Women who conquer all odds
What is it that makes some women conquer all odds to fulfil their potential as human beings and professionals, despite serious traditional, social and family hurdles? How do some women become presidents, prime ministers of countries, CEOs of corporations, surgeons, writers, whilst others give in?
About 300 prominent women from the Arab world, assembled in Dubai on March 15, to debate these dilemmas, at a symposium on ‘Women in the Arab World’, by Barnards College.
The answers were surprisingly very simple. Women who excel are (1) ambitious, (2) have a clear vision where they want to go, (3) are determined and willing to work hard, (4) are willing to defy the world, and (5) do not give up!
Across the globe, women are making rapid strides. Hillary Clinton was a whisper away from becoming President of the USA and the most powerful person and woman in the world.
Sonia Gandhi, earlier considered a political novice, is now the most influential political personality in India, the world’s largest democracy.
Pepsi, Global, is run by a woman, Mrs Indra Noovi. Kraft Global is run by a woman CEO, Ms Irene Rosenfeld.
In the UAE, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi is Minister for Foreign Trade and a very powerful woman globally.
Tunisian filmmaker Moufida Tlatli relates how she made it to the top through determination. Early in her career when she had to travel for some months and her husband protested, she announced to him that her work was more important than he was!
Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif underscored the importance of being patient, for success to come. These women used art, literature and film to achieve their full potential.
Nevertheless, success does not come easily to women. They have to strive harder in a male-dominated society. Najla Al Awadhi, corporate financier from Saudi Arabia, underscored how her colleagues were shell-shocked to see a woman in the traditional male preserve of private equity, even in the USA!
Fashion designer Emirati-Afghani Rabia Zargarpur recounted how she struggled to blend modern fashion with tradition. She felt challenged to preserve the traditional headdress, and yet bring colour to the Arab wardrobe. Her work is now accepted in western fashion bastions.
Dr Loulwa Bakr, renowned Emirati breast surgeon, believed that her success was due to the fact that she was told early in her career that surgery is the preserve of the male surgeons and she was determined to break the glass ceiling.
The UAE’s National Council’s youngest member, Ms Najla Al Awadhi, underscored the importance of fighting prejudice to achieve full potential.
The thoughts of women leaders are tempered with reality. They accept that if they have families, then professional aspirations have to be subordinated to bringing up children. For nobody can ever replace a mother to a child.
It is thus that women leaders lamented that what they missed most at home was a ‘wife’! The paramount tribute came from one of the 10 men, in the audience of 300 women achievers, who exclaimed: “I am totally inspired!”
RAJENDRA K. ANEJA