At a global women’s forum in Dubai last week, many participants spoke about the role of women in an ever-changing Gulf society.
The UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed noted that “empowerment” of women is not about window dressing. He faulted those who refuse to allow women to play a role in society.
Another speaker, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director Christine Lagarde, called on women to stand up for themselves and not be submissive. Queen Rania of Jordan made an important point when she said, “changing laws on women’s rights takes time but it takes generations to change perceptions. We have to fight the people who are trying to throw us back in time. There is an urgency in time.”
Empowerment of women is not the role of men. Society needs to push forward and make use of all available methods. And here is where women have to play their role. They should not be tied down and restricted by the edicts of half-educated scholars and obstructionists.
Women should be inspired by role models who help to change stereotypes and carve a niche in society.
Education and financial independence are important, and they are interconnected. Here the partnership between the public and private becomes vital. This can result in breaking down the barriers and self-created social taboos imposed by a shrieking minority.
These regressive-thinking individuals have created a fear psychosis in certain states. They use a misinterpreted version of Islam to push back women in society. Furthermore, they deliberately overlook, as Queen Rania said, the fact that “centuries ago Muslim women were seen trading and farming and they were warriors.”
A society that refuses to allow half of its population to participate is bound to fail. We should not allow this to happen.
The challenges to women in Saudi Arabia are immense and compounded by the fact that false theories are being used to push women back.
The government has paved the way for women’s participation. It is up to women now to utilize every forum and every available means to go ahead, to form alliances and to break barriers.
Women should go beyond the stage of empowering themselves in the community; they should instead be involved in the process of empowering communities through women.
As Shamma Al-Mazrui, the UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs, said, nothing is impossible. And we all subscribe to her view.