'Upped women's participation by 5 times'

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Session: Voices from the Gulf

Moderator: John Defterios of CNN

Speakers: Dr Hissa Al Otaiba, UAE Ambassador to Spain; Basmah Omar from Jeddah Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia; and Ahmed Al Mukhani, Chairperson of Salso Legal Training Centre in Oman.

In a brief introductory note, Dr Hissa said: I went to Spain where I was speaking to the King. Our meeting was for 25 minutes. He spoke a lot about our leadership. He commended our leadership in 2010 when I was appointed Ambassador to Vatican.

Our meeting with the King at the Vatican was extraordinary… we had some funny situations. They assumed all the time that the ambassador would be a man and not a woman. Most of them were surprised when they saw me.”

When asked about misperceptions about women, Basmah Omar said during the past 4 years we have increased women's participation by five times. We started with 50,000 today we have more than 300,000. Our centre is a centre for women's empowerment. We work to increase women’s participation in business.

Replying to a question about what is accurate picture today in Saudi and what needs to be done next, Basmah said we have challenges in Saudi such as transportation and infrastructure. We believe the government will provide women with opportunities. If women work from home it will increase their productivity.

In a reply to a question about the legislation in GCC put by men and it needs to be reviewed, Ahmed Al Mukhani said being a man, you can never think as a woman. For example I was working on a legislation for a domestic violence. As per the law, a woman should bring an evidence that she was victim of domestic violence.

Also when we see labour law in GCC, the law doesn’t differentiate between men and women. Men think there is no need for the change, and there was resistance from men to change this.

Whether Emirati women should be allowed to work or not, Hissa Al Otaiba said media should be blamed for giving a wrong image. Here in the UAE, we have women in all fields. We have more than 12,000 businesswomen with businesses worth more than Dh12 billion. The problem is that they think women here are only at home for raising children. While the fact is that women here are working as well as looking after their families.

Ahmed Al Mukhani said women should be given their full rights. The opportunities given to Emirati women is much more than other GCC women. Women should be encouraged to enter the business field. We want women to challenge the norms and push the boundaries. Through my daily interactions, I always make sure that my working groups have equal balance between men and women.

Moderator asks Basmah, are we seeing more women in science and technology, construction and finance sectors. And what is the next generation heading to in Saudi Arabia?

She said we should respect women who don’t want to work. I choose to be a homestayed mom when my kids were small. We don’t have statistics, but we have pioneering scientist. We have issues of matching education with what the market needs.

When questioned to Al Otaiba about who is her role model, she said my role model is Sheikha Fatima. She encouraged us to reach where we are today. We have to preserve our tradition and religion and our love to our nation to reach where we want to be.

Basma said for role model, we have to look at Muslim women. We have many examples like Sayeda Khadijah bint Khuwailed - the wife of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).

Question from audience: Is art being encouraged in Saudi?

Basma says this is a field which we’re developing.

Al Otaiba says we have a partnership between Spain and UAE in the art field.

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