries. Some of the issues we cover include, but are not limited to, domestic violence, child marriage, health, education, and labor.

We also collaborate with different organizations on projects that help build women’s capacity. A collaboration we are working currently on is about training women from the MENA region on caring for themselves and their family members if they get COVID-19.

Please tell us more about your journey

I was born and raised in Yemen. I did my Bachelor’s in International Business Management. The war started in Yemen right before I was supposed to start my last semester at University. It was very difficult – living in a war zone force you to think about life and death every single day. At that time, I believed that leaving Yemen will allow me to do more for myself, and my loved ones. I went to Lebanon to do my last semester of the university. Then I managed to get an MBA acceptance from a university in the UK. After graduation, I stayed in Malaysia and Saudi for a few months before moving to the US where I am currently working as a consultant at the World Bank Group and as a  Managing Director at MENA AGE initiative. 

What motivated you to start MENA AGE initiatives? 

I could give a thousand reasons that motivated me to work on women empowerment. I’ve always felt the need to advocate for gender equality ever since I can remember myself. It’s probably because I come from the worst country in the world in terms of gender equality (based on the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 by The World Economic Forum). I’ve seen and experienced many acts of gender discrimination in my life that have played very important roles in building my passion to work on gender equality. Further, living in a war zone, having to go through my separation on my own in a country that I was relatively new to, and living in different countries around the world – all these have given me the courage to start this journey. Being an advocate was within me for the longest time, I just needed that push, and the experiences that I lived for the last six years were my fuel.

Can you share some of the major challenges and roadblocks which you’ve faced in empowering women/girls in your region? 

One of the challenges that I face is how some people stereotype gender activists and non-hijabi Yemeni women. Unfortunately, some of the very people we are trying to help don’t even listen to what we say. But I think the more we express our ideas and the more work we do that benefits the society the more we will get our targeted audience to listen to what we have to say.

Please share some of your achievements and major milestones that you are proud of

I am very humbled that I am the Managing Director of such a diverse and talented team at MENA AGE. We are receiving a lot of great feedback and I believe that the collaboration of our team with other gender equality advocates will help reduce gender inequality in the MENA region.

I am grateful that I have two of my articles on gender issues published on I volunteer and Girlsbloges. I was also featured at Yemen News, Women from the East & Yemeni Feminist Movement.

What would be your advice to our readers who want to support your movement or would like to help and empower other women, but are not sure how to start?

I would advise them to speak up when they see injustice and help women around them with the means they have. It all starts with us making a difference in our small circles. For those who want to work on gender advocacy, I would suggest that they start by learning more about the topic and identifying organizations that work on the field. I would encourage them to put themselves out there. Reach out to people who work on this area to learn from them and see how they can help. They can definitely reach out to us at MENA AGE and we can brainstorm how to collaborate. Anyone can really help with their own way and area of speciality!  



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