Sharjah, UAE: The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) has announced the adoption of the ‘Sharjah Declaration’ that aim to strengthen the resilience of women and girls in the Arab region, on the closing session of the Investing in the Future Conference yesterday (Thursday).
The ‘Sharjah Declaration’ was announced with the blessings of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and his wife, Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), Chairperson of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment.
The second Investing in the Future Conference, which took place on October 19 and 20 at Al Jawaher Reception and Convention Centre, and was held under the theme ‘Building the Resilience of Women and Girls in the Arab Region’, was organised by TBHF and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).
The closing ceremony saw the attendance of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, Chairperson of NAMA Women Advancement Establishment (NAMA); HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance; Sheikh Salem Bin Abdul Rahman Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Ruler’s Office; international representatives from government and non-government organisations, decision-makers, academics, and field experts.
Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka has commended the efforts of conference partners and the hospitality of Sharjah. She stressed the importance of continuing to build partnerships and alliances among governments, international organizations, civil society organizations and youth groups to change negative gender stereotypes, and to protect women from the threats of armed conflicts, humanitarian crises and the waves of extremism ripping through the region. Focus should also be given to women’s economic empowerment as a mean to fight poverty, and to engaging men and boys in the struggle for gender equality in the region.
“These topics are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals and of achieving a true Planet 50-50 by 2030,” said Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka at her closing remarks. “The energy of the men and women on these past two days has been significant and palpable,” she added.
Mohammad Naciri, UN Women Regional Director for Arab States, delivered the Sharjah Declaration for the Rights and Empowerment of Women and Girls, which reads as follows:
Representatives of states, governments, international organisations and civil society institutions met in October 2016 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, to discuss the resilience of women and girls in the Arab region. The principles established at the meeting took the form of the following:
Participants recognise that it is not possible to build sustainable peace based on marginalisation, exclusion and inequality, noting that women have a catalytic role as agents of change and as leaders in reconciliation, peace-building and countering violent extremism.
They recognised the need to engage men and boys to challenge the structures, beliefs, practices and institutions that sustain men’s privileges, as well as the need to address inequalities between women/girls and men/boys,
Participants also recognise the positive potential of young people, both males and females, in promoting peace and security, emphasising that the adoption of the sustainable development agenda, with its dedicated goal on gender equality and the mainstreaming of gender equality across all 17 goals, demonstrates that development, human rights, peace and security are interdependent.
They reiterated that civil society, including women´s organisations, plays a vital role in the sustainable and peaceful development of a community and country and should be engaged in the decision-making process at all levels.
Participating experts called for the mainstreaming of gender in all plans, policies and programmes, which are aimed at empowering, protecting and supporting refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs); the pursuing of practical targeted actions that address the needs and rights of women and girls and the engagement of men and boys as partners for gender equality.
The experts acknowledged the findings of the Global Study on Women, Peace and Security, which reported that the chance of a peace agreement lasting 15 years increases by as much as 35 per cent when women participate in the negotiations,
Recalling the commitments made by Arab Member States in the Cairo Declaration for Arab Women and the Strategic Plan for Women Empowerment, as well as the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which call for gender equality in all areas of public and private life and a commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the participants called on member states to create national mechanisms and develop national action plans to guarantee implementation of the Regional Strategy and Executive Action Plan on ‘Protection of Arab Women: Peace and Security’. They call upon member states to intensify cooperation with religious institutions to ensure women’s rights within Islam, as well as women’s rights in other religions practiced in the MENA region; to protect women and girls from all forms of violence, particularly during wars and conflicts; to promote religious discourse which creates awareness; to ensure that women’s rights are protected in the family and society and to actively work toward a culture of peace and security,
The participants noted that extreme poverty and hunger could be eliminated by 2030 if between 9.5 and 13 per cent of global military spending was channelled to improve agriculture and rural infrastructure in impoverished communities,
They indicated that women and girls need to be included and specifically targeted in planning for economic recovery and resilience, with special consideration given to their needs regarding education, livelihoods, skills development, employment and access to resources, particularly for female-headed households and considering socio-economic restrictions placed on women and girls,
Participants emphasised the important role of women as agents of economic stabilisation and growth and that economic outcomes are more likely to be inclusive when women are involved. They reaffirmed that ‘no action is not an option’ and that it takes governments, businesses, development partners, men, women and all relevant participants to work in a coordinated and sustained partnership framework to realise inclusive and equitable peace and stability,
While stressing that data show a persistent underinvestment in gender equality and women’s empowerment in humanitarian assistance, the participants called on all donors to invest in women´s empowerment and leadership, particularly in relation to development and emergencies.
Jawaher Al Qasimi: Women’s involvement is a guarantee for sustainable development and prosperity
Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Al Qasimi lauded efforts by representatives from government and non-government organisations, as well as representatives from UN organisations and civil bodies who contributed to drafting the Sharjah Declaration, which aims to strengthen the resilience of women and girls in the Arab region.
Her Highness expressed her deepest thanks to all those who contributed to enriching the conference and its sessions with their ideas and opinions, which demonstrated their moral commitment and humanitarian interest in empowering women in the region and the world.
Sheikha Jawaher said: “Most principles stipulated in the Sharjah Declaration focus on the involvement of women and girls in promotion of peace and achieving stability, which is an extremely important issue amid the difficult conditions experienced by many countries in the region. This is because the lack of security threatens women’s mental and physical integrity and hinders them from becoming an active agent designing the future to ensure sustainable development and prosperity.”
Sheikha Jawaher underlined the need to empower women economically and facilitate the process of granting them the necessary finance to launch projects, the right to participate in government tenders and procurement, and provide the skills to maximise their contributions in various economic activities.
Sheikha Jawaher called for the collection and analysis of data and statistical indicators on women’s participation in economic development in the Middle East, to promote women’s roles in business sectors.
Her Highness acknowledged that the protection of women’s rights, building capacity, developing skills and offering equal job opportunities, must be at the forefront of empowerment programmes implemented by government bodies and civil society organisations to encourage women and girls to engage in public life.
Lubna Al Qasimi: Government laws provide effective and official support for women
In her keynote address during the ceremony, HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, said: “The natural equality between women and men is obvious. Both are human beings in the end, and they need to support each other. Therefore, they must be equal in life opportunities and aspirations for a better future. We must concentrate our effort to promote gender integration to maintain human stability and cope with the inevitable changes and developments that come with time.”
HE Sheikha Lubna, Minister of State for Tolerance, said that the UAE has gone far in empowering women, quoting His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE: “We have moved beyond the phase of empowering women. Indeed, we are empowering society through women. This is reflected in the constant and consistent achievements made by the nation’s women. The UAE ranks first globally for treating women with respect, according to the World Economic Forum Report 2013, and also leads the Middle East and North Africa in terms of gender equality. A perfect illustration of the empowerment and social confidence in women and girls of all ages is the success of a number of Emirati girls who recently managed to conquer Everest Summit,” she said.
Sheikha Lubna underlined that the UAE’s focus on supporting women is not limited to the local arena, as the UAE is also keen, under the guidance of its wise leadership, to help other countries promote gender equality. The UAE is actively involved in undertaking several mandates relating to women’s rights through the United Nations and other international organisations. This is reflected in the steady increase in Emirati women’s contributions to various positions of responsibility in the business sector and charitable societies as well as in various professions and posts across the country.
“Emirati women enjoy more than mere encouragement, because government legislation and laws provide a broad scope of official and tangible support for women. This is well illustrated by the Cabinet ruling four years ago that all boards of directors of companies and government entities must include women, making the UAE only the second country after Norway that makes the representation of women on boards mandatory.”
Sheikha Lubna added: “This ambitious approach is enhanced by the eagerness of Emirati women to gain more knowledge, be more creative and further develop their skills. We see this through the growing interest in using the latest communication and learning technology, and the enthusiasm of many younger women and girls to take on scientific research and innovation.”
Sheikha Lubna referred to a UN study that shows the UAE among top countries in women’s empowerment, with Emirati women representing 60% of the total national workforce. She emphasised that the nation should support women’s entrepreneurship at government level in its quest to consolidate the culture and attractiveness of entrepreneurship among female Emiratis.
HE stressed that the UAE encourages women’s participation in economic development, and major efforts have been made to inspire women entrepreneurs. Sheikha Lubna added that there are further steps needed to address certain factors which may alienate women from running or developing their own enterprises.
She called for establishing platforms for women to communicate and exchange ideas, a move that will not only stimulate creativity but will also give women a sense of support and self-confidence, enabling them to better prepare and succeed. Women can achieve great success in networking and cooperation with other women owners of small enterprises and help them establish other projects within their community.
In conclusion, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi said: “Supporting women entrepreneurs is a pillar to spur economic growth, since women’s entrepreneurial potential and capabilities have not yet been fully utilised. Women entrepreneurs can play a prominent role in leading the economy and in doing so, create jobs for themselves and others. This is why we should increase women’s abilities to participate in the workforce and strengthen their participation in entrepreneurial activities.” She went on to say that creative initiatives and programmes should be launched to support women’s entrepreneurship. “Efforts must also be made to improve these targeted efforts through collecting more consistent data for the study of women’s employment and entrepreneurship that can be run from home.”
Ahmed Abou El Gheit: Gender equality is the only way to achieve comprehensive economic development
Ambassador Ensa Makkawi, Manager of the Directorate of Women, Family and Childhood at the Arab League, said in a speech delivered on behalf of Ahmed Abou El Gheit, Secretary General of the Arab League, “We highly appreciate the unwavering efforts made by Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi through the Big Heart Foundation to support women’s issues on national and regional levels. This has culminated in launching the NAMA Women Advancement Establishment to grant women their full political, economic and social rights as key partners in community development. We also appreciate the valuable efforts undertaken by UN Women on a regional level to protect women and girls and advance their positions.”
Makkawi added: “Arab women’s issues have always been a priority on the agenda of Arab League meetings. The Arab League has always sought to promote the role of women and girls in Arab societies, stemming from its belief that women are the backbone of progress, security and peace in societies. Gender equality, equal opportunities for women and girls to have access to education, healthcare, decent employment, political participation and economic empowerment is the only way to achieve comprehensive economic development.”
The Arab League plans to hold an International Conference in January 2017 in conjunction with UN Women, Al Azhar Al Sharif and the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, to address all forms of violence and extremism in the region.
The event will involve religious institutions and regional and international organisations concerned with human rights, in activating of the memorandum of understanding signed in March 2015, by the Arab League with the Office UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
She added: “The current situation in the Arab region requires developing new methods to deal with issues of peace and security in the region, and to strengthen mechanisms to stop violence through mediation, peacekeeping control and much more.” She highlighted the important role of teaching and educating new generations and promoting the concept of human rights, without overlooking the essential and effective role that women can play in building sustainable peace in Arab communities.
Makkawi concluded by saying: ” We have to work together to address all threats and risks facing the security and safety of women and girls, and develop the means to combat terrorism in all its forms and bring peace and security in the region. We need to promote the values of true Islam and fight the culture of extremism that sparks such hatred. We must advance our Arab communities and maintain their cohesion and stability, with an emphasis on the importance of women’s participation in peacebuilding, and the promotion of dialogue as a method to resolve conflicts. Equality and development cannot be achieved if there is no security and stability.”