Queen Rania’s speech at the World Economic Forum “Arab and Western Women” Session - Davos, Switzerland

January 26, 2003

Thank you, Jodie [Ms. Jodie Allen--Assistant Managing Editor, Money and Business, “US News and World Report”]. And thank you all for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be here. I really wanted to be a part of this session. I am a strong believer in the power of women in the East-West dialogue…and here you are!

I don’t want to talk for too long, because the point of tonight is to listen and hear from you. This session is voice-activated; the dialogue can take off when I stop talking.

Let me just make a few quick points.

First, is the tremendous commonality between Arab women and women in the West. In my experience, women the world over have very similar concerns and interests –economic and family life and security…education and health…the opportunity to participate in our societies in meaningful ways.

It’s easy to get distracted by superficial or cultural differences. But you know and I know that the vast majority of women’s lives bear little relationship to the cultural extremes we see on television. I can tell you that Arab women do not have one style of dress, or one style of thinking. And I very much doubt that many of our Western counterparts have lives like the characters you see on “Baywatch.”

The problem is, we really can’t know that unless we communicate – meet, talk, and exchange ideas. In other words, what we are doing here tonight. Let’s carry that spirit forward as the year continues. I suggest that each one of us arranges inter-cultural exchanges between Arab and Western women, before we meet again here next year in Davos. It could be a working dinner like this one. It could be a business club meeting. It could be a congressional or parliamentary hearing. It could be an open-door religious observance. It could even be as simple as a book-club reading. The point is to really take steps to build trust between us.

Second, we should remember how much power we have to make a difference in women’s lives. At no time in history have more women been in leadership positions – in business, in government, in universities, in financial institutions, and more. Yes, gender inequality is a challenge, one that we all share. We must change mindsets that limit the possibilities for women. But in the meantime, we must not neglect what we can do now. Whether it’s helping to shape laws to promote equity and tolerance…or directing investments to people desperately in need…or conducting research, and teaching the truth about our histories and societies…or creative, humanitarian partnerships, that open minds and new horizons – in these and so many other ways, you can make life better for women, both at home and around the world.

One last point. Looking ahead to this session, I found myself thinking about the great Shahrazad, the woman story-teller who gives voice to the classic called Arabian Nights – Alf Layla wa Layla. In the legend, Shahrazad’s ability to spin a thousand and one stories saves her life and the lives of the women of her country.

But she doesn’t do it alone. She asks for help from her sister, Dinarzad. It is Dinarzad who begins it all, by asking the question that allows Shahrazad to weave her spell.

This tale can be an inspiration for all of us. So often, it is that all-important first question which can open the door to a whole new way of thinking. So, let us ask each other questions, and listen carefully to our answers. We all have stories: wonderful stories, tragic stories, and touching stories. But we will never hear them until we really start to listen.

Let us make a commitment tonight to start listening. We are in this together. We all have a share in a common future. Together, we can start a new story, a story of trust, of partnership, and hope.

Thank you very much.