Poll bodes well for future of women’s empowerment in the Arab world

Saudi racing driver Aseel Al-Hamad presents a trophy to Lewis Hamilton. (AFP)
Updated 09 December 2019

Poll bodes well for future of women’s empowerment in the Arab world

  • YouGov study shows 59 percent support women holding ministerial roles in the region
  • GCC countries are a prime example of women excelling in every arena, says expert

DUBAI: Women’s empowerment in the Arab world has a bright future, if the findings of a YouGov study commissioned by Arab News for the Arab Strategy Forum are any guide.
Several recent regional developments — women driving in Saudi Arabia and an increase in the number of women holding ministerial roles in the Arab world — are viewed by substantial numbers of Arabs as positive.
A combined average of 61 percent said they expect to see more female empowerment in their home country over the next 10 years. This thinking was strongest in the Levant at 60 percent, followed by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries with 48 percent and 44 percent in North Africa.
The study surveyed 3,079 Arabic speakers, aged 18 years old and above, from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to better understand their current and future concerns on various topics.
June 24, 2018, will go down in history as the day Saudi Arabia lifted its longstanding ban on women driving. Two-thirds of the poll respondents actively supported the Kingdom’s new driving law, with only nine per cent expressing opposition.
Commenting on women’s standing in the MENA region, Maria Al-Qassimi, an Emirati writer, said recent decades had witnessed a movement led by Arab women to redefine social norms through a call for “equal opportunities and less restrictive laws.”
Despite the rapid speed of policy changes, Al-Qassimi says she wishes to see further progress in the standing of women in Arab societies.

 

 

“I hope that policies and regulations will be revised to allow both men and women to strike a balance between their responsibilities and contributions both at home and at work,” she told Arab News.
Al-Qassimi believes that the situation of women and other “vulnerable” segments of society as of now is largely determined by economic factors.
If women continued to play an important role in driving Arab economies forward while demonstrating their “indispensability” on the global level, countries would have an incentive to enlarge women’s empowerment, she said.
Al-Qassimi said there was no doubt that governments around the Arab world were recognizing the need for women’s empowerment in building stronger economies and societies. However, a change in social attitudes may require more time.

 

Al-Qassimi cited the GCC states as a prime example of women’s excellent performance in almost every field. In the UAE, women make up 70 percent of all university graduates, and hold 66 percent of all public-sector jobs, she said.
In Saudi Arabia, the number of women working in the public and private sectors has increased by “282 percent” over the past year. “The hope is not only for women to occupy more leadership positions, but to push for more merit-based career advancements across the GCC,” Al-Qassimi said.
Women holding ministerial roles in the Arab region is a development that gained strong support from respondents, with 59 percent expressing positive sentiment, as opposed to 14 percent who were negative.
Among those expecting to see an even greater increase in the number of Arabs supporting women’s empowerment in the next two years is Injeel Firoz Moti, managing director at Catch Communications, an agency that works with female entrepreneurs in the UAE and across the GCC.
“One advancement I see taking place is the rise of more women in the workforce as well as growth of the female entrepreneur,” said Moti, who foresees more women taking up leadership roles and driving operations in the labor force.
Moti described women’s empowerment in Saudi Arabia, including the new driving law and the modification of the public dress code, as “setting a precedent” for further positive changes.
This was supported by the poll’s findings on a woman’s right to choose what to wear: 52 percent of respondents expressed positive sentiments.
Women of the Arab world have made great strides in breaking away from “centuries-old gender norms and traditions,” one of which is freedom of appearance, according to Al-Qassimi.
“What women wear is unfortunately not a physical representation and expression of who they are, but of the honor and chastity of their immediate and extended families,” she said.
The poll also showed 24 percent of respondents selected one of two options — “prefer not to answer” or “neither agree or disagree” — when asked about the topic of women’s clothing.
Al-Qassimi said some Arab societies “respond to emotions of fear and shame,” which she believes could be the reason many respondents in the survey disagreed with the freedom of appearance or chose not to give an opinion.
Other questions in the survey dealt with topics such as forced marriage and honor crimes. The findings suggest that 77 percent of the Arab world disagree with the practice of forced marriage, with 67 percent of respondents strongly opposed to it.
“Given the rate at which our societies are evolving, with time more value will hopefully be given to the individual and the choices he or she makes,” Al-Qassimi said.


Militant sentenced to 19 years for role in Benghazi attacks

Updated 26 min 42 sec ago

Militant sentenced to 19 years for role in Benghazi attacks

  • Al-Imam is the second militant convicted in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel
  • The head of the extremist militia who directed the siege, Ahmed Abu Khattala, was convicted in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison

NEW YORK: A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a Libyan militant to more than 19 years in prison for his role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador.
A jury convicted Mustafa Al-Imam last year of conspiring to support the extremist militia that launched the fiery assaults on the US compounds but deadlocked on 15 other counts.
The attacks, aimed at killing American personnel, prompted a political fracas in which Republicans accused the Obama administration of a bungled response.
Al-Imam was sentenced to a total of 236 months behind bars. He is the second militant convicted in the attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, communications specialist Sean Smith and security officers Tyrone Snowden Woods and Glen Anthony Doherty.
The head of the extremist militia who directed the siege, Ahmed Abu Khattala, was convicted in 2017 on terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Khattala was accused of driving to the diplomatic mission on Sept. 11, 2012, and breaching the main gate with militants who attacked with assault rifles, grenades and other weapons.
The initial attack killed Stevens and Smith and set the mission ablaze. Woods and Doherty were later killed at a CIA annex.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Washington asked US District Judge Christopher Cooper to send a message to others contemplating attacks on Americans overseas, saying Al-Imam deserved the maximum 35-year sentence.
“In the current geopolitical environment, terrorists must understand that there are harsh consequences for attacking diplomatic posts and harming US personnel — particularly a US ambassador,” Assistant US Attorney John Cummings wrote in a court filing.
Defense attorneys said Al-Imam made a “tremendous mistake” by damaging and looting US property after the attacks. But they insisted there was no evidence he intended to harm any Americans, noting jurors could not reach a verdict on the murder charges Al-Imam faced.
“Mustafa Al-Imam is a frail, uneducated and simple man,” they wrote in a court filing. “He is not a fighter, an ideologue or a terrorist. He is a former convenience store clerk whose main loves in life are soccer and family.”
Al-Imam was tried in a civilian court despite the Trump administration’s earlier contention that such suspects are better sent to Guantanamo Bay. His arrest, five years after the attack, was the first publicly known operation since President Donald Trump took office targeting those accused of involvement in Benghazi.
Prosecutors acknowledged there was no evidence that Al-Imam “directly caused” the killings at the US compounds. But they said he aligned himself with Khattala and acted as his “eyes and ears” at the height of the attacks.
During a four-week trial in Washington, prosecutors pointed to phone records that showed Al-Imam was in the vicinity of the mission and placed an 18-minute call to Khattala during a “pivotal moment” of the attacks.
Al-Imam also entered the US compound, prosecutors said, and took sensitive material that identified the location of the CIA annex about a mile away from the mission as the evacuation point for Department of State personnel.
In interviews with law enforcement following his 2017 capture in Misrata, Libya, he admitted stealing a phone and map from the US mission.