Just like many others foreign to the Middle East, oppressed women and controlling men was the picture Judith Hornok had of the Arab world.
After a brief visit to the UAE nine years ago, Judith Hornok was pleasantly surprised that her image of Middle Eastern societies was very much off. Looking to help bridge the gap and common misconceptions between the West and the Arab World, the Austrian author and communication expert decided to write a book about Arab women in the UAE society, which is now available in both German and English.
Her book ‘Modern Arab Women: The New Generation of the UAE’ tells the story of 20 prominent women from the UAE in different aspects of life including education, career, politics and personal ambition.
Currently visiting the UAE, Hornok talked to Gulf News about her continuous desire to help repair the misconstrued image of Arabs in the west, and unveiled her next step and future plans.
After a recent visit to Stanford, Silicon Valley a few months ago, Judith realised how surprised after her talk about the freedom Arab women enjoy in the Emirates. “Getting to know each other better is the most precious investment for people in the 21st century,” she explained.
She pointed out that only through interaction and an exchange of information will people from opposite sides of the world overcome stereotypes and fix their misconceptions about one another.
“My next step is to write a book for the US market about the Arab World — I want to help build trust between both worlds,” she said.
Nine years ago
Hornok’s visit to the UAE as a journalist covering a Formula One event nine years ago opened her eyes to the reality of an Arab society. Her visit sparked her interest in learning more about Arab women, their roles in the society and the mentality of Arab men.
Judith’s realisation encouraged her to transfer the image back home to her friends and family as well as the rest of the Western world.
“Lots of Westerners have a generalisation of the Arab world… we are not informed about how big the Arab world is and how different the countries are from each other,” said Hornok.
While researching and gathering information over four years for her first project, Judith travelled back and forth to the Emirates in order to build relations and conduct interviews with over 20 Emirati individuals.
“Through my work I have learned how much one can learn about people when one approaches them and asks questions, something that people do not do often enough,” she said.
She also presented numerous inter-cultural seminars for commercial associations and large corporations in Europe and the UAE, and spoke at forums such as the European forum Alpach (The Munich Media Days) in Munich, Germany, one of the biggest forums for media, TV, and news worldwide.
A deep message
Hornok’s book is available in UAE bookstores depicts real stories, emotions, and thoughts of women in the UAE in different fields including business, art, and politics.
“The book sends a deep message, a big idea and tries to explain the real picture of the Arab world,” said Judith. “I want to get the picture right especially the women’s,” she said.
After talking to several women in the UAE, the number of names, phone numbers, and stories of the women she met continued to increase. “I spoke to women in high positions, great careers, and ones managing large projects and handling budgets of millions of dirhams,” Hornok said.
The journalist was not only surprised about how good the women’s spoken English was and how highly educated they were, but she was also fascinated by their femininity. “They were on point, organised, charming and they still had this feminine way about them that many women tend to lose when trying to do business,” she said, describing the nature of Emirati women.
“I noticed a sense of softness about the women in the UAE, where they reach their goals and know where they want to go, but in a soft respectful way,” she said.
In her book, Hornok interviewed Shaikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of Foreign Trade — who shared with her several lighthearted anecdotes.
“Her story puts a smile on many people’s face because she shows how women are modern, educated, and international but still keep their culture and tradition,” she said, highlighting the importance of cultural traits. “They honour things like taking care of their guests, families, and being responsible towards one another,” she added.
This generation of men
Hornok’s book, which she plans to have translated into Arabic in the near future, is dedicated to the men as well as the women of the country.
“I saw with my own eyes that fathers, brothers and uncles are proud of their women in every way,” Hornok said.
She also noted that whether pursuing their education or being housewives, women in the UAE are encouraged by their men and given the opportunity to have a career at any point in their lives. “It’s fantastic how the education system works here and how women still want to improve,” she said.
In her book, Hornok further explains that the UAE’s new generation understands that a good healthy society needs both men and women side by side in order to create a good balance. “It’s clear in the UAE that the men are proud of their women especially that it is becoming normal to see women in big positions,” she said.
The next step: The US
Targeting the US markets next, Hornok is hoping to give Americans a clearer idea about this part of the world. Her future plans include a visit to Washington in January where she will introduce her book and carry out several talks.
Hornok also added that because many Americans do not travel outside of the states, they are not educated about the Arab World, but instead are misinformed through the media.
“We all have to support freedom, and to do that we have to trust each other,” she said.
‘Modern Arab Women: The New Generation of the UAE’ is now available in VIRGIN Megastores, THE ONE Total Home Experience Shops, KinoKuniya Book Store, Magrudy’s, and Jashanmal for Dh175.