Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abou Faour inaugurated the fifth session of the New Arab Women Forum held under the main theme of “Women and the Arab Spring”, with the participation of 500 delegates from 21 countries, and in the presence of the Honorary President of the Forum, H.E Deputy Bahiya Hariri, and a large number of ministers, deputies, diplomats and officials from Lebanon and abroad.
The speakers in the opening ceremony included Minister Wael Abou Faour, Deputy Bahiya Hariri, French Ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton, Representative of MBC Group Mazen Hayek and Editor-in-chief of Al-Hasnaa magazine Nadine Abou Zaki.
Minister Abou Faour saluted both Beirut and the Palestinian woman and paid tribute to Kamal Jumblatt by recalling some of his words.
He said: We have a lot to say in front of such an audience. Luckily, we are in Beirut, the city of Arabs and the capital of Arab progress. It is Beirut that got rid of occupation, and lives in freedom and democracy, Beirut the capital of national unity and the mother city of Arabs; it was always ahead of their ambitions and today is one with their future.
Beirut that hosts today the Arab Woman endeavoured to make its own Spring. In this city of sacrifice, martyrs have paid their life to attain the Arab Spring and to save the country’s leaders and their achievements. Al Iktissad Wal Aamal has done a lot to highlight this bright side of our city and we thank it for that, as much as we thank her for organising this forum with the great efforts of the president of the Group Mr. Raouf Abou Zaki, a pioneering Lebanese figure.
He went on to say: I hope that the Arab Spring does not turn into a fall for Arab women. Reforms that took place against repression and injustice cannot replace dictators by idols of power. Reforms that took place to eradicate injustice and implement equality should not benefit the political life alone, but should rather establish real equality between men and women. No reformists have ever aimed at replacing injustice by injustice, and the Arab Spring remains unaccomplished if it does not flourish in Palestine. We salute the Palestinian woman who has and still suffers immensely and yet is still determined and devoted to her right to free her country from the Israeli occupation.
Abou Faour hoped that the new Arab regimes are able to eradicate discrimination and empower equality among all, knowing that women were partners in these reforms and deserve to share their benefits.
He concluded by paying a tribute to the man whose intellect and principles preceded the Spring, and was thus the victim of the Spring; for it was he who said: Those who surpass history should expect the guillotine
Deputy Hariri to say: It has become a tradition for us to gather every year in the New Arab Women Forum to exchange experiences and expertise and deepen the relations among us. All this contributed to a better and safer future for our people and countries. The New Arab Women Forum is one of a series of events organised by Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal Group in extremely tough circumstances. This group has always mirrored and echoed the thoughts and expectations of Arabs. It is worth noting that the partnership between Al-Iktissad Wal-Aamal and Al Hasnaa Magazine, the first Arab magazine tackling women issues, paved the way for a successful forum.
She added: discussing the Arab Spring has become a highly sensitive and important issue; as we are unable to dwell on the subject, or brief, or criticize. The only thing we can say is that we support this Spring and we look forward to the realization of the dreams of the youth defending it. We want a better future for our societies as well as just and fair governments. We expect from this Spring a more established unity, and one modern Arab identity. We also ask for a fair solution to the most just cause in modern history; we want an independent State for the Palestinians with Jerusalem its capital, because the people of Palestine and this holy land really deserve peace after years of suppression and occupation.
She concluded that what Arab women and Arab societies are doing is building the future, and they are capable of shaping it very well.
French Ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton expressed his delight at the French Embassy’s and the French Institute’s support of this forum, stressing on the French support to the Lebanese woman and women in the Arab world.
He also reiterated that France has always aimed for the unity of Lebanon, its stability and sovereignty, noting that such a project cannot be successfully completed without the full respect of basic rights, and without the admission of women’s equality with men on the legal, social and economic levels.
Pietton emphasised the support that France offers to a number of active Lebanese associations working on defending women’s rights, mainly on the economic, agricultural, social, educational and health levels.
Mazen Hayek began his speech with a reference to an international recently published report, which stated that the cost of the Arab Spring which flourished in the Middle East in 2011 was very high, reaching more than 55 billion dollars, noting that concerned countries lost 20.6 billion dollars of their Gross National Product, and 35.3 billion dollars were cut from their global budgets. This was accompanied with a regression in growth and returns, and an increase in costs. In addition value of compensatory damages and reconstruction should also be considered. Yet, Hayek added the report refrained from comparing between the cost of the freshly new Spring and that of the previous phase, to show which one was more costly... knowing that the result can be well-known beforehand!
He went on to say: Since the question is knowing the price of such happenings, then Arab woman along with men should calculate the real benefits of reforms made by woman, of the Spring in which she actively participated. Could woman’s rights-that were unfulfilled to begin with- deteriorate with such reforms, and thus making the situation worse than before? What are the roles that Arab woman can play today and tomorrow? And how would she find a respectful place for her in the process of government and institution building and amidst a vague of enhancement of the principles of citizenship and equality? Finally, would women be able to maintain their primary role in the wake of the reforms, knowing that new forces and players might take the lead?
To many, the outcome of the Arab Spring might appear gloomy and disparate, yet, after all, it still remains positive. Yet we are all following closely, and with growing concern and anxiousness the new players, who are not known for being in favour of women empowerment, neither for insisting on total partnership between man and woman, or for their strong belief in having them equal in rights and obligations...
He concluded: it only remains to be seen through action and implementation whether the new free leaders have the chance to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors in order to gain the trust of their people. They can benefit from the seeds of democracy to enhance the values of government, institutions, citizenship, human rights and to build the future.
Founder and Executive Director of the forum and Editor-in-chief of Al Hasnaa magazine, Mrs. Nadine Abou Zaki began her speech quoting a Tunisian woman:
“I resisted the French occupation. I resisted the dictatorship of Bin Ali. And I will remain in the square, for our revolt has not yet achieved its goals.” This was stated by Ms. Sadoni, 77 years of age, who demonstrated in the colds of the Tunisian streets for two weeks, in front of the official lodging of the Tunisian prime minister.
Ms. Abou Zaki continued:
In Tunisia and Egypt, women resist
In Libya and Yemen, women resist
They continue to resist everywhere
And have always resisted.
For over five years, NAWF has spoken on their behalf
For over five years, NAWF has expressed their desire for change
And has walked in their footsteps
Wasn’t it their own course that paved the way for the “Spring”?
A “Spring” for a new Arab woman?
So how do we uphold this spring, a spring for woman?
Which freedom? Which equality? Which citizenship does she crave?
A few months ago we were warned by Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian supporter of woman, and a Nobel Prize winner: “Do not repeat the mistakes of Iranian women; they were united in agreement on what they rejected, but did not agree on what they wanted. Slogans everywhere stated: ‘leave’ yet no one said: I am against plurality of wives. We want equality of rights”.