Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist

Special A Saudi woman talks on her phone during the
A Saudi woman talks on her phone during the "MiSK Global Forum" held under the slogan "Meeting the Challenge of Change" in Riyadh. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2022

Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist

Arab women are now ministers and CEOs, yet stereotypes persist
  • Western and Asian media outlets accused of publishing regressive stereotypes of subdued Arab women
  • Experts say Arab women have a role to play in asserting themselves both in business and in the home

DUBAI: Outdated and harmful stereotypes of meek and oppressed Arab women still prevail in Western and Asian media. 

Despite these faulty notions about who and what they are, Arab women continue to defy expectations and make inroads in the worlds of business, politics, finance, diplomacy and tech.

However, many believe more must still be done to tackle baseless misconceptions about Arab women, their role and their capabilities in the eyes of the outside world.

“We live in a world which has historically looked at our part of the world as a traditional one, where women are more in the family and household,” May Nasrallah, founder and executive chairman of deNovo Corporate Advisers, told Arab News.




A Saudi woman poses for a photo after having a driving lesson in Jeddah on March 7, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

“But in reality, we are so far away from that (in terms of) the evolution and how much we’ve changed in how we operate here. In the UAE, we have women in government, leadership positions, heads of banks, family groups and ministers, so we’ve changed a lot, but there is a lack of knowledge.”

To change the image of the Arab woman abroad, Nasrallah has urged traditional forms of media, such as television broadcasters, to showcase more female Arab leaders.

“We see multiple examples where they are very impressive,” she said. “It’s about continuing to escalate women to let the world see what they are capable of.”

Another potential area of improvement is in challenging gender expectations that persist within some communities.




Nasrallah and Kanoo were part of a discussion panel on “Arab women’s image,” which took place at the Arab Women’s Forum within the Top CEO conference in Dubai on May 17. (AN Photo/Zubiya Shaikh)

“We need our own traditional images to change internally,” Nasrallah said. “It changes with the different generations and we’re getting there. Look at the leadership around us, and who is running our region right now. It is very forward-thinking, very open minded, and it enhances women in leadership positions. It’s been reflected time and again.” 

Nasrallah believes self-doubt is another obstacle that needs to be overcome in the mindsets of Arab women. Recalling her own time in investment banking, she remembers male colleagues putting themselves forward for promotions or new roles — whether they were capable of them or not.

“Women, on the other hand, second guess themselves and that’s inherent in our configuration, which needs to be changed,” she said. 

A support network at home is also crucial. Nasrallah, who has four sons, said that she drew encouragement from both her father and husband, who pushed her to maintain her full-time career. 

“Having men around us that encourage us to continue to go forth in the business world or workforce is a huge positive.”

Equally, providing the right tools to be successful and to not be afraid to fail would give more women the mentality required to succeed. Having a supportive network of peers would also provide an important ecosystem that can help support them in entrepreneurship.

For Suzy Kanoo, CEO and president of the Khalil bin Ebrahim Kanoo Company and International Motor Trading Agency in Bahrain, raising awareness about the successes of Arab women is key. 

“We talk about how great we are, but women underestimate their strength — it’s unequaled,” she told Arab News.




Saudi entrepreneurs Asmaa Alabdallah (L), founder of BitGo, and Reem Dad (R), co-founder of Taibah VR, stand in front of Halcyon House in Washington. (AFP)

“In my family business, I attend conferences around the Asian continent, and I have noticed they preferred to talk to the male manager, which hit me, and I realized I am blessed to be a part of this region and I am so proud to be an Arab woman.” 

Kanoo, who wrote a book about empowering Arab women called “Hear Us Speak: Letters from Arab Women,” said the West fails fundamentally to understand Arab women and their religion.

“(For the West), being more modest or wearing a hijab has something to do with a woman being more submissive,” she said. 

“(For them) it’s synonymous with that, but when they come here, they see it’s not true at all. This is a choice that everyone has the right to, but I’m respected the same way as someone who wears one and this is the beauty of our region.”

Making an effort to understand, visit and read more about the region would help eliminate such misconceptions, she believes, as foreigners would come to realize that the ideas they have been fed about the role and status of Arab women is false.

However, Kanoo believes an issue arises when Arab women seek to move up the professional ladder. 

“I see that lacking,” she said. “We need more action, with more women on board seats. We’re just as educated. So, we need an extra push and more affirmative action on that.”

She called for more female judges to preside over family courts across the Middle East — a move that would rebalance the mere 8 percent of female judges seen today.




Saudi women jog in the streets of Jeddah's historic Al-Balad district. (AFP)

Arab women must also become more assertive in demanding their rights, taking shame out of the equation, Kanoo added. “Once we stand up and (claim) our rights, that’s it, people start to respect that.”

Generation Z — those born between the mid to late-1990s and the 2010s — is challenging outdated behaviors thanks to social media and evolving parenting habits. “Social media paved the way and parents are another large influence on that,” Kanoo said. 

“More than anything, our governments are helping us through the different reforms we are seeing, across Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Nothing is going to hold Gen Z back. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving forward, which is fantastic.”

But continuing to empower Arab women is not just about reputation or doing the right thing — it is also good for the economy, said Nasrallah.

“A better educated mother will better educate her children and give them opportunities as well, so it’s an ecosystem that will benefit to evolve and grow. 

“More separation brings you down as a society and we need to be lifting ourselves up and showcasing to the world what we are capable of.”

Nasrallah and Kanoo were part of a discussion panel on “Arab women’s image,” which took place at the Arab Women Forum within the Top CEO conference in Dubai on May 17. 

 


Al Jazeera reporter likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, US says

Al Jazeera reporter likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, US says
Updated 56 min 15 sec ago

Al Jazeera reporter likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, US says

Al Jazeera reporter likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, US says
  • Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American, was killed on May 11 during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank
  • The US Security Coordinator concluded that gunfire from Israeli positions was likely responsible for her death

WASHINGTON: Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, but independent investigators could not reach a definitive conclusion about the origin of the bullet that struck her, the US State Department said on Monday.
Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American, was killed on May 11 during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.
The US Security Coordinator (USSC), after summarizing investigations by both the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian Authority, concluded that gunfire from Israeli positions was likely responsible for Abu Akleh’s death, the State Department said.
“The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” the State Department said in a statement.
In forensic analysis by third-party examiners overseen by the USSC, however, ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged which prevented a clear conclusion as to its origin, the State Department said.
Palestinians have said the Israeli military deliberately killed Abu Akleh. Israel has denied this, saying she may have been hit by errant army fire or by a bullet from one of the Palestinian gunmen who were clashing with its forces at the scene.
The death of Abu Akleh, and feuding between the sides over the circumstances, have overshadowed a visit by US President Joe Biden due this month.


Lebanese PM criticizes Hezbollah over drone provocation

Lebanese PM criticizes Hezbollah over drone provocation
Updated 04 July 2022

Lebanese PM criticizes Hezbollah over drone provocation

Lebanese PM criticizes Hezbollah over drone provocation
  • The Israeli military said on Saturday said that it has shot down the three drones
  • Hezbollah issued a statement saying they were unarmed and were sent on a reconnaissance mission

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister on Monday criticized the militant group Hezbollah for sending three unmanned aircraft over an Israeli gas installation last week, saying it was an unnecessarily risky action.
Najib Mikati’s comment came two days after Hezbollah launched three drones over the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Israeli military said on Saturday that it has shot down the three drones, before Hezbollah issued a statement saying they were unarmed and were sent on a reconnaissance mission. “The mission was accomplished and the message was received,” Hezbollah said.
Lebanon claims the Karish gas field is disputed territory under ongoing maritime border negotiations, whereas Israel says it lies within its internationally recognized economic waters.
“Lebanon believes that any actions outside the state’s framework and diplomatic context while negotiations are taking place is unacceptable and exposes it to unnecessary risks,” Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib said, citing Mikati’s statement.
Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies that fought a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Israel considers the group its most serious immediate threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.
The incident in the Karish gas field took place soon after US mediator Amos Hochstein recently visited Lebanese and Israeli officials, as talks were advancing.
Mikati on Saturday told reporters that Lebanon had received “encouraging information” regarding the border dispute, but refused to comment until after he receives a “written official response to the suggestions by the Lebanese side.”
Negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to determine their maritime borders commenced in October 2020, when the two sides held indirect US-mediated talks in southern Lebanon. Since taking over the mediation from late 2021, Hochstein has resorted to shuttle diplomacy with visits to both Beirut and Jerusalem.
The two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948, both claim some 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.


Egypt, Austria discuss security cooperation

Egypt, Austria discuss security cooperation
Updated 04 July 2022

Egypt, Austria discuss security cooperation

Egypt, Austria discuss security cooperation

CAIRO: Egypt’s Interior Minister Mahmoud Tawfiq met with his Austrian counterpart Gerhard Karner to discuss ways to enhance cooperation between their countries, and the latest developments in security issues of common interest.

Karner, heading a delegation of Austrian officials, said his visit to Egypt comes within the framework of close relations and continuous consultation between officials from the two countries.

He affirmed Austria’s interest in exchanging experiences with Egyptian security services, and his aspiration to strengthen channels of communication between the two sides in light of regional and international political and security challenges.

Tawfiq stressed his ministry’s keenness to build bridges of communication with Austrian security services in light of the friendly relations between the two countries, indicating his interest in strengthening cooperation mechanisms and exchanging experiences. 

He stressed the concerted efforts to combat terrorism, as well as cyber and organized crime, in all their forms.


Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks
Updated 04 July 2022

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks
  • The issues discussed included Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, incursions into Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, and settler violence

CAIRO: Tarek Tayel, head of Egypt’s mission in Ramallah, met with Jibril Rajoub, secretary of Fatah’s central committee, and discussed the latest political developments regarding Palestine.

The issues discussed included Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, incursions into Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, and settler violence.

After the meeting, Tayel affirmed the continuation of Egyptian support for the Palestinian people at all levels, including peace efforts that guarantee the restoration of their rights, intra-Palestinian reconciliation, and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip.

He praised the efforts of Rajoub’s team to pay attention to youth activities and events, in light of his presidency of the Palestinian Olympic Committee.


UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya
Updated 04 July 2022

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya
  • Militia run by seven brothers executed and imprisoned hundreds of people between 2016-2020
  • Surviving leaders of the Kaniyat are mostly believed to have fled to areas of eastern Libya

GENEVA: A UN-appointed mission to Libya said on Monday there are “probable mass graves” yet to be investigated, possibly as many as 100, in a town where hundreds of bodies have already been found and it urged Tripoli to continue searching.
The report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council this week details how a militia run by seven brothers executed and imprisoned hundreds of people between 2016-2020, sometimes keeping them in tiny oven-like structures called “the boxes” which were set alight during interrogations.
The evidence of kidnappings, murder and torture in Tarhouna by the independent Fact-Finding Mission represents one of the most egregious examples of human rights abuses in the turbulent period since long-ruling Muammar Qaddafi’s ousting in 2011.
Among the victims were the disabled as well as women and children, the 51-page report said.
Based on the testimonies of residents and two site visits, the mission found “reasonable grounds” that the Kaniyat militia committed crimes against humanity. It identified four commanders who participated directly in them.
Already, Libyan authorities have recovered 247 bodies in mass and individual grave sites in the Tarhouna area in Western Libya. Many were still handcuffed and blindfolded.
The mission used satellite imagery showing signs of soil disturbances among other evidence to identify three new likely sites. But there could be many more, it said, citing an existing grave known as ‘The Landfill’ where just a tiny fraction of the site has been investigated.
“According to insider knowledge, there might still be up to 100 as of yet undiscovered mass graves,” the report said.
It is not immediately clear how the findings will reflect on Libyan authorities. Libya’s diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond for a request for comment.
At one stage, the Kaniyat was aligned with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord but later with the eastern Libyan National Army led by commander Khalifa Haftar that tried, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the National Accord administration. The militia no longer holds authority in Tarhouna. The surviving leaders of the Kaniyat are mostly believed to have fled to areas of eastern Libya under Haftar’s control.
In its conclusions, the FFM calls on Libyan authorities to continue searching for the graves. It also urges them to establish a special tribunal to prosecute international crimes.
However, the report refers to difficulties with cooperation in the past. Diplomats and UN sources told Reuters that Libya had in the past expressed reservations about continuing the mission, which expires this month.
A resolution is currently before the Geneva-based council to keep investigations going for another nine months, which is less than some had hoped for. A decision is expected this week.