DALLAS (AP) – Former President George W. Bush’s policy institute has launched a fellowship program designed to help women in the Middle East hone their leadership skills as they build a network of support.

Charity Wallace, director of the women’s initiative at the institute, says the goal is to “empower women to transform their countries.”

The inaugural group participating in the yearlong fellowship put on by the women’s initiative is made up of 14 women from Egypt.

Former first lady Laura Bush, who chairs the women’s initiative, says the idea for the fellowship grew out of her husband’s belief that women will lead the freedom movement.

Laura Bush will join women from the fellowship program Thursday for a town hall discussion to mark International Women’s Day.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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