Women lead the bridging of Israel, UAE, Bahrain together - opinion

The minute a woman is at the decision-making table, the outcome will always be better for society as a whole.

THE GULF-ISRAEL Women’s Forum breaks the bias on International Women’s Day. (photo credit: UIBC)
THE GULF-ISRAEL Women’s Forum breaks the bias on International Women’s Day.
(photo credit: UIBC)

On March 8, the world celebrated International Women’s Day. People spent time recognizing the women in their lives, celebrating their successes and continuing to push for gender equality. 

With the creation of the Abraham Accords just shy of two years ago, a new partnership between the United Arab Emirates and Israel was forged, two cousins coming back together after years of separation. We in the Middle East are one region, and through the signage of the accords, our communities came together and with that as did our women, forging a sisterhood between women in both countries as well as Bahrain and Morocco. 

In the Gulf, contrary to common perceptions, women are leaders in their society. However, as Israel started to become more engaged with the UAE, we recognized how much work we all need to put in to reach gender equality in all fields. 

In the UAE the situation is actually better than in Israel – a greater percentage of university graduates in the Emirates are female in comparison to Israel. In addition, 50% of the Federal National Council in the UAE, the parliamentary body of the Emirates, are women, while in Israel, less than 30% of the Knesset are women. 

With the relatively new relationship between Israel and the Gulf states, we as Israelis must recognize the lessons we can learn from states such as the UAE and the importance of including women in our mission for peace and normalization. 

 THEN-US PRESIDENT Donald Trump hosts the signing of the Abraham Accords by Israel, UAE and Bahrain at the White House in September 2020. (credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS) THEN-US PRESIDENT Donald Trump hosts the signing of the Abraham Accords by Israel, UAE and Bahrain at the White House in September 2020. (credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)

When the Abraham Accords were signed, myself along with Justine Zwerling, Ariella Steinreich, Dorian Barak and Isaac Hassan saw an opportunity to create peace through economic growth, and thus the UAE-Israel Business Council was born. 

We wanted to forge new relationships between Israeli and Emirati business people and companies. We are strong supporters of the Abraham Accords and wanted to do our part in normalizing relationships between Israel and the UAE. We wanted to create a network of people and businesses, allowing for new investments and joint work between companies in the two countries. 

When creating the UAE-Israel Business Council, we saw another opportunity to create further peace between the UAE and Israel, a place where women from both nations could come together and forge friendships and business partnerships. 

I believe that women are natural, instinctive peace-builders. By creating a forum just for women within our nations, we have created a new space that is further creating friendships as well as allowing for us in Israel to learn from those living in Gulf nations about gender equality and vice versa. 

From this idea, Justine, Ariella and I created the Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum under the auspices of the UAE Israel Business Council. Only a month after the Abraham accords were signed in August 2020, we hosted our first Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum event. This newly created sisterhood was one of the first events after the Abraham Accords that brought together people, specifically women, from both nations leading the discussion of peace and tolerance. 

Since then, the forum has expanded to include more than just Israelis and Emiratis. We now have members from Morocco, Bahrain and non-Abraham Accords countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt with our next event in Bahrain. Through the forum and these events, diverse groups of female leaders come together and share cultural and business ideas. 

This year, the International Women’s Day theme was #breakthebias. In the world we live in, there are endless stereotypes and biases against women and these exist everywhere. Our goal with the Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum, in addition to creating long-lasting relationships, is to show the importance of women in our region. Since the forum’s creation, we have attempted to showcase female role models.

This led to our forum creating Expo Talks, held on International Women’s Day, at the Israeli Pavilion at the Dubai Expo 2020. Moderated by me and Alanoud Alhashmi, founder and CEO of The Futurist Company, we brought together women from Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco and Israel to speak about their incredible achievements as leaders in their field.

Attendants got to hear from women like Ahdeya Ahmed Al-Sayed, the first female head of the Bahrain Journalists Association; Batell Sultanik, an Israeli running a food security start-up; and Chama Mechtaly, a Moroccan artist and social entrepreneur who we invited to Jerusalem only a few months ago in the first Abraham Accords art collaboration as part of the Jerusalem biennale. 

International Women’s Day is about breaking stereotypes and showing our singular value proposition. At the Expo talks, we saw exactly this. The talks were also part of the Regional Affairs Ministry’s mission in the UAE, which connected Gulf and Israeli female journalists. 

Creating peace within the Middle East needs to be achieved from the ground up. The Abraham Accords are giving people the platform to celebrate and learn about the other side. From my years in politics, I have learned that the minute a woman is at the decision-making table, the outcome will always be better not just for women but for society as a whole. 

For a sustainable and warm peace to be achieved in our region, women have to lead. Not only can we learn and grow together by sharing ideas and innovation, but the bonds we create today are the promise of a better region for our children tomorrow. ■

The writer is deputy mayor of Jerusalem  and cofounder of the UAE-Israel Business Council and the Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum.