Global Women’s Forum

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

February 23, 2016

In the Name of God, the Almighty and Merciful

Your Highnesses, distinguished guests,

Peace, and God’s mercy and blessings be upon you

I start by thanking God for his grace and with prayers that stability and security prevail in the Arab World.

 I am happy to be here with you today, and I thank Her Highness Sheikha Manal Bint Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoom for this forum and this great global platform concerned with women and society.

There is no better place than the United Arab Emirates to inspire participants to innovate, for like all innovations, the Emirate of Dubai started when Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoom imagined an oasis of prosperity and development that competes on the international level in countless fields. He looked into the desert and he saw Dubai.

With its wise leadership, the United Arab Emirates has achieved tremendous gains for women. And the mother of the Emirates, Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, may God protect her, has played a major role in pushing the women of her country to engage in many sectors and to excel. She became a role model for women by raising the bar and encouraging them to look beyond boundaries.

In Arab countries, there are many examples of prominent women who have achieved high levels of knowledge and expertise: women who became leaders in politics, economics, sciences, literature and the arts, as well as public intellectuals. They were not limited by the expectations that envelop women like cocoons, and prevent them from realizing their potential. These expectations halt the progress of women, leaving them trapped in their shells.

A society’s expectations of women directly reflect its confidence in their abilities and potential.

We have to break the molds that shape women and girls from the moment they are born. These molds, which have been passed on through generations, restrict the development of a woman’s capability, talent and ambition.  We must carefully select from our history and culture the principles that give every woman the opportunity to spread her wings and show us her distinct colors. 

I have to emphasize that these molds are based on our culture, not on our religion. When Islam brought light to the world, it gave women rights, status and choices that freed them from the age of ignorance and vulnerability they had endured in the pre-Islamic (Jahliyyah) days. Women were traders, farmers, business pioneers, warriors and nurses in times of war. With time we began to curb our views of the potential of women, and ultimately, limit their active involvement in society.

Dear honorable guests,

Changing laws takes time, and changing perceptions takes generations. And we cannot afford to waste either. So, I did not come here today to lecture you on women’s rights or to remind you that half of any society’s success depends on women. The situation in the Arab World is getting more complicated. Our problems are diverse, but we share a common challenge, and that’s the urgency for change. Extremist ideologies have infiltrated our societies, demanding that we make leaps in our progress. We need to actively fight currents that are trying to throw us centuries behind. These days, we are beginning to see the spread of illiteracy in communities that once graduated pioneers and scientists.

Many Arab women have faced so many tragedies that their lives have been turned around into worst case scenarios.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is no doubt that we are competing for reins over the future. Despite our best attempts and achievements, we are stuck hovering over the same ground, prevented by the winds of conflicts, inherited boundaries, and backward ideologies.

We need a powerful push forward. We have in our hands today the right tools and an open digital space. We have in our hands the promise of modern technology and innovation. These have the power to produce qualitative transformations in education, job creation, and can overcome many of the barriers facing women. We have tools that give women a louder voice, and a wider space to participate and advocate.

I came here today to urge you, with your creative skills and unconventional solutions, to come together to produce new approaches for quick and lasting change… to create a new progressive reality for Arab women and their societies.

Innovation breaks molds.  It is not limited by norms or institutions. Innovation is neither dependent on opinions nor agendas. The most beautiful thing about innovation is that its possibilities are infinite.

Some of you might think that I am asking too much of it, but there are countless initiatives and women who have skillfully employed modern technology to serve society.

Al’aa Sleiman from my country, Jordan, who saw a need for an Arabic audio library for the visually-impaired…so she invented a platform that has Arabic books read in a dynamic way online. 

Tahani Rashid, the Egyptian director and film maker, who has used her cinematic lens to share with the world the problems Arabs face, in refugee camps, cities, and in times of war or illness.

Another example is Isra’a Al-Shafei from Bahrain. She created a platform for Arab youth to express their talents and opinions - ten years ago! She saw then that they had a lot to say about the times, but did not have the means to be heard.

These are merely a sliver of countless initiatives by pioneering Arab women.

Last but not least, we have two young women who were recently appointed as ministers in the United Arab Emirates. Congratulations!

 Ladies and gentlemen,

I meet a lot of hard-working women, and when I ask them about their hopes, they always say, “I want to help women in my community.”

That is the nature of women and the instinct that God gave us: to nurture, foster and to give from the heart.

Our experiences have shown that the success of one woman will be followed by the success of many others. Women give back multiples of what they receive.

When a woman succeeds, she reaches out to those around her and pulls them up with her. That is why if you empower a woman, you empower a whole society.

And today, in the Arab World, we are in dire need of catching up with fast-advancing global trends, and that requires strong, knowledgeable and ambitious women that can help our societies stand strong again and help us realize our full potential.

May God bless you and may His peace, mercy and blessings be upon you.