GPG delivers specialist technical advice through a core group of retained Associates who are former Ministers, Members of Parliament, senior civil servants or parliamentary staff, and academics. We have built long-lasting relationships with Associates which we seek to highlight in this series of personal profiles.
This month’s Associate, Victoria Zwein, is a political activist, a women’s rights advocate, and the founding member of several socio-political movements and coalitions, currently supporting our Lebanon project for women’s political representation. She was elected as a Council Member at Sin El Fil municipality in 2004 and 2016 and ran for parliamentary elections in Maten on the Kuluna Watani list in 2018.
Describe your area of work. What encouraged you to work in this sector?
I studied Public Relations and started my career in the IT field with a company in which I was a shareholder. Then, I was elected in 2004 in a municipality council in Lebanon. Inspired by the interaction with people and the change I saw in my community, I decided to shift my career and work on local development, strategic planning, advocacy and policy making. In summary, I wanted to help activists, specifically women, to do politics in a different way and to be more involved in making a positive change – to make a difference.
Give us a short overview of what you consider to have been a key moment in your career. What brought you where you are today?
Campaigning while pregnant and being elected at the age of 29, in an environment considered back then exclusive to men wasn’t easy.
I’ve learned to face bullying and irony. Each mistake, each question was considered as “women wanting to interfere with men’s world’.
I felt so alone facing these challenges. And I’ve learned, I’ve studied and researched before every meeting and I proved myself. This is how I decided that I wanted to help other women face these challenges and violence against women in politics. I didn’t have to endure any physical violence, but don’t underestimate its mental and verbal forms.
As a trainer and as a mentor, I share practical examples and success stories. I share my mistakes and my lessons learned and I believe that we are paving the way for other women and other young activists to know that politics has to be inclusive, because our countries need us all.
What one thing about working in your sector do you wish was different?
It hurts when I see that sometimes it just doesn’t work. When I see that we are still paying a very high price for freedom of expression, when women are still underestimated and need to double their effort in order to get what is rightful for them. It hurts when I see that our countries are still broken despite the efforts that we make or when I see that election results don’t really reflect the people’s will – sometimes because of unfair laws or because of a corrupted process. Not very inspiring you might say… But frankly, this is the truth and this is why I keep fighting.
I love my work for giving me the opportunity of being part of a bigger circle of activists, all fighting together for a better place. I am a trainer and I succeed in my work because I see in each workshop a learning opportunity where we can learn from each other, where I get inspired by people from different countries.
One thing I would change for sure: bring about a peaceful and safer world for political activists all over the world.
What work have you done with GPG, and what drove you to work with our organisation?
The first project on which I worked with GPG was filming a short video about fundraising explaining how I was able to raise money for my electoral campaign. I have friends working with GPG and they told me about the genuine effort they make through their programs. I also watched the learning videos they develop and share with their participants. I was happy to be part of this learning experience and hoped that taking part in this project would support other candidates with their Fundraising campaigns. I was thrilled to meet participants who actually used some of the tools I’ve shared with them.
How would you describe the impact of your work with GPG?
In our previous workshop, I worked with GPG on introducing the concept of male allies.
Rather than just working with women, under this program we were training men and women together. It was incredibly insightful to be discussing the importance of men supporting women, breaking down and understanding social constructs of gender and how gender stereotypes influence our actions, encouraging both groups to see issues from the others’ perspective, discussing the importance of women political participation and how men can actually be supportive to women candidates.
The men participating in this program joined because they truly wanted to help, but didn’t know how. This workshop approach presented a practical tool that I truly believe will make a difference in the next Lebanese municipal elections. I look forward to seeing the participants run and win them.
Beyond GPG, tell us about an organisation or a programme you feel successfully contributes to strengthening representative politics around the world.
From 2012 till 2018, I was working with the National Democratic Institute (NDI). I was part of the management team leading the Campaign Schools program. This regional program targeted 10 countries in the MENA region and reached thousands of political activists and campaign teams. Through this program we trained campaign managers, political leaders and candidates to run for elections and to develop campaigns that take into consideration voters needs through innovative techniques that respect the cultural context of each country.
Seeing these participants succeed in their campaign or get promotion within their political parties is definitely one of my greatest achievements. It made me truly believe that through our work we are able to promote real change actors.
The second part of this program was a TOT component. The graduates from this training were the catalyst to create a snow ball effect and implement training locally in each country.
Share your thoughts on a recent event or news story that caught your attention.
I am not sure how to select one event with all what’s happening in the world! But, I will zoom in to Lebanon one more time.
August 4, 2020. A sad day that we will never forget, a day that changed me forever.
On that day Beirut exploded, it was the largest non-nuclear blast in history. For us, the ones who survived, we believe that we survived for a reason.
After the explosion, girls and boys, women and men all together were cleaning the streets, supporting the victims’ families and rebuilding Beirut. The entire world showed solidarity.
Unfortunately, the wound didn’t heal yet. It won’t heal before seeing that the criminals paid for this crime. For that, in my way, I will keep fighting…