A five-day conference organised by the Dubai Women's College brought together 100 female students from the UAE and 21 other countries to exchange cultural experiences and enhance leadership skills.

Dubbed Insight Dubai, the annual conference is part of an ongoing effort to provide international exposure to students and increase global awareness.

Students from the US, Costa Rica, Pakistan, South Korea, Bulgaria and a number of African countries were present.
The conference featured Mariam Al Roumi, UAE Minister of Social Affairs, and Nima Abu Wardeh, BBC presenter and Middle East Business Reporter, who spoke about women leaders in the Arab world.

The event also included UN simulation workshops to promote world peace, sessions on Sharia law and Arab governance systems. A desert safari and sightseeing activities where also featured.

Looking into a session: Promoting peace

Yasmine Abdul Salam is the only female employee in her company, which comprises more than 1,000 men.

"People are surprised when I tell them, but it is true," said the Kenyan software engineer, who works in Somaliland and was speaking at a UN simulation session on how women can promote peace during Insight Dubai.

A holder of a bachelors degree in computer science, Yasmine said: "Women are less valued than men, yet they are doing their bit to promote peace."

Changing perceptions

Other student delegates said tolerance, education, respect and networking are needed to promote peace.

"It is our responsibility now that we've met and talked, to correct misunderstandings. The media doesn't promote tolerance so it is our responsibility to do that," said a student.

Business and law freshman Aryn De Long said: "It's about taking action. It's about networking, meeting each other and spreading the word to change perceptions."

"Not just sit and talk about it," said Leena from Costa Rica. "In Costa Rica, we have disarmed the army since 1948. Our resources have gone to developing education since then. This is what we need to do, get a political action, create change… be the change."


"Peace is about allowing others to voice their opinions and respecting them."
- Jennifer Carroll,
Canadore College, Canada.

"I believe that peace starts at home. If we encourage our children to understand and respect other people who are different, then automatically as grown ups they would do too."
- Priscilla Mukami, Kenya

"We have more than 120 ethnic groups in Tanzania and yet we are tolerant of each other."
- Mehjabeen Alarakhia, Saint Mary's University, Canada

"Educating women is the number one step. There are still many women who are not well educated, yet the new generations are. Women are now more aware of what is happening around the world."
- Kaltham Kayaf, pharmacy, Dubai Women's College, UAE

"I was born on April 13, 1985 during the Lebanon War. So I am a daughter of the war. However, many female figures in Lebanon have been working on promoting peace."
- GazZal Al Shami, business administration, Lebanese American University, Lebanon

Do you think women are under-represented in governments? How about using a quota system? According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistant, in 2005 the representation of women reached 15 per cent globally.
So what needs to be done? Students at the Insight Dubai Conference debated the issue.

"I am with the quota system. Women are under-represented, especially in the US. A lot of qualified women are held back because even when a party votes for a candidate, men tend to vote for other men," said Sarah Lord, political science and psychology major at Bridgewater State College, US.

Pakistani fresh graduate Amna Pervez said that there is a need for the quota system in her country as there is a "need to promote the empowerment of women and get them involved".

Dubai Women's College student Kaltham Kayaf and Aryn De Long from Macquarie University, Australia, do not believe so.
"I think it's about the quality not the quantity," said De Long. Kayaf also agreed, saying: "If you have the skills, and you are qualified and dedicated then you will be chosen. You do not need a law that makes it mandatory to have women. You just need the right women."

Skye Kakoschke from Flinders University Australia said that women are needed in governments because they are the best to represent women's issues.

"Take maternity leave for example. A 54-year-old man would not really understand the needs of a 26-year-old pregnant working woman," she said.

However, obstacles remain. "I think it is the cultures and traditions of certain countries that still do not allow women to progress and take part as they should," said Marwa Anwar, a student of the Dubai Pharmacy College.