By Minji Hong
Women make up half of the world’s population. However, they constitute less than 20 percent of legislators and less than 5 percent of ministers in the world. Despite extensive assimilation of democracy around the globe over the last few decades, many countries are still struggling to combat gender inequality, especially those in the Middle East. This poses great limitations on the successful application of sustainable democracy, for without equitable participation of women, thus disregarding their voices, it only accounts for half of the country’s’ citizens. But don’t fret! There has been a history of women taking charge to bring about change to this prolonged fight for gender parity in all sectors of society and brighten a seemingly bleak future for women. And among many, these 5 influential female political figures in the Middle East are using their eminent status in society to contribute to social causes in their region and beyond.
A mother, a wife, a boss, an advocate, a humanitarian, an avid social media user. These are just a few of many titles Queen Rania has assumed since her marriage to the current King of Jordan, Abdullah bin Al-Hussein in 1993. Indeed, her global prominence can be attributed to the strong advocacy work in a diverse range of causes she has sought on a local and international level, such as education, health, youth and cross-cultural dialogue. In Jordan, her efforts to improve the quality of education has been manifested in the establishment of various projects and organizations, such as Madrasati, Queen Rania Teachers’ Academy, Jordan Education Initiative, and last but not least, Jordan River Foundation, which aims to lift people up from poverty-stricken communities across the country. On a global scale, Queen Rania’s passion and activism for access to quality, global education was recognized in 2012, when she was chosen to participate in U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s High-level Panel, created to form the global development agenda beyond 2015. Needless to say, she is also UNICEF’s Eminent Global Advocate for Children as well as the Honorary Chair of the U.N. Girl’s Education Initiative, and serves as a board member in the World Economic Forum.
Reem Al Hashimi United Arab Emirates (U.A.E), Website
“I stand before you, representing the voice of millions in my country. I stand before you not only as a civil servant, a daughter, a mother, but also as a citizen of humanity committed and determined to make a difference and inspire change.”
After gaining her higher-education credentials at Tufts followed by Harvard University, her Excellency went on to serve her country, to build an international career and now serves as Minister of State of U.A.E. since 2008. She is also the Chairperson of Dubai Cares, a charitable organization geared towards improving children’s access to quality primary education worldwide, an essential platform for achieving sustainable development. She also stands as the Chairperson for Emirates Competitiveness Council that works to achieve sustainable growth and prosperity in the U.A.E. through a cooperation with public and private companies. Al Hashimi is more recently renowned for her position as the Managing Director of the Higher Committee for U.A.E.’s bid for the World Expo 2020, whose instrumental efforts secured Dubai as the Host in 2013.
“Our Muslim, Qatari and Arab traditions demand that we continuously reinvigorate ourselves and reach out the hand of friendship and support to those who are most in need. To share our blessings with others and also with future generations.”
Second of the three wives of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, former Emir of the State of Qatar, and the mother of the current Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Her Highness Sheikha Moza is the chairperson of the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development since 1995. Selected as one of Forbes’ 100 most Powerful Women in 2010, she continues to be in the forefront of many social causes mainly related to women, children and education. Her contributions can also be highlighted in the international scene, by partaking and leading several projects on the promotion of peace and human development across the globe. She is also the chairperson of the Sidra Medical and Research Center, with the aim to stand as a leading institution for women and children’s care. Her achievements culminated with many awards and honors, such as George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service in 2013.
Hanan Ashrawi (Palestine), Website
The 68-year-old Palestinian legislator, activist, humanist and scholar is perhaps one of the most, if not the most influential female political leaders in the region. Ashrawi has lived through the plight of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, especially with the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967, which forced her to be separated from her own family and denied entry into her own homeland in West Bank. Since then, she has sought to nurture the growth of the seed of activism that her father had planted during her youth. Her career took off with her elected position as the spokesperson for the General Union of Palestinian Students during her days as a student at the American University of Beirut. Ashrawi’s entry into the political sphere could be said to have began during the First Intifada, followed by her service as the official spokesperson for the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East peace process. She is currently a member of Palestinian Prime MInister Salam Fayyad’s Third Way party. Not to mention that she is the first woman to be elected to the Palestinian National Council. However, her contributions to the society transcend the borders of her own country. She is a board member of the World Bank MENA, U.N. Research Institute for Social Development and the International Human Rights Council.
Born into the royal family of Jordan and the wife of the Prime Minister of U.A.E. by marriage in 2004, Princess Haya is a former Olympic athlete, now a mother, wife and humanitarian, among many other titles. Sports have been a critical part of her life since she was a young girl with a passion for Equestrianism. Since then, she has believed in the important role sport plays in improving the lives of many, empowering women, and as a means to achieve peace and harmony between nations, which led her to assume position as the President of the international Equestrian Federation for two consecutive terms until 2014 and as a member of the International Olympic Committee. Her efforts towards international development are grounded in humanitarian assistance and health. She is a founder of Tkiyet Um Ali in 2003, the region’s first NGO in food aid, and in 2005 became the first woman to serve as World Food Program Goodwill Ambassador. In regards to her commitment to improving health care, she was appointed as the Chairperson of Dubai Healthcare City Authority and also played a key role in developing the Arab Children Health Congress, dedicated to offering a platform between health care providers and the general public on issues related to child healthcare.