Igniting the light of a brighter future for the world is not always easy. Perceptions, cultures, religions and laws often must be understood and respected when change is contemplated and promulgated.
One global conversation that has been taking place over recent decades and should have a place in conversations in the Arab community is women in education and the role society and the family have in establishing a future vision for the Arab world. In that regard, may I humbly offer some observations, which could be impactful to the Arab world.
I believe it would be unfair to make any specific comparisons to the global community of male and female workers as it relates to the growth of any economy in various countries. However, I believe modifications or recalibration in the delivery of human resources, especially those human resources found in the Muslim community, can be actuated without denying faith or values.
I believe the long-term national interest of Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries is in the development of human capital in both men and women, and having that growth reflected in the manner in which children are raised, while at the same time preserving the faith and traditions of Muslim culture. This will not be easy, but it would be a practical step in the development of a more progressive economy and intellectual country. I believe the following process could be a valued step in the right direction.
Firstly, as more and more women are prepared to reach their intellectual goals in life through access to education, and the provision of training to young parents about boys and girls becoming thirsty in terms of wanting to explore intellectual endeavors, we must be prepared to give a foundation of support to the family, particularly mothers, to allow this to happen. For example, the current paid family leave policy in Saudi Arabia, and other countries, both for women and for men, may need to be reviewed and expanded. A review of a country’s businesses can support a change in paid family leave. This would be essential for workers who are motivated and for whom paid family leave would not be considered a “perk,” but rather a tool of being economically productive to companies and the country.
Secondly, school curricula should be considered shared experiences by men and women. From healthcare to architecture, from the arts and sciences to philosophy, equal access can trigger creative thinking. This may include university collaborations, possibly within the Muslim world or even across Western countries.
Thirdly, I hark upon the old adage that, once a person is educated, they will throw away their cultural ways and will want out of the house, all because their new life is more attractive. May I humbly submit that the marriage of attitude, intellectual growth and respect for the traditions one grows up in is set by the family. Therefore, as an example, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman redefines human capital in the development of Saudi Arabia, so attention needs to be placed on what can be done to give families better stabilization and a sense of self-worth. This is not always easy, but the crown prince has the ability to create a national course of human discovery and, I believe, not tarnish the traditions of Muslim life.
Finally, may I offer the concept of a national family policy for the Muslim world. That is, as laws (in the areas of housing, education, business, etc.) are formulated, they are evaluated by a country’s minister or a panel established by the head of the country and viewed through a document that could be called “The National Family Policy Index.” This index, through its guidelines, would determine if a new law or policy was in the best interest of the country and its families. This could be a useful tool for Arab governments to demonstrate significant forward-thinking about improving their countries’ economies.
The magic and creativity of those who surround the leaders of the Arab world’s governments can be the force to make the changes these governments need to pursue. Saudi Arabia could be a role model in the Muslim world by enhancing the value of its families while still embracing the tenets of Muslim life.
It all starts with redefining the family and its unique contribution to the Arab world; always in the context of a changing world but still bound by faith and traditions.
I offer this opinion because I am so passionate about the survival and growth of the world’s families — each within its unique culture and set of rules. I do not hesitate to pontificate about this anytime I can. The uniqueness of the family and its incredible attributes can have a powerful effect on the global economy and the intellectual capital of everyone, everywhere.
I was the first father to receive paternity leave in the US some 50 years ago, but the right for all fathers to receive paid family leave still does not exist in America. In fact, the US is the only OECD country without any guaranteed paid family leave.
The issue of supporting families has, in my belief, always been to strengthen the moral and ethical fibers of a country; to give a country the most powerful tool of intellectual and economic growth; and not to be apprehensive about change, but rather to see how creative change can take place in the context of the faith and values of a country’s families.
As each child is born in the Arab world, we should look deep into its eyes and imagine its potential for achievement, which is ready for development through parenting, school, community and a set of national values.
Your children are in your hands and these children will one day have you in their hands, as they become the next leaders.
• Dr. Jerry Cammarata was the first father in the US to receive paternity leave. He is currently the COO of Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine and the World Safety Organization Liaison to the United Nations. He is the author of “The Fun Book of Fatherhood.”