International Women's Day is observed globally on March 8. Organised for the first time in the emirate, it focused on women divided by national boundaries, hit by ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic and political differences and creating an avenue for them to come together on a common platform to celebrate the gains they have made. It also focused on much-needed changes.
Nurjehan Mawani, the keynote speaker who flew down from Canada, shared her experiences and contributions made by women globally, especially in Canada, in bridging the gender divide and various issues facing them.
She spoke about her personal contribution as a lawyer, chairperson and CEO of the Immigration and Refugee Board and senior adviser on diversity to the Canadian government.
Being the first woman and the first member of a visible minority to chair the board, her appointment came during a time of a major controversy in Canada over whether it should grant asylum or refugee status to women who fled their countries of origin for fear of persecution, or any severe punishment - if they were to be in breach of certain policies and practices. Most states were not willing to protect women in these circumstances and grant refugee status to them, she said.
Remaining within the jurisdiction of the Geneva Convention, she spearheaded a fresh initiative whereby Canada would adopt a new approach to women refugees determination system and launched the Canadian guidelines on women refugees fearing gender-related persecution.
Soon other countries, including Australia, the US, the UK, among others, adopted similar guidelines. It was symbolic of victory for women, said Ms Mawani, urging women around the globe to take initiatives in their own way to fight discrimination and abuse.
"We should help bring to the table our views, ideas about the role of women in the economic development of a country and also their role towards humanity and society."
Ms Mawani hailed the progress of UAE women in economic, social and political arenas, and suggested that the West should take it up as an example and follow similar lines - the development and contribution made by women, particularly, in the field of Information Technology. She also reminded the role of women in Islam, which "did not pit women adversely against men".
Pida Ripley, founder of Women Aid International, explained that International Women's Day began as an acknowledgement of women's struggle to make their workplaces better and today around 189 countries celebrate the event every year.
She said that in recent times women have made tremendous progress as far as bridging the gender gap is concerned. Unfortunately, nowhere in the world can women claim to have the same rights and opportunities as men.
"Women continue to be poor, illiterate, earn less and suffer violence. Various forms of violence that women suffer include genital mutilation (at least two million girls a year suffer from this), dowry deaths, honour killings, forced marriage and rape."
"Women and children are most affected by armed conflict and war. Over 80 per cent refugees are women and children," she said, pointing out that these problems could be resolved only when the rights and full potential of women were restored.
She also urged women to take up every opportunity to participate in the development and well being of their nation.
The meeting concluded with a message for the president of Columbia to make all efforts to obtain the release of a woman presidential candidate who had been arrested two years ago.
The meeting in Dubai was organised with the assistance of Zenny Hirjee, Chairperson of Children's Hope Foundation, and her colleagues Jane Shaw and Zainul Hadi.
Also present on the occasion was the Canadian Consul-General, Anne Argyris, and Jane Shaw, Director of Canadian Business Council, in addition to prominent women in various fields from Pakistan, Canada, Syria and the UAE.
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