Pioneering Arab women on changing the stereotype

In collaboration with London Arabia Organisation, Regent’s welcomed renowned panellists and speakers from the Middle East to both discuss and celebrate the aspiration of Arab women in building their societies.

The Chair of the event was Omar Bdour, the CEO of London Arabia, whilst speakers included Sheikha Intisar Salem Al Ali Al Sabah, the founder and editorial director of Lulua Publishing and the Founder of Alnowair positivity initiative, Hala Kazim, a certified counsellor and coach from the City University, London, Baria Alamuddin, an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK, and Khalida Azbane Belkady, the General Manager of Azbane Laboratory in Morocco.

Arab Women in Society 1

Introducing the event and welcoming the distinguished guests to the stage were Regent’s students Maya Omar, the Fashion and Design Council President and the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Karim Henide.

Baria Alamuddin believes that as women, we should “bring our children up to feel that they are the same,” with all women having enough confidence to say “I will raise my daughter exactly the same way I will raise my son. They have the same responsibilities, the same rights and hopefully the same aspirations”.

“In the Arab world, I am very happy to say I can see many faces of young girls that dream high and I am sure will achieve high.”

Giving an example of her time speaking with women from Saudi Arabia, Alamuddin noticed one thing they all have in common - 67% of graduates in Saudi Arabia are women and they are generally doing better around the world. All they lack is the “belief of what they can do”.

Sheikha Intisar Salem Al Ali Al Sabah spoke of how she is the mother of “four beautifully empowered girls”. For women in the Arab world when, as mothers, they reach a stage where they are just as happy to have a daughter as they are a son is when change comes, believes Sheikha Sabah, stating how it “has nothing to do with the boys, nothing to do with the fathers, it’s got everything to do with the girls”.

In contrast, Kazim has five boys who she described as great sons and the “greatest men I have ever met”. She spoke of how she has taught her sons not to cage their wives or their girlfriends believing “if you cage a woman, you cage her soul…you don’t want a person without a soul”.

As the last child of her father, she remembers going to his office, spending a lot of time amongst other men who were working alongside her father, and that there was never an issue with gender until it came to their behaviour, but a lot of this “came from mothers”.

Speaking of men who do not treat women right, Kazim believes it is the mother’s issue as “she brought up a son to mistreat women.” She spoke of how mothers should raise a son to respect women and “to be who they are and treat women kindly.”

Arab Women in Society 2

Khalida Azbane reminisced on trips with her father to the factory from the age of seven, when she wanted to find out what he was up to. As a result, she discussed her personal difficulties in talking about a difference in men and woman, as for her there has been “no difference or competition”. She has worked throughout her life, and was always welcomed by her father and his colleagues.

Omar Bdour opened the panel discussions by asking his female counterparts which roles women are currently fulfilling throughout societies in the Arab world.

Discussing male dominated leadership, the panel noted that men wanted other men in similar positions because it is what they know and are used to, but now that there are more females in higher positions in Government, they are also asked to nominate people – and they usually appoint females. Although inequality is still very much present, there are now more and more females in higher positions.

Alamuddin added that with women becoming more educated, they are gaining the confidence to pursue what they want. Women feel that they too want to make money and bring this into the household as they “want to bring more luxury” and add value to their children’s lives.

It is also important to remember laws are changing in these countries tremendously in favour of the women, she says, and whilst education and opportunities are important, at the end of it all “it is the women who decide what they want to be”.

Azbane noted the differences for women in North Africa to the Middle East, where it is a necessity to work, and therefore women have to work to live – not for wanting to bring more luxury into their lives.

She also spoke of a family codes were changing to protect women. When a man wants to take another wife, for example, he has to seek approval from his first wife, who has the right to say no, or to seek a divorce. These family codes are in place “to protect women and to give them the power” and the right to be a free citizen. Bdour asked his esteemed panel how we can continue to change the stereotype. Three points were were made:

  • It is up to Arab women to tell the world who they are and who they want to be
  • Stereotyping is not just about Arab women but women all around the world, and female stereotyping in the Middle East also involves religion and ethics, which makes it more complicated
  • Lastly, it is also up to the international community to engage and make everybody feel welcome with the same love and values. “We should not always blame others but we should look at ourselves as well”.

To break the stereotype more and more woman of different backgrounds, ethnicity, educations and vocations have to be highlighted more, the panel agreed.

Ending a fascinating talk, questions were taken from the floor which included asking the panel their opinions on social media and plastic surgery, how to balance work and life in the Arab world, women’s rights and if a negative impact from the media is affecting the role of Arab woman in society.

“We have to be strong, wear what you like, put on as much makeup as you like, or none at all, sing, dance, whatever you feel like doing. You are a free soul…enjoy it,” instructed Alamuddin.

“I’ve never felt less than a man, I sometimes feel superior but I’m trying to keep myself modest. I urge you to leave an imprint of love. I depend on you and I hope you and my children can change what we have not in the world.”

“It’s not a perfect world and yes it is a man’s world, but we’re changing it. Things will change, if we start changing inside,” concluded Kazim.