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Women central to peace in Middle East and beyond, Abu Dhabi summit hears

ABU DHABI // Women members of parliament have an important role in brokering peace in the Middle East and beyond, a conference heard on Monday.

About 50 women who preside over parliaments met in Abu Dhabi for the Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament.

For the first time men were invited to participate, including Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister, who spoke about the challenges facing the world.

Just as the UAE was preparing for a post-oil future, other challenges could be turned to opportunities, Sheikh Saif said. “Today the world speaks more of challenges than hopes.”

He quoted Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, who had said “we will celebrate the last shipment of oil that will exit the UAE”.

“This is a transformation of a challenge into an opportunity,” Sheikh Saif said.

Other issues facing the world included growing scarcity of natural resources and energy, income equality and unsustainable debt, he said.

Delegates agreed that parliaments and their women members have an important role to play in easing these problems.

Luz Rubianes, president of the Congress of Peru, said by 2050 her country was predicted to have just 60 per cent of the water resources it has today.

“This will give rise to conflicts and because many will go in search for cities where they can find solutions they will become overpopulated, which will lead to an increase in crime,” she said.

To cope with this, the congress has introduced laws to curb consumption of water.

“Parliaments should be the early responders to conflict,” said Inara Murniece, speaker of the Saeima, the parliament of Latvia.

More women should become parliamentary members but there are factors that prevent them, the conference heard.

“We should make parliaments more attractive for younger women, like adding baby rooms so women who are still productive also join,” said Margaret Mensah-Williams, chairwoman of the National Council of Namibia.

In her country’s parliament, all sessions were rescheduled for the morning, so female members could be with their families in the afternoon, to help their children study and “assist in cooking”.

Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, speaker of the UAE Federal National Council, said men also had a role in encouraging women to join parliaments.

She described how she decided to involve men and turn the annual meeting of women speakers of parliament into a global summit.

“Less than a year ago, when I joined my sister speakers of parliament and I knew that there will be a meeting hosted by Inter-Parliamentary Union, I thought it woiuld be a great opportunity so we can get together and think ahead how we can participate,” she said.

“We need to understand our way forward and then what is in demand.

“We live in one of the most conflicted regions in the world. Hope is our secret. We should work together not alone, male and female, youth and all generations, and with all the different sectors, our scientists and thinkers.”

Federica Mogherini, vice president of the European Commission, said having women members in parliaments of Muslim countries was important.

“You all know Amal’s story and background,” said Ms Mogherini, speaking via a satellite link.

“And I must also speak to Europe that the image of a Muslim woman is totally disconnected from reality. There is no country in the world that could claim total equality between men and women in terms of policymaking. At many times I’m the only woman, but the contribution of women is very important.”

She gave the example of a group of Syrian women she met recently, who had their differences in many issues, “but they managed to find a common background” because they are determined to bring peace to their people “with a good dose of women’s pragmatism”.

Dr Ahmad El-Tayyeb, the grand imam of Al Azhar, spoke about how Islam focuses the value of women and establishes equality by giving them the right to inherit and own property, choose their spouses and keep their family names after marriage. The gathering of women speakers would play a part in helping resolve the conflicts facing the Middle East, which has been turned into a war zone by arms manufacturers and “war brokers”, Mr El-Tayyeb said.

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