Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
May 2013


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'Talking' the World to a Better Place

Between 18 and 27 March 2013, Australia played host to the inaugural Australian Arab Women Leaders’ Dialogue. The following account comes courtesy of the Dialogue’s official website: 

The First Event of its Kind Held in Australia. 

Since early 2011, the world has been transfixed by the momentous changes taking part in the Middle East as a result of what has become known as the Arab Spring. Arab women continue to play prominent roles in the struggle to secure basic rights, equity and justice in this region. 

The Australian Arab Women’s Dialogue brought together women from the Arab world—who occupy major positions of influence and are regarded as leaders—to explore women’s participation in emerging democracies. The Dialogue provided a forum for participants to discuss the role of women in building and sustaining democratic practice in both the Middle East and Australia. The project resonated strongly with efforts by the Australian government to increase Australia’s engagement beyond the Asia-Pacific region. And has put Australia at the forefront of efforts to support the empowerment of women in emergent Arab democracies. 

Delegates from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are participating. The visitors took part in a series of programs in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne between 18-27th of March that included major public events, expert round-table discussions and tailored individual meetings. They also met prominent Australians in significant public roles. 

Mrs Wafa Abdel Rahman (Palestine)

Founder and General Director, Filastiniyat: Media for Women and Youth. A feminist and political activist, she founded and remains a board member of the Palestinian Female Journalists’ Club and is Editor in Chief to NAWA, a Feminist News Agency; also a fellow of the Eisenhower Fellowships—2007 Multi Nation Program in which she was selected as the 2007 Ward Wheelock Fellow. 
Ms Hanaa Edwar (Iraq)

Founder and Secretary-General, Iraqi Al-Amal Association; a human rights, women’s rights and democracy activist in Iraq for more than forty years; serves on advisory committees for Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Institute in the Arab region and co-founder of the Iraqi Women’s Network, which consists of more than 80 women’s organisations. In 2011 was awarded the certificate of Human Rights Defender by the UN Mission in Iraq. 
Ms Minoush Abdel-Meguid, (Egypt)

Managing Director and co-founder of Union Capital Partners. A young, dynamic businesswoman strongly engaged in political and social issues in Egypt and a prominent activist during the Tahrir Square uprising in Cairo. Also founding president of the Egyptian Young Bankers’ Association, an NGO catering for the progression of young bankers. 

Ms Rana Hussein (Jordan)

Author and internationally-recognised, award-winning journalist for The Jordan Times. Writes on violence against women, as well as the brutal crimes that are committed against Jordanian women in the name of family honour, a topic traditionally considered taboo in her country. She is also a passionate basketball and soccer player, a Member of the Women’s Football Committee at the Arab Union Football Federation and a Distinguished member of the Board of the Jordan Football Association and was Team Captain of the Jordanian Women’s National Basketball team from 1995 to 2000.

Ms Samar Fatany (Saudi Arabia)

Writer and columnist for the Saudi gazette Khaleej Times and Asia Week. Former Head of the English Service and Chief Broadcaster at Jeddah Radio Station. Has long supported youth initiatives that seek to enhance women’s roles in society; a member of the Saudi Women’s Writers’ Group, a founding member of Alkalimah Literary Society and a member of the Committee for Youth Forums of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the Saudi Committee for International Trade.

Ms Zeina Daccache (Lebanon)

Clinical Psychologist, Drama Therapist, Actress and Filmmaker. Founder of Catharsis, a Lebanese Centre for Drama Therapy, the first organisation of its kind in the Middle East.
She has developed a drama therapy program in prisons, supporting the rehabilitation and empowerment of incarcerated communities in Lebanon and has directed films for advocacy and awareness-raising including: 12 Angry Lebanese (2009) with male inmates in Roumieh prison and Scheherazade in Baabda (2012) with women inmates in Baabda prison.

Dr Houriya Kazim (UAE)

Medical Director and Consultant Breast Surgeon, Well Women Clinic, Founder of Breast Friends. The UAE’s first female surgeon; obtained her fellowship in General Surgery, sub-specialising in Surgical Oncology, Breast Surgery and reconstruction in London. Dr Kazim worked as a volunteer surgeon in the Caribbean before taking up a post as a Breast Surgeon in Dubai. In 2006 set up the Well Woman Clinic, a multidisciplinary clinic staffed by women, for all women's health needs.

The Rationale: 

Within Arab and Australian communities, there are often misunderstandings about one another that present barriers to productive communication. The Dialogue aimed to… 

  • Strengthen relations between Australia and the Arab world 

  • Raise awareness and improve the understanding in Australia of the issues confronting women in the Arab world, and vice versa 

  • Share information and experiences regarding women’s participation in democratic governance 

  • Examine the role of women in emerging democracies in the Arab world, and 

  • Examine capacity-building strategies for supporting the efforts of Arab women. 

Opportunities were provided: 

  • for participants to learn about the participation of women in political, social and economic life in both the Arab world and in Australia 

  • to better inform Australians about the role Arab women play in building democracy in these countries, and vice versa 

  • to enable the women involved to exchange ideas, initiatives and strategies about participation in democratic governance 

  • to challenge some of the myths and misperceptions women in Australia, and the Arab world, might have about one another, and 

  • to create an enduring and supportive international network. 

Background to the Dialogue 

The interests of two Australian women converged and the Dialogue was born. 

At the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2011, community activist Libby Lloyd proposed the notion of a Women’s Dialogue to ANU academic Dr Victoria Mason. Both women saw an opportunity to build and sustain connections between female activists in the Middle East and Australia. 

Libby Lloyd has lived and worked in the Middle East, first just after the 1967 Israeli/Arab War and, again, at the time of the first Gulf War. On both occasions she was based in combatant countries – Egypt, then Iraq. She was also a member of Australia’s Council for Australian Arab Relations. For many years Libby has been an activist in women’s human rights, in violence against women, in refugee issues and in international development. 

Victoria Mason’s major interests and academic research are in the areas of human rights, conflict resolution, and gender and refugee issues. Much of her work focuses on the Middle East—particularly the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Iraq and Jordan—and she has conducted extensive fieldwork throughout the region. 

At the time Libby approached her, Victoria was researching and speaking about the involvement of women in these emerging democracies in the Arab world. Their interests converged and the ‘Dialogue’ was born.