Ambassador Sallama Shaker
First published by Peace x Peace on 17 November 2010
“The problem seems to be that once we see a woman wearing the Gulf clothes, which are black, we immediately get the impression that they are oppressed. We really should go beyond this clothes image.”
We need to be doing more in the Arab world to present a better understanding of the diversity of the cultures in the Arab world. Somehow I think that the United States is always under the impression that women are caged in the Arab world just because of the way that some of the Arabs seem to be dressed. Because of these images of women we seem to forget that there are so many business women and women entrepreneurs in the whole of the Arab world. And that the rate of education in the Arab world among women is one of the highest.
It is the role of the mass media and our role as educators to bring a better understanding of the cultures and religion in the Arab world. The Arab women in political, cultural, and social arenas need to play their roles as social agents of change and dissolve the stereotyped images that seem to always be projected in Western media.
We tend to forget that some of the clothes are national costumes. When we used to see Benazir Bhutto in her veil and national costume none of us got the impression that she was caged or oppressed. And we appreciate all the beautiful national costumes that are being worn by African women. The problem seems to be that once we see a woman wearing the Gulf clothes, which are black, we immediately get the impression that they are oppressed. We really should go beyond this clothes image. We need to understand the cultures and how right now there are influential positions that are held by women in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Libya and many other countries in the Arab world. We tend to forget that there was Tansu Çiller, the Prime Minister of Turkey. And we forget so many other Muslim women who played active roles in their society.
Another example is Suzanne Mubarak’s Women’s International Peace Movement. This movement draws from the whole Arab world as well as from Europe, the United States, and Latin America. A conference was held in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt in 2009 addressing the issue of illicit trafficking of women and how to stop this dangerous, violent act against women around the world. The conference also discussed how to maintain peace in the Middle East and the role of women as peace activists and agents of transformational, constructive change in their societies.
I really feel that the mass media needs to play a more constructive role in changing stereotyped images. We need Oprah to go and discuss, for example, all of the major activities done by women in many Arab countries. This will help stop the othering and the fear of those who are veiled. Because frankly speaking in many parts of the world the veil is what you can describe as a sign of an identity.
I am sure that together we can make a difference. Educating the young future leaders everywhere in the United States and in Europe will definitely make a positive impact on changing these images.