Wednesday, 26 January 2011

GCC Women in Education, Business and Decision-making

GCC Women in Education, Business and Decision-making

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The role of women is protected and promoted in Islamic society in the Holy Qur'an and through practices at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). There is no question about the status and honour that has been given to women in Islam. It is the religion of Islam which recognized first the rights of women to property, raised their status and dignity. Muslim women have been equally contributing to the development and progress of humanity since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Khadijah, the first wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a great businesswoman and Aishah, another wife of the Prophet, was the greatest Muslim woman scholar who transmitted more than two thousand sayings or Ahadith of the Prophet.

Islam and Women
During the Umayyads, Abbasids and Ottoman periods, Muslim women left their marks in history. During the Mughal rule in India and even before that, Muslim women, such as Razia Sultana and Noor Jahan, used to take important decisions in the running of the country.

Now coming back to the modern times, after the Second World War, there were more women heads of government in the Asian countries than those in the West, for example, in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Philippines and Indonesia. Among these seven Asian countries, there were five Muslim women Prime Ministers, such as Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988-1990; 1993-1996), Tansu Cillor, Prime Minister of Turkey (1993-1996), Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh (1996-2001; 2009-); Khaleda Zia, Prime Minister of Bangladesh (1991-1996; 2001-2006) and Dr. Megawati Soekarnoputri, President of Indonesia (2001-2004).

So far as the Arab world is concerned, while women in the beginning of Islam enjoyed equal rights and full participation in the economy, politics, however, women in the Gulf countries had been influenced by society’s traditions. Their economic participation and their status position are become low and weak in comparisons with their life at the golden period of Islam. Nevertheless, Gulf women have played a role in for as long as these societies have existed, through their effective role in the family and in their tribes, and supplementing the family income with a little local trading or through weaving and handicrafts and agricultural work and in some cases fighting beside their men

But there is a sort of stereotyping when it comes to the perceptions of the Arab world. It is believed that the Muslim women in the Arab world have no role to play in the development of their countries. I think this is due to lack of communication. It is also a fact that the GCC leaders have always expressed the need to give women their rights as guaranteed by Islam and reaffirmed by international laws and instruments to enable them to participate actively in building their societies.

Recently, there was a GCC Week in UK from 19 October to 26 October, 2010 and as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) “Days in Europe”, there was a one-day Conference on the Role of Women in the Development of the GCC States held at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS.

Conference on The Role of Women in the
Development of the GCC States
The Keynote addressed was delivered by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Chairperson of the Conservative Party and the Cabinet Minister without Portfolio in the Coalition Government. Speaking at the conference, Baroness Warsi examined the role of women in the development of the Gulf States. Baroness Warsi called today for a greater role for women in the Gulf in business and government.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi
Baroness Warsi noted that the debates taking place in the Gulf over the role of women were not that different from those taking place in Western societies, and welcomed the fact that women in the Gulf are increasingly taking up places in Government and business. But, speaking about how much this issue meant to her, she called for even more to be done to capitalize on the potential of women.

Mr. Abdulrahman Al-Attiyah
Mr. Abdulrahman Al-Attiyah, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council in his keynote address, mentioned the role of women in the GCC States. He said, “The GCC countries have given a great attention to strengthening and activating the role of women in all spheres of life and they have been able to achieve many accomplishments in the field of women’s empowerment. Efforts continued to put in place various development plans that would enhance the status of women and enable them to live on an equal footing with men.”

“In this regard, women were given more space for participation at all levels, including leadership positions in both the public and private sectors, in addition to participating in the parliamentary life in order to build the future of their countries,” said the GCC Secretary-General and mentioned, “Nowadays, women have the right to run for elections and vote in Shura councils, parliaments and municipal councils. On the other hand, many governmental and private institutions were established to encourage the integration of women in society in general and participate in various developmental plans.”

“Existing evidence confirms that women in the GCC countries have made an advanced step in the various areas of social, economic, political and cultural fields. They now have an obvious presence in the local, Arab and international forum and they surpass men in the index of education in all GCC countries, as the ratio of females to males in university education is about 59% according to the latest statistics,” mentioned Mr. Al-Attiyah and said, “The number of women working in government and private sectors has been increasing. Women’s participation in the government sector represents more than one third of the total national workforce. As to the private sector, women have been able to assume senior positions and they have been appointed directors of some banks and companies.”

It is a fact now that Gulf women are now qualified as engineers, doctors and lawyers, working in fields which were previously considered male domains. Recently elections with women taking part have become commonplace in certain Gulf countries. Gulf societies have embraced tradition and modernity simultaneously; they have tried to retain their identity while entering the global arena. All these are possible due to the visionary leadership at the top-level of governments as well as due to the proper use of the barrels of oil exports to build the economy.

Dr. Haifa Al-Kaylani
Dr. Haifa Al-Kaylani, founder and chair of the Arab International Women’s Forum and an economist and Graduate of the American University of Beirut and Oxford, said, “diversification target has been set for each GCC States development and stability led to the women to make the contribution.”

Dr. Kaylani mentioned about the heavily investment in education in the Gulf countries. “The GCC States have invested heavily in the education and this is reflected in the higher education across the field.”

Dr. Maitha Al-Shamsi
“A recent report, released by independent consultants, shows that in the UAE, 59 per cent of women population is employed while Kuwait is next with 42.49 per cent. In other GCC countries, 36.4 per cent women are working in Qatar and 34.3 per cent in Bahrain. In Saudi Arabia, efforts are underway to achieve the 30 per cent target by 2024,” mentioned by Dr. Maitha Al-Shamsi, Minister of State of the UAE in her paper.

Dr. Al-Shamsi also mentioned, “The investment that Saudi Arabia made in women’s education is already paying dividends and 56.5 per cent of Saudi women have completed university, overtaking the level of male graduates which is currently 43.5 per cent in Saudi Arabia. Also women are being appointed in Kingdom’s Majlis Al-Shura to encourage women’s appointment in public positions.”

“The women in the UAE as well as in other GCC countries, are now occupying posts ranging from ministers, diplomats, judges and senior civil servants to engineers, bankers, academics and healthcare specialists,” said Dr. Al-Shamsi and mentioned in her paper, “GCC women are also featured high on international forums. Four women Federal Ministers of UAE are highly placed in many regional and international forums and different UN bodies like UNICEF and ESCWA. In 2006 a Bahraini woman lawyer was elected UN General assembly President, the third woman in the history of United Nations and first from the Middle East. A Saudi woman also served as the Executive Director of UN Population Fund, UNFPA.”

Professor Naomi Sakr
Professor Naomi Sakr at the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), University of Westminster, London, made a presentation in which she showed slides of highly placed ladies in the Gulf countries who are close to the top of the central ruling authority. These five highly placed persons are Sheikha Al-Sabeeba; Sheikha Maza, Sheikha Fatima; Princess Adela and Princess Haya. Professor Sakr said, “I am highlighting these prominent personalities obviously they are not merely the figure-head, but they are analysts and decision-makers.”

Forbes recently compiled its Forbes list. Professor Sakr mentioned, “Out of the world’s 100 most influential persons who has to do influencing media. The most important thing to notice is that out of 100 people worldwide there are four Arab women and three of them were from the GCC countries, such as Sheikha Maza, Sheikha Al-Lubna Al-Qasimi, the prominent investment Fund and Maha Al-Ghunaim.

Maha Al-Ghunaim started Global Investment House in 1998, the Kuwait-based investment company with assets totalling over US$ 7 billion. She ranks 91 on the 100 Most Powerful Women, 2006.

Professor Sakr also mentioned another publication, Radio Business, which has made survey of similar kind of powerful people of Arabs and out of 100 names, there are 12 women, 9 were from the GCC countries.

Dr. Auhoud S. Albulushi
Dr. Auhoud S. Albulushi, Assistant Professor at the College of Education of the Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, mentioned, “The statistics show: percentage of women in national workforce in the educational fields: Saudi Arabia 14.2%; United Arab Emirates 33.4%; Sultanate of Oman 39.9%; Kuwait 49%; Qatar 30% and Bahrain 18%.”

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