ELODIE INTROIA WRITES – According to most U.S. media, Arab women live in pretty miserable conditions, are uneducated, denied basic freedoms, and are the slaves of their husbands. In fact, Arab women are rising and becoming strong assets to the Middle East’s philanthropic, economic and political future.
Last week, the Financial Times reported on the new nature of Middle East business. Qatari Sheikha Moza bint Nasser is the new owner of the Valentino couture house, making her one of the world’s most powerful businesswomen in the realm of fashion.
But is this an isolated case? Or are Arab women making an unprecedented mark in history? And is that significant and crucial to the evolution of the Middle East?
Not too far from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates elected its first woman minister. Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi is the first female Minister for Foreign Trade in the UAE and is the Arab world’s most powerful woman, according to the news outlet Arabian Business. Since her election, Al Qasimi has enhanced ties between the US and the UAE, and has helped make her country one of the regions’ biggest trading partners with the US. On top of that, she has developed many profitable businesses, including a line of popular perfumes. Forbes magazine went so far as calling her “the new face of professional women in the Arab region.”
In a similar fashion, Saudi Arabia’s Lubna Olayan managed to become the powerful CEO of a major finance corporation in the Middle East, the Olayan Financing Company, and became the first woman to receive the Arab Banker Association of North America Achievement Award. Despite the fact that she is from one of the world’s most oppressive countries to women, Olayan has not been quiet about the need to break the ‘glass ceiling.’ stating that “We have to get the CEOs in major Arab countries to be convinced to hire women and mentor women, because that is what we need.”
Last but not least, it’s important to mention the 3rd most powerful Arab woman, Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel, who serves as the vice chair of the board of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation of Saudi Arabia. She is one of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal’s six wives, and has advocated around the world to raise awareness on the condition of women in her country. In a recent interview, she confessed her desire for women’s liberation through “a peaceful evolution” in Saudi Arabia, starting with the right to drive and to participate in the legal arena. Earlier this year she admitted that her country’s conservative views have greatly limited the evolution of women’s rights. She further argued that the process of change is slow but sure, stating that “women are stronger than men in our society because they’re a minority and the minority usually wants to prove itself.”
All these women are making headlines for their advocacy efforts and their leading roles as businesswomen. They represent the future of the Arab women in their aspiration for change and progress in a region guided by tradition. Despite their status as wives or mothers of powerful men, they set a great example for Muslim and non-Muslim women alike around the world who want to create change in their societies.