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March 9, 2012 - Amal Hamidallah Al Ahmadi

Tribute to our female achievers


Dear supporters today we celebrate the 8th of March, the international day of Women rights. We celebrate the centenary of International Women's Day, with a list of Bridging the Gulf female members that we would like to call female achievers. The list of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2012, is dominated by GCC female leaders. I must confess that few are from the women human rights defenders or civil society corner. Still GCC women are there to prove they are making their way to the top and to exposure in very challenging and closed context.


Another success for Bridging the Gulf network is the prestigious International Women of Courage Award for 2012 that went to Samar Badawi (KSA) . Active network member and the wife of another young civil society leader, human rights defender and as well Bridging the Gulf network member Waleed Abulkhair(KSA). Samar gained international recognition because she challenged Saudi Arabia's extremely restrictive guardianship system by sueing her father. She has also filed lawsuits against the government demanding the right for women to vote and drive vehicles.


Bridging the Gulf is a network of civil society leaders from the Arab Gulf region. Since we launched our network strategy "vision and mission for the region" many things changed around us. In three years we could achieve considerable visible results in: mobilising, bridging and bounding for positive social and human rights change in the Arab Gulf region. The whole Arab world is going through a historic period of change and also from the Western world regrettably not many seem to understand what is quite going on, not even the pseudo experts for the region who sometimes may jeopardize a very fragile and volatile context.


Across the region, citizens are demanding reforms, transparent governance, and a say in their destinies, but their way is not necessarily the way we understand from here. Citizens are going through a process of internal progressive evolutions (with the exception of the political imbroglio in Bahrain) , they are eager to transparent governance, ending corruption or just having a say in their destinies. Also at the forefront of change in many Arab countries have been women; the GCC is no exception - look at the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2012 - even though its mostly conservative culture. Many are now demanding that women be granted more political rights not only in the emerging new Arab order but also in the old ones such as KSA.


Despite the optimism, politics remains a largely male dominated industry across the region and this is particularly true for the Arab Gulf countries. Not a single Arab Gulf country has ever had a female head of state and it won't happen by tomorrow. There are very few women Ministers or State secretary or members of local parliaments, Majlis (only Bahrain and UAE) . Similarly, there is a striking lack of women in business and leadership positions in the region, aside from some notable exceptions, such as within the United Arab Emirates and probably Kuwait. Women still play a marginal role in entrepreneurship and business in Arab Gulf countries. Will political developments in the region be reflected in economic life on the ground, so that Arab Gulf women will one day enjoy equal opportunities and participate economically and politically in their societies?


All this begs a broader question: How can this change in the future? Is there a universal notion of equality between women and men? Can Western models of gender equality and women's rights be applied to the Arab world in general and to the Gulf countries in particular? It certainly can, with taking into consideration the region's traditions. Definitely there is no model of one size fits all. We need to be aware that standardization won't work and definitely not now. We need a constructive approach, optimism, courage, patience, dedication and much education.


Women of our region, in the Arab Gulf region can't and won't be able to achieve anything without the involvement of their fellow male co-citizens. My special thanks for Waleed Abulkhair, Samar's dedicated husband, who could show to the world that behind a woman's rights and success stands a man who believes in her. My special thanks also to our dearest co-founder, who supported two others and me with Bridging the Gulf's new initiative,  for having worked with me and the Amnesty team in London long ago at the translation into Arabic of the manual for women human rights defenders. The manual is now and finally available even in Arabic thanks to this great soul.


With love, dedication, much understanding and flexibility we may achieve a lot and Bridging the Gulf is an illustrative case.


My special thanks to all of you,


Amal Hamidallah Al Ahmadi


Director Bridging the Gulf Foundation