I want to argue about something new

I was lucky enough to hear two Arab Civil society activists speak the other day. The Arab spring has been one of the major undercurrents of UNCTAD XIII. These speeches were different, though – they were by women.

The first speaker was Zainab Salbi, Founder and President of Women for Women International. Her speech was inspiring – almost over the top – but she ended with a list of suggestions that really impressed me. None of it is new or unexpected, but it’s a well-phrased list that sums up some major needs:

  1. Don’t protect women in the name of culture. Women can make their own choices.
  2. Female participation needs to be more than symbolic. That means you don’t have two women in a group of 100 people. You have fifty.
  3. Don’t use the politics of women to navigate between religious and secular influences.
  4. It’s time to spend real money on women. Not just for their sake, but for the sake of the global economy.
  5. To Arab women: keep speaking up. The Arab spring, and our participation, was just the beginning. If this is a mountain we’re barely halfway up.

Ms. Salbi was followed by Amira Yahyaoui, who was at the conference representing youth. Of every she had to say, what stuck with me was a cry from the heart, that I suspect every woman alive has thought. “It’s 2012. Why are we still arguing about this? I want to argue about something new.”

Disclosure: My trip to Doha was funded by APCO, which has been contracted by the Qatari Ministry of Trade to support UNCTAD. They don’t have editorial control over my writing, and they don’t pay me to post.



Amira Yahyaoui at the World Economic Forum
Photo credit: World Economic Forum