Women transforming the Middle East on International Women’s Day

"We will never have a balanced and equal society for all – including men – unless women sit at decision-making tables everywhere."

A demonstrator wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) flashes the V sign during a rally ahead of the International Women's Day in Istanbul, Turkey March 6, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)
A demonstrator wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) flashes the V sign during a rally ahead of the International Women's Day in Istanbul, Turkey March 6, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/MURAD SEZER)
International Women’s Day comes this year in a Middle East that has renewed hope in coexistence and also provides increased opportunities for women. This is especially true in Israel and the Gulf, where new peace partners in the wake of the Abraham Accords are pointing the way to a potentially transformed region.
International Women’s Day “is a day to laud the impact of women around the world in various sectors, such as government, healthcare, finance, education, entertainment, fashion and sport, amongst others,” said former Bahraini ambassador to the US Houda Nonoo, who is Jewish.
“It is also a day for the world to reflect on how far we have come and still have to go on providing equal opportunities for women,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “We should use this day to reflect on that and to develop action plans to make parity a reality across all industries and sectors.”
“I think that the Middle East is making progress when it comes to gender equity, but I also think it is a process,” Nonoo said. “Looking back on the last decade, we have come very far on this front, but there is also more that we can do, and our leaders feel the same way and are committed to creating more opportunities for women in leadership roles.”
“Women are natural peace-makers and bridge builders and are playing various roles in the new relationship between the Gulf and Israel, whether it’s through government roles, members of the press who are helping to educate people through their coverage of these accords [or] female influencers who are taking to social media to discuss the opportunities resulting from these normalization announcements,” she said.
“In many ways, women are the backbone to moving forward the collective vision of creating a new Middle East,” Nonoo said.
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council, told the Post: “International Women’s Day is important to me for two main reasons: first and foremost, as a celebration of women’s achievements in all spheres of society. In an atmosphere where achievements by women are often undervalued or ignored, we need to bring them to the forefront of our national and international narrative in the hope that they inspire young women to aim high and dream big. Children do what they see, and I am a big believer in positive role modeling.”
We will never have a balanced and equal society for all, including men, unless women sit at decision-making tables everywhere, she said, adding: “International Women’s day serves as a reminder to young girls that they can, and should, reach their full potential in any arena they so choose.
“The second part of International Women’s Day, which is equally as important as the first, is to highlight the areas in which women are still suffering from inequality.”
The larger picture around the Western world still shows glaring pay gaps in almost every area of the economy, Hassan-Nahoum said.
“In Israel, we have injustice in the religious family courts, where a woman’s position in divorce is completely unequal to the man’s position and whose basic human rights are violated by this prejudice,” she said. “On this International Women’s Day, I will be both celebrating and advocating along with many friends and colleagues who are at the forefront of their fields and who fight for equality every day.”
“In Bahrain, there is a Supreme Council for Women, which is chaired by Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, the wife of His Majesty, and focuses on advancing women in the public and private sectors,” Nonoo said.
“We have a number of women serving in leadership roles in a variety of sectors here, such as government, including our minister of health and some ambassadors, legal system, including judges, finance, education, aviation and more,” she said.
“We have always had gender parity here in Bahrain,” Nonoo said. “When I was appointed as ambassador to the United States in 2008, I was the third female ambassador from Bahrain and the first to be stationed in the United States. Since then, the number of female diplomats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has continued to grow. In 2018, Bahrain broke its record of female representation in parliament when six women MPs were elected, and my hope is that more will be elected in 2022 when we go through our next election cycle.”
Hassan-Nahoum said International Women’s Day was especially important for the relationship between Israel and the Gulf states because women have taken the lead in peace building in our region.
“The Gulf Israel Women’s Forum, which I co-founded, is constantly organizing peer-to-peer networks for women across the Gulf and Israel,” she said. “The women in our group play a key role in nurturing this new friendship and educating the next generation toward this goal.”