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Situation of Arab women is improving: Sheikha Fatima

posted on 11/11/2008: 2155 views



Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Chairwoman of Arab Women's Organisation (AWO), has affirmed the situation of Arab women would continue to improve as long as the Arab nation has sincere leaders.

'We live in a global age. The second AWO conference in Abu Dhabi will focus on the impacts of globalisation on the security of women. Economic security is determined by global, regional, local and national factors. Arab countries are going through a lot of economic changes and have already adopted a market economy. The impacts of these changes on women are different than those on men,'

Sheikha Fatima said in an interview with WAM on the occasion of the 2nd Conference of the Arab Women's Organisation scheduled in Abu Dhabi between 11th and 13th November at the Emirates Palace Hotel.

'At the conference, scholars and researchers will have a close look at the threats to women's human security and will draw up plans to advance the status and overall security of women. Some papers will discuss the creation of a safe and supportive social environment for women, said Sheikha Fatima, who is also Chairwoman of the UAE General Women's Union (GWU) and Supreme Chairwoman of the Family Development Foundation (FDF).

'The forthcoming conference, being held on the theme "Women and human security: An Arab and International Perspective" is, in our view, a very significant event. We have great hopes for the conference and confidently expect it to help provide a life of greater dignity for women throughout the Arab countries.

'We are really delighted and we take pride in hosting the leaders of the Arab Women's Movement who will participate in the 2nd AWO Conference being held in the UAE, the country of peace, love and affluence. We welcome this elite group of people to the UAE, their second home.

'They are coming to offer the benefits of their own efforts and experiences for the good of all Arab women. We also take pride in having such a remarkable gathering here. That will help to enrich the conference with thoughts, visions, studies and research. We are fully confident that dedicated Arab minds will be able to present their visions and to engage in all-encompassing discussions on the various dimensions of the main topic of the conference, the security of Arab women,' Sheikha Fatima added.



Following is the full text of Sheikha Fatima's interview:

Q- As the Chairwoman of the UAE General Women's Union and Chairwoman of the Arab Women's Organisation, what are your expectations for the AWO Conference that is due to open on November 11th in Abu Dhabi?

A- The forthcoming conference, being held on the theme "Women and human security: An Arab and International Perspective" is, in our view, a very significant event. We have great hopes for the conference and confidently expect it to help to provide a life of greater dignity for women throughout the Arab countries.

Currently, the concept of human security is a major topic of discussion in international forums, but the Arab contribution to this dialogue is almost non-existent. Any such contribution to the process of shaping of or implementing of the concept of human security could take an active part in developing a multi-dimensional approach that takes into consideration the needs of both state and society. It is now clear is that the traditional concept of security, i.e. the security of the state or military security, is not a fully comprehensive approach, though we should not, of course, ignore the traditional types of threat that face countries in a region like the Middle East where seeds of conflicts are already present.

Having taken into consideration the needs of the state and society, and having concentrated on the needs of women in particular, the conference's eight main topics will discuss and analyse threats to human security in general and women's security in particular.

Q- The UAE, under the prudent leadership of President H.H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is making huge efforts to advance the status of women and giving them political, economic and social roles. To what extent have UAE women succeeded in fulfilling the aspirations of the UAE leadership?

A- UAE women have achieved more as a result of the plan for the political empowerment of women laid down by President H.H Sheikh Khalifa. Today, they are holding senior offices in all areas of life and are actively participating in leading the process of development and modernisation through their roles in the executive, judicial and legislative authorities as well as in the decision -making process.

Among the most visible gains for UAE women are a greater number of seats in the Cabinet formed in February 2008 and in the Federal National Council. There are now four women in the Cabinet, compared to two previously, the largest number in the Arab world, and 9 out of 40 FNC seats, or 22 per cent, which is among the highest anywhere in the world's legislative bodies.

H.H. Sheikh Khalifa, in his capacity as Ruler of Abu Dhabi, has also appointed Kholoud Jua'an Al Dhahiri as the first -ever female judge in the UAE. She was sworn in on October 7th 2008 before H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.

This appointment was an example of the continuation of the policy of engaging women in the overall process of development and encouraging them to work in all areas alongside men on an equal opportunity basis.

Sheikha Najla Al Qassimi and Dr. Hussa Al Otaiba were also recently named as the first two Emirati female ambassadors in the UAE's history, being appointed to Sweden and Spain respectively.

As a result of the support given by Sheikh Khalifa, UAE women have begun to make a mark in military and civil aviation and are now working as pilots and engineers with Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and the UAE Armed Forces. This is the ultimate demonstration of the confidence the UAE leadership has in the ability of the women of the UAE to succeed in all areas.

Q- What role is seen for women, working together with men, in the process of development in the UAE?

A- UAE women have become major and active players in the process of development in the UAE. They now account for 66% of the governmental workforce and hold 30% of senior jobs at the decision-making level. They also account for 15% of the teaching staff at the UAE University. In addition, they account for 60% of the workforce in medical care, education, nursing and pharmacies. They have also joined the Armed Forces, police and customs. Following the establishment of the Businesswomen's Council, they have also begun to make their mark in business. The Council now had 12,000 members, managing 11,000 investments estimated at 12.5 billion UAE dirhams.

Women now account for 37.5% of the workforce in the banking sector which is one of the pillars of the UAE economy. We are absolutely delighted at the support provided by the UAE political leadership to women's participation in the various areas of national activity.

UAE women have made major achievements over the past few decades, thanks to the support extended to them by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. They have been empowered to shoulder their full responsibilities in the process of development, alongside men. They have contributed to sustainable development as well as to economic, social and cultural changes. This contribution has been based on equal rights and duties and within the framework of the teachings of Islam and the tolerance embodied in Sharia law and traditions.

Gender equality has helped to bring many gains for UAE women: enacting laws that guarantee women's rights such as the right to work, social security, the right to ownership, running businesses, education, health and social care in addition to maternity leave and equal wages. The Supreme Council for Maternity and Childhood has been set up to improve the levels of care for mothers and children.

The UAE has signed all international treaties on protecting the rights of women. Among these are the Child Protection Convention (1997), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW, (2004), the Hours of Work (Industry) Convention (1982), the Equal Remuneration Convention (1996), the Convention concerning Night Work of Women Employed in Industry (1982) and the Convention on Minimum Age (1996),

The UAE has also joined regional and international organisations which aim to advance the status of women.

The role of UAE women was further enhanced by the support provided by the country's Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed, who strongly believed that the fact that women make up half of society meant that no society would be able to realise its dreams of progress and development if that half were de-activated and unable to play a role in the process of building the country.

A number of laws in favour of the role of women have been enacted, in accordance with the support that President H.H Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed and Their Highnesses the Rulers of the Emirates have provided for the development of the role of women in the UAE.

Q- The UAE is preparing to receive the Arab First Ladies, the wives of Arab monarchs and heads of state, as well as women leaders in Arab and foreign countries and representatives of international organisations. What would you like to say on this occasion?

A- We are really delighted and we take pride in hosting the leaders of the Arab Women's Movement who will participate in the 2nd AWO Conference being held in the UAE, the country of peace, love and affluence. We welcome this elite group of people to the UAE, their second home. They are coming to offer the benefits of their own efforts and experiences for the good of all Arab women. We also take pride in having such a remarkable gathering here. That will help to enrich the conference with thoughts, visions, studies and research. We are fully confident that dedicated Arab minds will be able to present their visions and to engage in all-encompassing discussions on the various dimensions of the main topic of the conference, the security of Arab women.

Q- Do you think that the Arab Women's Organisation is capable of keeping pace with the global changes related to women's work and education as well as their social, economic, media and political roles?

A- Yes, it is. Ever since its inception, the AWO has been able to deliver positive results regarding the issues and causes of Arab women. The success of this leading organisation can be attributed to the cooperation among its members as they seek to advance the status of Arab women who for many years have been struggling against the poverty, backwardness and ignorance that prevail in most Arab societies Personally, I think the Forum on Arab Women and the Media which was held in Abu Dhabi back in 2002 represented the real birth of the AWO which was first conceived at the Extraordinary Summit held in Cairo later in the same year.

I have no doubt that this gathering of women in Abu Dhabi will reflect the keen interest of the AWO in the real status of Arab women and will continue the process of studying and researching into the barriers that still exist to the progress of Arab women. The issues on the agenda of the Abu Dhabi summit are relevant, of course, not only to women, but to all members of society. In addition, the presentation of well-considered and serious ideas, researches and studies will provide the foundation for correcting a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about women.

Q- What is your view of the media strategy that is due to be adopted at Abu Dhabi summit?

A- We are very interested in that strategy. In our view, it is time that such a strategy was adopted, so that the AWO could play its role in the process, in accordance with the recommendations of the 2002 Forum on Arab Women and the Media, held in Abu Dhabi under our patronage. That forum stressed the need for a media strategy for Arab women, as did the recommendations of the 1st AWO conference which was held in Bahrain in November 2006 on the theme "6 years after the 1st Arab Women Summit: Achievements and Challenges".

Those recommendations stressed the need for a clearly defined Arab approach, with clearly defined schedules, in order to present women in a balanced and humane way as well as to empower them to have their influential role in the media.

Q- Over the past years, you have shown a great deal of interest in the issue of Arab women and the media. You gave your patronage to the Forum on Arab Women and the Media back in 2002, then you took up the media strategy for Arab women which the AWO will launch at its 2nd conference to be held under the theme "Women and human security: An Arab and International Perspective." Are you satisfied by the results achieved so far and what are your expectations?

A- We have had a long-standing interest in the issue of Arab women and the media, and we hope that the media strategy for Arab women will be adopted at the upcoming conference.

As Arab women leaders, we have to welcome such a strategy which encompasses goals and projects for raising the ability of Arab media in tackling women's issues and in supporting the message carried by the media to society on Arab women. it will also lead to co-ordination between media institutions, on the one hand, and governments, academic institutions, civil society and the private sector, on the other, on ways to develop media content about the reality of the position of Arab women and the issues that face them.

These goals include a variety of fields of relevance to Arab women, in particular politics, economics, sociology, culture, education, sports, health and the environment.

Q- What should the media do in order to strengthen the role of women in these areas?

A- The greatest responsibility for supporting and encouraging the development of Arab women rests on the shoulders of the media. However, Arab women themselves have to take up the opportunities made available to them in the media. A number of factors affect the process of strengthening the presence and role of Arab women in the media. The AWO has asked the media to lay out a code of ethics for tackling women's issues.

I would like to note here that the Abu Dhabi Declaration in 2002 resulted in a number of significant recommendations for strengthening the role of women in the media.

For instance, the Declaration called for the setting up of an annual award for the best piece of work in the media that serves the causes of women. It also called for the drafting of a media charter be drafted to encourage innovation in women media and to motivate writers and journalists to give more attention to women's causes.

The declaration emphasised that there was a need for the following: developing legislation related to women, laying down policies aimed at helping women in public life, calling on Arab media organisations to empower women to actively engage in the media landscape and to develop an ethical approach to tackling women's issues and to avoid concentration on negative stereotypes about women, as well as highlighting the issues facing women and improving their freedom of expression.

The Abu Dhabi Declaration also stressed that the media is an integral part of the social, cultural, political and economic structure of society and that it contributes to the development of this structure through promoting proper concepts and values.

Acting out this role to further address women's issues requires the enactment of legislation on women's participation in public life so that they are given access to modern professions while at the same time the specific nature of Arab societies are taken into account. Such legislation would also promote awareness within society of the significance of women's participation in the media.

The Declaration also called for laying out policies and practical programmes to strengthen women's participation in media, for the setting up of a centre for research, training and translation to address women's issues, for the setting up of an information network with an archive and a media watchdog as well using the media to raise Arab women's awareness of their basic issues and their political and civil rights.

In light of these recommendations, Arab media organisations should adopt whatever they see as relevant to their specific circumstances in order to strengthen the status of women and give them an appropriate role in the media landscape.

Q- You have attained a high status in women organisations, locally, regionally and internationally. Thanks to you, the UAE women have gained much education and the process of development. What are the future plans of the General Women's Union and the Family Development Foundation, FDF, in terms of development aimed at empowering women to attain their well- deserved status in society?

A - The Family Development Foundation, FDF, was established by a decree issued by the President in May, 2002. That was a significant step aimed at increasing the role of women in the process of sustainable development as well as strengthening their role and regional and international presence.

The mission of the FDF is to provide care and development to families in general and women and children in particular. This recognises the role of families in raising children and lays down a comprehensive vision for tackling issues related to women and children and the process of sustainable development of families, so as to create a society that is capable of being competitive, based on science and knowledge and a continuous development of capabilities and skills.

In particular, the FDF is interested in strengthening religious values and promoting authentic Arab traditions to ensure the continuity of the family and social cohesion. The objective is to help women to strengthen their status, to participate actively in social and economic development, to adopt innovative ways to implement policies aimed at providing care and rehabilitation and to promote development for women and children in line with the UAE's social policy. This should be undertaken within a framework of optimal cooperation with regional and international organisations. Out of this will come the strategies and plans and the programmes to be implemented, related to protecting, raising and taking care of children and preparing them for the future. Other objectives are to establish justice and equality and partnership between men and women in order to keep pace with the process of overall development, fighting poverty, to give women access to job opportunities in order to increase their families' income, to approve social care and development projects that seek to meet the needs of mothers and children and the defence of women's rights in all areas to ensure a dignified life for the family as the basic social unit.

The General Women Union, GWU, brings together all women's societies in the country. Since its inception on 27th August 1975, the GWU has shouldered the responsibility of laying out plans and strategies to empower women in various areas. It has been working on well-prepared programmes and activities as part of its efforts to implement the national strategy for promoting the status of women as well as empowering them in the fields of education, health, the economy, media, politics, social work, the environment and the implementation of legislation.

The GWU has also been playing an active role in the process of political qualification and empowerment through encouraging political participation by women at all levels. In this regard, the Union has launched a project to strengthen the performance of female parliamentarians through training courses, workshops, symposia and dialogues. These have all improved the skills of women leaders and have prepared them for the political arena.

The GWU has gained prestige by taking an active part in both Arab and international activities and organisations. It has become a member of the Arab Women's Union, the International Women's Union, the International Family Organisation and other regional and international women's organisations.

Q- The 2nd AWO Conference being held in Abu Dhabi on November 11th will address the theme: "Women and human security: An Arab and International Perspective". Do you foresee any greater achievements by Arab women in the future?

A- We always hope for that. The situation of Arab women will continue to improve as long as the Arab nation has sincere leaders. At the conference, scholars and researchers will have a close look at the threats to women's human security and will draw up plans to advance the status and overall security of women. Some papers will discuss the creation of a safe and supportive social environment for women.

We live in a global age. The Abu Dhabi conference will focus on the impacts of globalisation on the security of women. Economic security is determined by global, regional, local and national factors. Arab countries are going through a lot of economic changes and have already adopted a market economy. The impacts of these changes on women are different than those on men.

The conference will also look into the impacts of social policies and try to find the best way to optimise women's security.

The conference will also discuss health and environmental issues and their impacts on women's security as well as their right to receive extra support for being mothers and care providers. It will also discuss the impacts of wars and armed conflicts within the context of the role of women in managing and solving conflicts as well as in maintaining peace and security.

Q- Do you think that such conferences play a major role in raising awareness of women's political, economic, social, cultural and legal issues as well as in prioritising those issues in overall development plans and policies?

A - Absolutely. Efforts to raise awareness of women's issues are continuous and they will not cease, especially when there is interest in creating an Arab media charter for women and in developing views of how women can address the issues relevant to them, on the basis of approaches and decisions based on Arab culture.

Arab women have made significant achievements and have established an effective presence in the field of media. Among the forums approved by the 1st Arab Women Summit in Cairo are The Regional Forum on Arab Women and the Media, held in Abu Dhabi, the Arab Forum on Women and Politics in Tunisia, the Forum on Women and Law in Bahrain, the Regional Forum on Arab Women in Emigration Countries in Amman, the Forum on Women and Economics in Kuwait and the Forum on Women and Society, in Baghdad.

Those forums held over the past few years, in which high profile women took part, have helped to give Arab women the status they deserve.

More conferences and forum will be held in the future to provide Arab women with further opportunities and the capabilities to succeed. – Emirates News Agency, WAM

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