OIC taking more steps toward empowering women
We were bursting with joy in Saudi Arabia last week over the announcements that Saudi women would be heading important financial institutions, marking a great leap forward in a sector that is predominantly male.
All over the Muslim world, women are taking up leadership roles, advancing in their careers and creating impact through initiatives in business, civil society and innovation. They have shattered the glass ceiling in politics and have taken on the role of presidents, prime ministers and parliamentary representatives. They have reached the highest echelons in finance, academia and science and have been recognized internationally in the arts, literature and media sectors.
Nevertheless, women in the Muslim world still have soaring illiteracy rates while poverty and maternal mortality remain a problem. They still suffer from discrimination, violence, marginalization, negative cultural traditions — such as forced marriage, honor killings and female genital mutilation (FGM) — and the denial of some of their basic rights.
Recognizing this dichotomy in the status of women in its member states, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the second largest intergovernmental organization after the UN with 57 member states, has adopted resolutions and launched programs and projects to empower women and address their issues and concerns. Its various institutions — such as the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (ICCIA) and others — have also launched their own programs for women.
The OIC has consistently taken a clear position on issues related to women’s involvement in the socio economic, political and decision-making spheres in the Muslim world. This is in accordance with the principles of Islam which recognizes the pivotal role of women in building families and societies.
The OIC’s Ten-Year Plan of Action (2005-2015), the new OIC 2025 Program of Action and the landmark OIC Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women (OPAAW) have set a number of important goals to be achieved for the benefit of families, women and children in the Muslim world.
The most important objectives of the OPAAW include working toward women’s participation and representation in decision-making circles at all political, economic, social and cultural levels and in peace processes and peace-building initiatives; providing equal opportunities for all women and girls to get access to quality education, vocational training and skills development; and programs to improve access to care, high-quality public services and equal access to economic opportunities in the public and private sectors. It also focused on social protection, protection of women from violence and women in crisis situations. Furthermore, the plan includes mechanisms for following up on implementation and benchmarking progress, which is crucial.
Empowering women remains a key priority for the organization, not only to ensure their human rights but as an enabler and transformative force for sustainable development, peace and security.
At the 11th OIC information ministers’ conference held in Jeddah in December 2016, ministers agreed to empower women in and through the media. The media plays a significant role in shaping public opinion, raising awareness and influencing decision-makers. Among the segments in the Muslim world who are most misrepresented or underrepresented in the media, whether in the OIC member states or outside them, are women. In Western media, there is a general perception that women are oppressed by Islam and in Muslim communities due to reports highlighting some of the negative practices and laws that unfortunately do exist in some Muslim countries, the radical views on women expressed by a minor group of Muslims as well as the oppression exerted by extremist groups.
This shortage of more balanced representation and the lack of Muslim women in the media undermines their achievements, their role in society and the support they receive through national policies to empower them in all fields. News of Muslim women success stories and role models, their struggles and pain, expertise and contributions need to be more visible in the media of the member states before they can be adequately visible in non-member states.
In order to promote the role of women in the media, they also need to be adequately represented across the media spectrum by taking on roles in different areas and in different capacities, including decision-making positions. Thus, the OIC has initiated steps to establish a Women Media Observatory within its Public Information Department, based on the information ministers’ resolution to monitor the progress of women in the media.
These are not just empty statements on paper and vague broad objectives. Empowering women remains a key priority for the OIC, not only to ensure their human rights but as an enabler and transformative force for sustainable development, peace and security.
• Maha Akeel is director of the Public Information and Communication Department at the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).