Leading Diplomats, Activists Talk Abraham Accords’ Effects on Women in Region
International Women’s Day panel discusses recent Middle East peace pacts
Recent regional shifts, chief among them the normalization of relations between Israel and four Arab countries, have already had significant impacts on women, leaders from Israel, Morocco and Bahrain said at the Women Make Peace conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
According to the speakers at the event, organized by the Israeli Foreign Ministry ahead of next Monday’s International Women’s Day to discuss the effects of the Abraham Accords, female diplomats, journalists, activists and citizens can and will play a central role in shaping the new Middle East.
Ambassador Eynat Shlein, head of MASHAV − Israel’s International Development Agency and a deputy director-general in the ministry, while “unfortunately not many women were involved” in the signing of the past year’s accords, women in Israel, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and other countries will make “a unique contribution in advancing peace and cooperation.”
In the fall and winter of 2020, Israel formalized diplomatic, trade and economic relations with the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. The historic agreements, ending decades of hostilities between these nations and the Jewish state, were brokered by the United States.
Commenting on Wednesday’s bombshell decision by the International Criminal Court to launch an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians, Shlein told The Media Line the ministry was “focused on the positive ways to solve these issues, not negative ones,” adding that The Hague’s steps likely will not help in resolving of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Morocco’s Karima Rhanem, president of the International Center of Diplomacy and CEO of Africa My Home, discussed the role of women in advancing diplomacy and cooperation in the region. “The rhetoric must include gender equality and advocate for parity based on merit, not just women as numbers,” she insisted.
“It’s not just legislation, but also the mentality that needs to change. In Morocco, for example, gender equality is now in our constitution, but needs to be implemented in practices and institutions, to promote women and youth and people with disabilities.
“We’re not part of the decision-making process yet,” Rhanem said.
It has to be about people-to-people. We need to cement these agreements, by meeting people, engaging, seeing and touching. Hate is easy when everything is in two dimensions. The realization that we have more in common with each other than we think, that can’t happen without physical meetings
Ahdeya Al Sayed, president of the Bahrain Journalists Association, noted that Israel strengthening ties with past rivals in the Gulf and North Africa will “impact individuals as well as formal ties.
“A woman’s role is not only summed up by her position and title, but also at home; we’re responsible for raising the next generation, that will either love or hate its neighbor. The children I raise and ‘give’ to society will one day promote what we’re talking about here today,” Sayed said.
“It has to be about people-to-people. We need to cement these agreements, by meeting people, engaging, seeing and touching. Hate is easy when everything is in two dimensions. The realization that we have more in common with each other than we think, that can’t happen without physical meetings,” she said.
“That’s why women should have a place at the table, and shape the region, not just in diplomatic capacities but also as teachers, doctors, mothers,” Shlein said.
Rhanem said the Rabat government was already taking steps along those lines, noting that Hebrew and Jewish history were recently added to the country’s school curriculum.
“Traveling, exchanging views, learning for yourself: these also foster dialogue and change perceptions,” she added, while acknowledging these endeavors could be more challenging for women.
“People told me I’m taking a risk writing about these things, about Israel in a different light, warned me I’d be harassed, but we have so much to share with one another. It’s too important,” Rhanem said.
Sayed shared her own difficult experiences after expressing support for last year’s agreements between Israel and the Arab world.
“It was received with a lot of anger, much more so than if I were a man,” she said. “The easiest thing to do is to defame and insult women, especially in our world. It takes a lot of effort to hide these insults from your children, for example, but women have to fight this, women have to believe in this.
“The media has a very important role to play. People have been told things and taught to hate without any sense, for decades,” Sayed said.
Women have also been disproportionately hurt by the coronavirus pandemic, the panel participants agreed.
“The pandemic, and the way it forced everybody into their homes, has driven domestic violence cases and violence against women up,” Rhanem told The Media Line. “Also, while Morocco has invested in technology and connecting houses to the internet and electricity, that has not really benefited rural areas, so women in these places obviously find themselves facing a difficult reality.”