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Monday, November 4, 2002

Arab Women:New Vision-Summit

Queen Rania inaugurates the 2nd Arab Women's Summit

(The Jordan Times, By Rana Husseini - Amman) Monday, November 4, 2002 Queen calls for strengthening union of Arab women Summit seen as 'the new-Jordan way of doing things'.

Her Majesty Queen Rania officially inaugurated the 2nd Arab Women's Summit with a call for Arab women to build bridges of understanding and trust between themselves and their respective countries to strengthen the union of Arab women.

“In doing so, we magnify the effectiveness and ability to contribute to the development of nations,” the Queen told Arab first ladies, delegates of head of states and a large audience gathered for the opening ceremony held at the Palace of Culture.

She told the gathering: “We came to realise the best and most practical way in which we can contribute to joint-Arab efforts is to undertake bold initiatives [here] to improve the living conditions of Jordanians. We can then share our successes and failures transparently with our Arab brothers and sisters.”

“We will then have a benchmark and an important resource for the future. Indeed the sharing of knowledge and experience is the crux of 21st century cooperation between nations.”

Touching on one of the summit's primary goals of altering the stereotyping of Arab and Muslim women, the Queen said: “To reshape our image as Arab women, there is no doubt that we have to begin to tackle new global realities.”

It is no coincidence the theme of this gathering is “Arab Women: New Vision,” because to tackle the world's changes we need to engage in a new vision, the Queen said, adding that it is important for women to make use of the latest technology, particularly the Internet, to reshape their lives.

“The Internet is perhaps the most significant tool for human development history has ever witnessed. Arab women's experience in this regard, however, is still limited,” she said.

Queen Rania drew attention to the bleak figures on Internet usage saying only four per cent of Internet users in this part of the world are women — one of the lowest rates worldwide, she pointed out.

The Queen highlighted HRH Princess Basma's efforts to advance Jordanian women's status saying: “We in Jordan graciously owe a large part of what Jordanian women have accomplished to the true and dedicated efforts of HRH Princess Basma... with all the work she has undertaken for women's issues, she is a shining star lighting up the path of accomplishment.”

Queen Rania also conveyed His Majesty King Abdullah's wishes for the success of the summit and “his support for the women's efforts and his appreciation and faith in the pioneering role that Arab women undertake.”

In what is being seen as bold and nontraditional approach to this forum, Queen Rania concluded the opening ceremony by announcing that the Prime Ministry had endorsed three new amendments to Jordan's passport, pension and citizenship laws that would guarantee women's equality as stipulated in the Constitution.

The Queen's announcement, which came on the eve of the summit, was met with a burst of applause and cheers from the audience.

Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, who handed over the summit presidency to Queen Rania, said it is important to support the creation of the Arab Women's Organisation (AWO), which will function under the Arab League umbrella.

The new organisation intends to unify efforts to empower women and promote their participation in the development process.

“The admittance of the AWO was the result of efforts exerted since the First Women's Summit. Efforts exerted by women's organisations in the Arab world helped place women's causes and challenges on top of the agendas for discussion,” Mubarak said.

“I really look for a vital role for the AWO in the near future in which the organisation will contribute in formatting the development of Arab women,” Mubarak added.

Princess Lala Maryam of Morocco echoed Mubarak's call for supporting the establishment of an Arab Women's Organisation.

“The circumstances the Arab nation is passing through should urge us to form the AWO to work as a mechanism to draw unified strategies in order to improve women's status and to merge them in the social development movement,” the Moroccan princess said.

Princess Maryam highlighted Morocco's recent achievements, backed by its government and its leader, King Mohammad VI, which included a stronger representation for Moroccan women in the country's legislative body with 35 women being represented in their parliament.

Arab League Secretary Amr Musa said his participation in the conference stems from the Arab League urging of its member countries to join the newly-established Arab Women's Organisation in order to work effectively in advancing Arab women's lot, including women in rural areas.

“This organisation is important in creating a harmonic movement that can push the Arab women forward based on a framework that is agreed on by all countries away from political disagreements,” Musa said in his speech to the Summit.

Sudanese First Lady Fatima Bashir said the Arab peoples face grave and dangerous challenges that require each Arab country to stand firm in facing these challenges and to meet together on a certain basis to safeguard Arab women's dignity and support her fight for her rights.

Andre Lahoud conveyed a message from her husband Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, in which he pledged to work with Arab leaders to adopt “our people's ideas, visions and dreams.”

“All of us, women, men, children and the elderly should mobilise all our abilities and efforts to build a prosperous and safe future for the future generation,” Lahoud said.

Adding to the official component of yesterday's gathering, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Carol Bellamy also addressed the participants saying: “The empowerment of women and the realisation of their rights will come only through direct action — action to implement programmers that will not only improve the daily lives of women — but consolidate their equal status as leaders in the socio-economic and political spheres."

“It is a process that must begin with steps that will ensure the survival, protection and full development of the girl child – and I urge you to use the priceless opportunity of this Summit to make girls' education the centerpiece of your Framework of Action,” Bellamy said.

Observers said this year's summit is reflecting “the new-Jordan way of doing things.”

The events, taking place on the sidelines of the summit, will work with the grassroots component of the parley, gathering women from across the Arab world and Jordan to openly discuss, debate and brainstorm, without the presentation of papers, what needs to be done to advance Arab women's status.