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Women delighted at Obama’s address

Saturday, June 06, 2009, Siraj Wahab, Arab News


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Alkhobar: For women across the Muslim world, US President Barack Obama’s historic address from Cairo was nothing short of a blessing.


He acknowledged his respect for their personal choices and at the same time underscored his belief that their choices should be personal.


“God bless him,” said Asya Al-Ashaikh, founder and CEO of the Jeddah-based Tamkeen Development and Management Consulting. “He is a courageous man. It was a fascinating speech. He said all the right things. I am sure he will be able to translate all that he has spoken in Cairo into real action. His words will open a new chapter in our relationship with the US. He touched almost all the issues that concern us. What struck a chord within me was his focus on education and the empowering of women through education. ‘Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.’ I will always remember that line forever. It is so true.”


Obama divided his speech into seven sections, mostly political.


However, the sixth issue focused entirely on women’s rights.


“I know there is debate about this issue,” Obama said. “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.”


He echoed that long-respected American principle of self-determination.


“I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles, but it should be their choice,” Obama said.


“I was impressed by his talk. His selection of Cairo University to deliver his all-important address carried a very important message. This university is a symbol of Arab history and culture, of our education and civilization and of modernity. It is a very important institution,” said Hatoon Al-Fassi, a Riyadh-based Saudi writer and historian.


“His statement that the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing is highly significant. It is a proposal that should be immediately grasped for the general good of the civilized world,” said Al-Fassi.


“Obama’s overtures to the Muslim world may still come with bogies attached, but his unequivocal support toward empowerment of Muslim women is a welcome sign indeed,” said Amna Khaishgi, a Dubai-based Pakistani broadcast journalist.


“Be it the West, Middle East or Asia, the role of women acquires the most critical dimension, and any progress will be incomplete without the participation of almost half the population on the planet. Women have always played and will continue to play a great role in the Muslim world but making it further participatory will surely be more than welcome.”


One Jeddah mother of four said although she was impressed by Obama’s speech she was unsure if his words would translate into policy decisions. “He is a genuine man but that doesn’t mean he will have an easy ride having his way in the United States,” said Aisha Al-Fassi.


“He is the president, yes, but there are other levers of power in the United States that are equally if not more important. Also, it remains to be seen how the American media will react. The pro-Israeli media in the US have exacerbated many of the problems. They have been feeding the American public with a steady anti-Arab and anti-Muslim diet. However, I have no doubt about the good intentions of Obama. I hope he succeeds in what he believes,” she said.


“His speech was excellent. It was comprehensive and balanced,” said Maha Akeel, managing editor of The Journal (issued by the Organization of the Islamic Conference). “Some might criticize that he repeated the usual stands of the US in support of Israel and the same rhetoric about peace and Islam and that we should wait for action instead of being happy with mere words.”


Some pundits cautioned Obama might be seen as lecturing the Muslim world, but he made it clear that the issue of women’s rights is a global one that many nations — including the US — need to address. Some women expressed hope that his words might advance that conversation in the Middle East.


“Obama’s speech to the Muslim world was one of hope and prospect. His address about women in the Muslim world was on the one hand one of respect toward religious and traditional differences and on the other hand one of encouragement to women,” said Sharia Abdullah Walker, a Jeddah-based Saudi student of international relations.


“It is time that women take their rightful role in their society, which is in demand for educated and professional women who can contribute to the growth and development of the society and humanity.”


“Obama’s views on women’s education are more than welcome.


Certainly, it is one of the fundamental building blocks of growth and development,” said Sadia Khan, a student of Islamic studies at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. “It is indeed high time that the traditional and orthodox elements in the Muslim society assessed this very critical issue,” she said.





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