Queen Rania's speech at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards – Washington DC, USA

March 08, 2017

Thank you… It seems to me that the word “trailblazer” applies to many people in this great hall.

I’ve learned so much from pioneers like my dear friend Mary Robinson… the beloved former president of Ireland, and the human rights champion of the world.

And I’m so inspired by the incredible women we celebrate tonight… from Jordan to India… El Salvador to Malawi… joined in a common fight for equality, opportunity, and empowerment.                                      

So, thank you Vital Voices… for letting me be a part of this gathering… and for giving me the chance to speak as a voice from the Arab world.

We are here tonight, because wherever we come from, we share a belief in liberty for all.

And, in America, what better symbol of that exists than your own Statue of Liberty?

So it might astonish you to learn that she was first conceived as an Arab woman.  Not only that, she was modeled after a Muslim, Arab woman.

According to historian Edward Berenson, the monument was originally intended to stand at the opening of the Suez Canal in Egypt.  To honor its construction, the designer, Bartholdi, drew inspiration from local people of the region.

But when the ruler of Egypt ran out of funding, Bartholdi modified his design.  He took it to the United States. And the rest, as they say, is history!

There’s something about this story that seems very fitting to me today.

Women across much of the Arab world are lifting the lamp of enlightenment high.

But their progress—our progress—is being held back by conflict and instability.

My region is home to three of the four worst humanitarian crises in the world. 

Women did not create any of these crises, but women are bearing their brunt.

Yazidi women in northwest Iraq… captured and tortured as slaves.

Yemeni daughters, displaced from their homes… begging for food on the streets.

Desperate mothers in Syria, trapped with their children as bombs rain down without mercy.

Refugee families, struggling to survive… their lives become worst-case scenarios.

I am convinced that education is our best hope for lifting the darkness. 

Education—to combat those who destroy… and invest in those who can create.

And, education to equip girls and women with the knowledge they need to excel—because everything we seek for our region’s future… from economic growth to environmental sustainability… from innovation to entrepreneurship… depends on women being full participants… and, increasingly, women being at the forefront.

We’re getting a glimpse of what that future could look like.  I see it every day in Jordan… where women are CEOs… doctors… professors… judges… and more. 

And I also see the strength, ingenuity, and resilience of women who have lost everything.  Imagine how much they could contribute to our region, if only they had the chance?

Changing our reality is up to us.  As Arabs, we must fight for our own future. 

But one of the ways each of you can help is by challenging preconceptions.  Resist the easy stereotypes attached to Arab women:  Pitied as helpless and submissive on the one hand… labeled as threats on the other.

For me, as a woman, an Arab, and a Muslim, I take this issue personally.

I’m honored and proud to be with you today not in spite of my faith but because of it…

And as for the extremist, fanatical outlaws who terrorize us all—their toxic, brutal ideology is what my husband, King Abdullah, has called “Fake Islam”: A warped, perverted image of my faith that violates everything it stands for.

If we let the terrorists turn the West against Islam, we are waging their battle for them.

I raise this tonight, because I believe standing together is more crucial than ever.  Our world is fractured.  Moderation is under siege.  Too often, empathy is in short supply.  But if we turn our backs on one another, we’ll never see eye to eye. 

So let us remember the story of Lady Liberty—a global citizen, much like ourselves.

And let us celebrate the power of women to connect across lines that divide.

Because, women do more than blaze new trails:  We cultivate common ground.  And that is the ground on which progress will blossom.

Thank you very much.