DUBAI: World peace leaders highlighted the importance of gender equality and promoting the role of women in society as key cornerstones of achieving prosperity in a country, as the first World Tolerance Summit (WTS) took centre-stage in Dubai.
Princess Lamia bint Majid was among those who led the discussions and highlighted initiatives in the Kingdom to further women in leadership roles.
"Our aim is to ensure gender equity and this is a message of tolerance when you highlight the strength of women – when you are a Saudi woman or any woman internationally,” said Princess Lamia, secretary general of Riyadh-based Alwaleed Philanthropies, a charitable foundation working to help and empower women, as she opened the ‘Tolerance Leaders Debate’ at the summit on Thursday. "We work on women and youth empowerment.
"We – especially Saudi females – have an issue because there is an idea in the West that we are persecuted.”
This, elaborated Princess Lamia, could not be further from reality, and she urged the West not to judge or make assumptions about women in the Arab world.
Saudi Arabia does not “differentiate or discriminate between race, ethnicity, religion, gender or geography."
Princess Lamia said Alwaleed Philanthropies to date has donated $4 billion (SAR15billion) to humanitarian causes in more than 60 countries.
"We are in dire need for the dissemination of the spirit of tolerance. Allah was very perceptive: He gave people one mouth and two ears to listen more and to be more receptive.
“Do not judge. Tolerance is all about accepting others and refraining from judging others. We are not just focusing on tolerance for the sake of tolerance. There are certain acts you can do. It is not just about lectures or conferences… it is maybe a hug, a word, a smile – these acts can be worth a thousand lectures.”
Princess Lamia spoke of the need to bridge gaps between Islam and the West and also highlighted a lack of research into the “gaps or shortcomings” that prevent more tolerance in society.
The two-day WTS, held on Thursday and Friday in conjunction with the International Day for Tolerance on Friday, gathered government leaders, key figures from the public and private sectors, peacekeeping ambassadors and change-makers from around the world to discuss the importance of tolerance, peace and equality.
Adama Dieng, special advisor of the UN secretary general on the prevention of genocide, also addressed the issue of gender equality. “Women have the talent, the heart, the heart to spread tolerance. The more we have women leaders, the better the world will be.”
Saudi Arabia’s Dr Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said tolerance is a motto everyone should live by.
“It is very important to be tolerant and forgiving, and government leaders need to aim for equality, justice and learning to accept others and co-exist."
Al-Zayani praised GCC initiatives such as the UAE’s Anti-Discrimination Law, which criminalizes all forms of discrimination on the grounds of religion, caste, creed, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin .He said other countries across the Gulf should follow suit. Further programs and education centers which stamp out discrimination are also needed, said Al-Zayani, especially in the region “which has many risks and threats that are not static.”
The conference heard how the GCC is a “success story” in promoting tolerance and should be used by other world governments as a model to promote equality and peace.
The UAE, for example, has adopted a National Tolerance Program, anti-discrimination and anti-hate laws and centers to counter extremism have been established. The country has its own Minister of Tolerance and is home to the International Tolerance Institute.
Saudi Arabia also extolls tolerance as a virtue. Al-Zayani highlighted how, in 2005, Saudi Arabia hosted the historic Counter-Terrorism International Conference in Riyadh, which called for challenging extremism with moderation and tolerance.
Al-Zayani said countries in the GCC also have religious tolerance, with hundreds of different nationalities and churches of different Christian denominations, Sikh temples and Hindu temples. Last June, the Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed Mosque in Al-Mushrif was renamed Mariam, Umm Eisa (Mary, the Mother of Jesus), while the mission of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue is to promote peace, tolerance and understanding among people of different faiths and cultures.
Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al-Nahyan, the UAE's Minister of Tolerance, delivered the keynote speech at the opening ceremony and announced the launch of two new initiatives. The first is the establishment of the National Research Project on Tolerance, which will “promote the creativity and innovation of researchers, inside the UAE and throughout the world, in examining factors, conditions and work plans that help strengthen tolerance among individuals, families, local communities and the entire world and include proposals and plans for speeding tolerance, co-existence and happiness in human societies.”
The second initiative is the establishment of the Global Tolerance Alliance, which will focus on “promoting tolerance throughout the world by involving individuals, organizations, research centers, private enterprises and other interested institutions…to help spread peace and tolerance in the world.”
“Tolerance thrives on education and knowledge, all forms of communication and the creation of local and global partnerships,” said Sheikh Nahyan.
Dr Amal Abdullah Al-Qubaisi, president of the UAE’s Federal National Council, said “respect is the important basis of tolerance.” She said countries across the region need to embrace this to fight extremism and ideologues who threaten the security of the Arab world.
Ohood bint Khalfan Al-Roumi, UAE Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing and director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, addressed the role of laws in promoting social cohesion and harmony, and government policies to prevent extremism to promote citizenship for diversity, economic benefits to governments and their peoples. "Tolerance is an international human right and a human value that ensures the prosperity of people and improves the quality of life,” she said.
Saudi Arabia’s Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muaammar, secretary general of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, praised both King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their work in setting up KAICIID as a form of dialogue to combat violence in the name of religion, while Hoda Al-Helaissi, a member of Saudi Arabia’s government advisory Shoura Council and former vice-chairperson of King Saud University in the Kingdom, spoke to Arab News about the importance of society accepting everyone, regardless of their background, race or religion.
“Acceptance of others is something that is fundamental to a more peaceful world. I think it is something to do with awareness, laws are already put in place – whether we are talking the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the ones in Saudi Arabia – but worldwide, unfortunately, many human beings do not take into consideration others. There is a wonderful quote in the Quran that says, basically, we have created you from one man, from one woman...which basically says we are all different but from the same family.”
Al-Helaissi praised initiatives introduced by the late King Abdullah to send students to international scholarship programs around the world; allowing Saudi nationals to learn from different cultures and traditions and bring those broadened world perspectives back to the Kingdom.
“We have been very lucky to have this program; at any one time we have 250,000 students abroad, and it is about opening the horizons of our youth and they are coming back with fresh ideas, they are coming back with knowledge of other cultures, which is very enriching for our society. I think that young people are wanting more from Saudi Arabia than previous generations, and I think we are going to see even more tolerance in our country.
"It is a question of time, but we are getting there.”