Preparing global woman leaders!

Muawia E. Ibrahim
Filed on March 15, 2006

ABU DHABI — Over 1,200 delegations from 75 different countries wrapped up here yesterday a three-day forum that aimed at chalking out ways of preparing young women as future global leaders. The ‘Women as Global Leaders Conference’ was organised by the Zayed University at the Emirates Palace, under the theme: ‘Communities in Transition’.

The main objective of the forum was to build bridges and connect the emerging generation of women leaders — students from the UAE, the Americas, the Gulf countries, Europe, Asia and Africa — with each other and with some of the most prominent women leaders in the world today. According to participants, the three-day activities allowed friendships to be made which will transcend culture and distance and perhaps in a small way contribute to enhanced world peace and stability.

The conference included presentations by prominent world leaders and personalities, opportunities for participants to interact with these leaders, papers, presentations, simulations and workshops. Parallel and interactive sessions were planned for all participants.

Key speakers included some of the most influential women in the word today, including Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Cherie Booth, Wife of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, noted British attorney and human rights advocate, UK and from the host country Shaikha Lubna Al Qassimi, the first UAE woman who is now the Minister of Economy.

Though the forum was considered a big success by the participants and observers, there was not a single session out of the 237 sessions that openly debated sensitive issues like hijab, abaya and other issues that are often the cause of embarrassment to the West and Islam. There was only one interactive workshop on ‘Structures Of Conflict And Violence In Communities, Identifying Practical And Empowering Solutions To Enable Peaceful Transitions’. However, even this workshop did not directly address such issues.

Asked why such issues did not feature on the agenda of the conference, Dr Sulaiman Al Jassim, Vice-President of ZU said: “No such issues were discussed, but I think nobody has proposed them. After all, the West respects women and their values and through such forums, there would be more understanding,” he said during the last day of the conference.

When asked to comment, Sara Al Masnour, a UAE Communication and Media Sciences student at ZU, told Khaleej Times: “We didn’t actually discuss these issues, but we talked about the participants’ impression about us. Everybody said they were so excited to meet and talk to us. Some of them told us they thought we were close-minded. They said they had a wrong impression about us.” She added that not every Westerner thinks that way about Arabs or Muslims. “We should not generalise. We should be specific. What is portrayed by the media is wrong,” she noted.

One of the papers attempted to correct the wrong belief of treatment of women in the Arab world. Toni Briegel And Jaye Zivkovic of Zayed University said in their paper ‘Financial Empowerment In UAE National Women’ that contrary to stereotyped beliefs about Arab women, women in the Middle East have control of their own money. “Men are expected to pay all household bills and are not allowed to touch any funds with which women may have entered the marriage. What is fiction and what is fact in this ideal world of female empowerment? We will invite UAE national women to participate in focus groups and question them using focused discussion to determine the extent to which they actually control their personal funds.”

A survey, according to the researchers, will be conducted with UAE national women selected from a range of socio-economic conditions to provide data about what they do with their money. Results of the survey and an analysis of comments and perceptions from the focus groups will be presented. According to Dr Jassim, the conference will be held every two years as it had proved successful in the last two editions.

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