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Mrs. Leila Ben Ali Opens AWO's 3rd Congress
Publié dans La Presse de Tunisie le 29 - 10 - 2010

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies,
Your Excellency Mr. Amr Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States,
Your Excellency Dr. Abdulaziz Altwaijri, Director-General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,
Dr. Wadouda Badran, Director-General of the Arab Women Organization,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome you to your country Tunisia, which is proud to host the Third Congress of the Arab Women Organization. I express to you my deep appreciation of your gracious presence which attests to the bonds of brotherhood and cooperation between us, and your keenness to promote joint Arab action to the highest possible levels.
This is a privileged occasion to continue discussing a number of topics of interest to us all, with a view to further promoting the status of Arab women and achieving equality and equal opportunity between women and men. Such equality will reinforce the process of reform and development in which our countries are engaged and will increase the chances of women to be integrated into a world of unprecedented challenges in all fields.
It is my pleasure to express my deep gratitude and appreciation to our honorable sisters, Their Highnesses and Their Excellencies, for having accepted our invitation and for gracing with their presence the proceedings of this Congress. I am also happy to greet the members of official delegations and the representatives of States and international, regional and Arab organizations, as well as the men and women experts on women issues. I commend the interest shown by the entire attendance in our Congress and in the topics submitted to it.
Similarly, I commend the valuable efforts made by the Preparatory Committee, the Academic Group, and the General Directorate of the Arab Women Organization under the chairmanship of our sister, Dr Wadouda Badrane, in organizing this Congress which is convening under the theme: ìThe Arab Woman : an Essential Partner in Sustainable Developmentî, for the purpose of deepening the dialogue and exchange of views on the need to promote social gender issues to the level of a strategic choice. This will contribute to empowering Arab women and enhancing their role in serving development as producers and not as mere consumers.
Obstructing womenís energy is, in fact, wasting half the energy of society.
Much talk has focused on sustainable development in recent years, in the context of unstable world conditions. Accordingly, we are wondering about the most effective policies to pursue, under the circumstances, in order to ensure the progress of humanity as a whole, as well as the best ways to integrate women into the process of sustainable development, with greater speed and in a more extensive and comprehensive manner.
Sustainable development is a matter of civilization and a human issue with interconnected political, social, economic, cultural, technological and environmental dimensions. It requires formulating policies and programs that would help mankind use the natural resources available to it according to an integrated approach. The aim is to accomplish the purposes of development and to control the utilization of resources and wealth in such a way as to protect them from depletion while at the same time providing decent livelihoods and prosperity for all present and future generations.
This approach, however, can only operate if we eliminate the causes of poverty, hunger, discrimination and insecurity, spread social concord, increase investment and develop creative human resources. To that effect, we have to improve peopleís quality of life within the framework of a just, comprehensive and sustainable treatment, without discrimination between men and women, between different generations and between urban and rural environments.
Although sustainable development is a vital need for the survival of mankind, it is not only a matter of protecting individuals from hunger and other perils to their life, but also of providing them with basic development services. These include education, health care, housing and employment in addition to liberation from the phenomena of educational and cultural marginalization and of social and economic exclusion.
Empowering Arab women and helping them benefit from equal opportunities with men in the area of goods and services are part and parcel of this strategic goal. This aim can only be achieved by providing coherent and comprehensive programs of education, training and rehabilitation for women and helping women utilize the results of researches and technological innovation across the board. It can only be achieved by providing women with economic resources and strengthening the role of civil society in supervising their advancement, wherever they may be, whether in urban, suburban or rural environments.
The presence of Arab women today beside men in social, economic and political activities strongly confirms womenís resolve to be an effective contributing factor to consolidating sustainable development in our societies.
All the different health, educational and social indicators today show that the conditions of Arab women have witnessed remarkable improvement; a higher life expectancy, an improvement in mothersí health, a decline in infant mortality rates and a higher standard of education and instruction.
Yet those gains and accomplishments, important though they are, fall short of our expectations. Indeed, Arab women are still less empowered than men in numerous social, economic and political fields; widespread illiteracy among a large proportion of women categories, particularly in the countryside, constitutes a major challenge to a great number of our societies. Moreover, the attitude toward educating women and giving them jobs to practice in their life still arouses controversy in our countries. The growing trend toward girl education does not automatically result in offering them opportunities to work, integrate into the development process and participate in public life. This situation reflects a socio-cultural outlook which continues to prevail in some of our Arab societies where people deal with the subject of learning and right to work in conflicting ways depending on the gender.
One of the obstacles to development today is the failure to allow women to actively participate in socioeconomic life and to hold positions of decision-making and responsibility, due to traditional factors that continue to consecrate inequality between women and men. For our part, we are firmly convinced that the exercise, by Arab women, of their rights to public life is inseparable from the exercise of their rights to decide their family affairs and to contribute, on an equal footing with men, to building a healthy, united and harmonious family. Indeed, family is the basis of educational and cultural change and the foundation of socioeconomic development.
It may be said, in this regard, that the experiences recorded in the majority of our Arab countries are promising, insomuch as they are based on balanced development approaches in which the economic and social dimensions are inseparable; gender equality of rights and duties is consolidated; and mindsets are developed toward the establishment of a family and societal culture that promotes partnership between men and women across the board.
The participation of women in economic life is a major criterion for measuring the progress of societies and the anchoring of their conception of sustainable human development.
The economic transformations in Arab countries have revealed new and promising possibilities in the area of womenís vocational activities. These possibilities have changed simple traditional family crafts into innovative business activities which are based on skill, creativity and good command of the techniques of production and sales promotion. Such evolution requires Arab women to increase their knowledge of modern production and marketing methods, and to join professional organizations which would serve their interests. In so doing, they would be able to improve their social and economic status and contribute to the progress and prosperity of their society.
On this occasion, we call for an exchange of views on the possibility of holding a periodic forum for Arab women artisans in different specialties, and the creation of a network for coordinated promotion of their products. The purpose would be to open for them wider prospects for integration into the economic circuit and into the dynamic of sustainable, solidarity-based comprehensive development.
Within the framework of our presidency of the Arab Women Organization, we are keen on further activating the programs intended to upgrade the skills of Arab women, enable these to assimilate modern knowledge and new technologies and acquire expertise in project development and management.
Since the environment is a pillar of the sustainable development process, we are called upon, in facing the severe climate change, the widespread natural disasters and the environmental imbalance, to raise awareness of the gravity of these phenomena and their economic and social repercussions on the conditions of women in particular. The reason for this predicament is the fact that women are in closer contact with natural resources, as they represent the main workforce in the agricultural sector in most countries.
In this context, we call on our Congress to consider the possibility of creating a prize for studies and research on environmental issues, conducted or supervised by Arab women, as well as a prize for the best women association working in this field. The award would be based on the quality of efforts made to induce Arab women to use environmental resources optimally and develop their contribution to instilling environmental awareness in the future generations.
The adoption of meticulous and objective methods to determine womenís participation in national economies and activities in civil society is an effective way to convey a true and accurate picture of their status. Hence the need to make researches and studies on equal opportunity in employment between men and women, and on the need to take account of womenís special circumstances when allocating work schedules. It is incumbent upon us to exchange experiences and know-how among our countries in this area, so we can streamline our efforts and harmonize them with our reality and the demands of our time.
We are today in greater need to constantly improve the conditions of women according to an approach founded on the inseparability of civil and political rights on the one hand, and the social and economic rights on the other. This goal is shared by Arab women with a great number of women throughout the world. As such, it motivates us, within the Arab Women Organization, to make greater efforts to communicate with our geographical environment and open up to it more widely with a view to working out a mutual agreement for peace, security and development.
Freedom from the threesome of fear, poverty and discrimination is another pillar of sustainable development. The subjection of women, in a number of societies, to destitution, violence, displacement and family disintegration due to health and socioeconomic conditions as well as to rampant armed conflicts, is a violation of womenís dignity, an insult to their being and a flagrant transgression against the concept of sustainable, equitable and integral development to which all nations aspire.
In this regard, we are entitled to wonder about the international communityís fulfilment of its obligations as laid down in the relevant fundamental documents of the United Nations, at a time when women in many nations are suffering from discrimination, exclusion and marginalization!
We consider our meeting today a propitious occasion to renew our solidarity with women in all flashpoints of tension and conflict in the world; to highlight our keen desire that the International Womenís Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Committee contribute to raising the different partiesí awareness of the dimensions of that law and the necessity of respecting its principles; and to reaffirm, at the same time, our strong support for the struggle of the Palestinian people, the valiant resistance of all its women, men, and children against occupation and aggression, and for its extreme courage in defending its legitimate rights to freedom and dignity.
Your Highnesses, Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have absolute confidence in the ability of our Organization and of all Arab women associations which have volunteered to work, with great dynamism and enthusiasm, in the social, economic, educational, cultural and scientific fields, their ability to instil in our societies the concept that sustainable development is unthinkable in the absence of women.
I am confident that the experts participating in our Congress will help us formulate action-oriented recommendations capable of crystallizing a just and comprehensive concept of development which gives women the status they deserve and upgrades their role to the level of effective partners with men in building the progress of our societies.
I again welcome you to Tunisia and wish you a pleasant stay amongst us. I also wish our Congress every success. May God guide our steps for the good of Arab women and the development and prosperity of our countries.
Thank you for your attention.


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