Dubai: Young Arab women must be encouraged to erase stereotypes of being the weaker sex with limited social roles, said Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade, on Monday.
Shaikha Lubna spoke at the Women in the Arab World Symposium organised by Barnard College, a US women's liberal arts college. She said it is forums such as the symposium that will serve to erase the stereotypes of women in the Middle East and elsewhere.
"In many parts of the Middle East, family, cultural, business and political structures still limit the full development of women's potential," said Shaikha Lubna. "We need to encourage young Arab girls to believe in themselves and have confidence in their ability to achieve and excel.
"I am proud to say the UAE is looked up to as a model for other Arab states in terms of awarding increased opportunities to its female citizens," she said.
Appointed the UAE's first female foreign minister by Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, she said such opportunities have seen UAE women handle around 50 per cent of the UAE's small to medium sized enterprises.
"Only women can create the emancipation or liberation of other women," said Moufida Tlatli, Tunisian born international film director, who spoke on a panel addressing the role of women in Arab literature and film.
She said women are mothers and it is up to them how they raise their children. She emphasised the upbringing of boys that will bring about change in the status and role of women. "It is up to the new generation to change these things [stereotypes]," added Tlatli.
Kathryn Kolbert, Director of the Athena Centre for Leadership studies at Barnard, said a number of tried and tested ways have proved effective in the advancement of women.
"We know using mentors and having women open doors for other women is a critical aspect of the advancement of women," said Kolbert. She added the importance of education is not only to educate a population but to bring others along the way.
In its second year the annual symposium, which was launched in China last spring, aims to bring women leaders from different fields to inspire young women of the region.
Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, said she sees the role of women in the Arab world as an evolving one. "This is the first generation where we are seeing women like Shaikha Lubna moving into top leadership positions and we need to have this trend continue," said Spar.
However, it becomes apparent the UAE does not lag far behind the West as women fill roughly 18 per cent of the leadership roles in the country, said Sapr.