The scene is changing in the Arab world for women who are moving beyond traditional societal trends, studying hard and taking on more senior roles in the workplace, said women panellists at the Emirates Airline Literature Festival.
Speaking on gender equality, three female authors said many women are no longer deferring to societal expectations that frown upon women embracing leadership positions in the workplace.
Sophie Le Ray, the author of ‘Game Changers: How Women in the Arab World Are Changing the Rules and Shaping the Future’, told panel attendees that more than ever, women are standing up for themselves.
“There has been a tremendous change in the region,” Le Ray said but she noted that “closing the gap between university and the workplace [for women] is [of concern].”
Le Ray lauded UAE leaders like His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, for setting an example for other Gulf countries by calling for the inclusion of more highly educated women in high positions in the workforce.
“People are not always like Shaikh Mohammad giving permission for women to be pilots,” said Le Ray, French entrepreneur and founder of the Global Women In Leadership (WIL) Economic Forum.
She encouraged women to be more proactive in pursuing their dreams.
“We women should develop this belief that we are strong and move [away] from a position of being victims,” Le Ray said. “The game has changed, the rules have changed. We have to intimidate, rather than being intimidated.”
Award-winning author and journalist Badriah Al Bishr said that as a Saudi woman, she always “felt I cannot leave home” and wondered why her brother was allowed to play outside but she was discouraged from doing so.
When she was older, Al Bishr said she “tried to change these rules by writing … it’s not easy to talk about the red lines”.
Mehr Tarar, a Pakistani journalist whose writings are assembled in her book ‘Leaves from Lahore’, remarked that societal values dictate that “it’s always about how women are supposed to behave … her family’s honour is dictated by her behaviour”.
But she said that in many cases, it’s not the men who discourage girls from pursuing their dreams; “it starts from the mother”.
Tarar said that oftentimes, it is not religion or governments who oppress women, but rather the role of tradition. “It’s a tradition thing” carried out by society, she said.