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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia hosted the “International Conference on Women in Islam: Status and Empowerment,” in Jeddah on Monday under the patronage of King Salman.
The three-day conference, organized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, aims to shed light on the successes of Muslim women, highlight their role and contribution to development, and counter the negative propaganda that portrays Islamic religion as an obstacle to women obtaining their rights.
Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan delivered a speech in which he expressed his gratitude to the participating delegations for their response to the Kingdom’s call to hold this important conference.
He said that women faced various and multiplying challenges in areas of war and armed conflict, including violence, poverty, fear, marginalization and the absence of health and educational care for their children. He said that it was imperative to protect and support these most-affected and vulnerable groups.
“We meet today in light of the difficult circumstances that Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip are experiencing under the ongoing Israeli violations of international laws and humanitarian principles, in light of the silence and failure of the international community to carry out its duties and responsibilities to stop the escalation, stop the bloodshed, and ensure immediate access to urgent and necessary humanitarian aid,” he said.
The minister expressed the Kingdom’s condemnation of the violations, illegal practices and crimes against humanity that Palestinian women and the Palestinian people were subjected to, and “we appreciate and praise women’s pivotal role and great sacrifices for the sake of the justice of their cause.”
Muslim women face numerous challenges and suffer from harassment and discrimination in some other countries amid restrictive legislations that limited their rights, particularly on wearing the hijab, Prince Faisal said.
He added that such practices, driven by Islamophobia, contradicted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.
Saudi Arabia had taken rapid steps toward empowering women in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the foreign minister said. He said that Saudi women had become indispensable partners in the journey of transformation, development and growth.
Prince Faisal said women’s participation in the workforce had increased from 19.3 percent in 2016 to 37 percent. He added that women owned 45 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises and assumed 39 percent of the leadership positions, up from 17 percent previously.
The foreign minister commended the efforts of the OIC in empowering women and prioritizing their interests. Prince Faisal highlighted the OIC’s establishment of a specialized organization for women’s development, which was led by a Saudi woman.
Prince Faisal announced the official document of the conference, titled “The Jeddah Document for Women in Islam,” which comprehensively covers the rights of women in Islam. The document is set to serve as a legal, legislative and intellectual reference, contributing to the realization of the tangible empowerment of women in Islamic societies.
Hissein Brahim Taha, secretary-general of the OIC, said that since its inception, the OIC had devoted itself to the promotion of the rights and empowerment of Muslim women. He said that this commitment had culminated in the adoption of the OIC Program of Action for the Advancement of Women, widely regarded as a roadmap in Muslim societies.
Taha said that the conference came at a time when the Palestinians were facing brutal Israeli aggression, and women, particularly Gazan women, as well as children, older people, and other innocent civilians, were among the victims of this bombing.
The secretary-general also affirmed the OIC’s determination to continue constructive dialogue to empower Afghan women and guarantee their right to access education at all levels and participate in public life.
Taha said that the conference would remain a beacon in the OIC and participating bodies’ history for promoting and affirming women’s rights in Islam, noting that the conference would adopt the Jeddah Document on Women’s Rights in Islam.
He expressed his gratitude to Saudi Arabia for hosting the conference and thanked all the participating women figures.
The conference witnessed speeches by Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina Wazed, several foreign ministers, ministers of women and family affairs from the OIC member states, and female participants and invitees who delivered research papers.
Wazed said that Islam was a religion of mercy, humanity and harmony, pointing out that the first person to convert to Islam was Khadija bint Khuwaylid.
She said that the Kingdom’s pioneering initiatives were intended to increase women’s participation under the leadership of King Salman and the crown prince.
The Bangladeshi PM also reviewed some of Bangladesh’s efforts to uphold women’s rights and enshrine them in the constitution since the era of the founder, President Mujibur Rahman, and said that women were at the forefront of social development efforts in Bangladesh, where currently 73 women were members of parliament.
Wazed said that her political party was working to increase the participation and representation of women at all levels, and that she was trying to remove all obstacles that prevented women from engaging in the decision-making process.
She said that Bangladesh hosted the Islamic University of Technology, which is one of the institutions affiliated with the OIC and which has many male and female students from the Islamic world, and that Bangladesh encourages female students from all Islamic countries to study there.
Wazed condemned the crimes and massacres committed by the Israeli occupation against women and children in Gaza, and called on all parties to ensure humanitarian protection and aid, and an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. She called for an immediate end to “this dreadful war, collective punishment and illegal occupation of Palestine.”
President of the Saudi Human Rights Commission Hala Al-Tuwaijri praised the support for women in the Kingdom by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which had led to Saudi women contributing to local, regional and international achievements.
Al-Tuwaijri highlighted the Kingdom's endeavors to engage Saudi women in the comprehensive development witnessed by all sectors to achieve the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
Various fields in the Kingdom, Al-Tuwaijri said, had undergone more than 50 legislative and executive reforms, contributing to developing the legal framework that promotes and protects women’s rights, and eliminating all forms of discrimination against women.
These reforms, Al-Tuwaijri added, resulted in a 34.7 percent increase, from 21.2 percent, in female participation in the labor market from 2017 to 2022, and a 37 percent increase, from 17 percent, in the rate of women’s economic participation during the same period.
According to Al-Tuwaijri, the percentage of Saudi women in the civil service reached 42 percent by the end of the third quarter of 2022, 20 percent of the Shoura Council seats were allocated to women representatives, the percentage of women in administrative positions increased from 28.6 percent in 2017 to 41.1 percent in 2022, the share of women-owned small and medium enterprises increased from 22.5 percent in 2017 to 45 percent in 2022, the rate of women’s participation in the communications and information technology sector increased from 7 percent in 2017 to 30.5 percent in 2022, and the percentage of Saudi women-owned commercial registors reached 40 percent of the commercial registors of existing institutions.
Al-Tuwaijri said that women could now hold positions in the judiciary, security and the military. They were equal to men as members of the Public Prosecution; where there were 200 women, 282 women worked as administrative staff, 238 were trainees, 8,377 were in security and military agencies, and 9,976 were in the Ministry of Interior and its affiliated sectors.
Al-Tuwaijri said that Muslim women today faced challenges, including being deprived of some of their rights in some societies, Islamophobia, and the spread of hate speech.
She pointed out the tragic and inhumane conditions that Palestinian women were experiencing, especially in the Gaza Strip, due to the war and aggression waged by the Israeli occupation against civilians, the majority of whom were innocent women, children and the elderly.
Al-Tuwaijri expressed hope that the conference would come up with a roadmap for legislative reforms and initiatives aimed at empowering women and providing them with the opportunity to participate in various economic, educational and social fields.
Mauritanian Foreign Minister Mohamed Salem Ould Marzouk said that the conference reflected Saudi Arabia’s vision under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to address the major issues of the Islamic nation and the keenness to protect legitimate rights and freedoms that were consistent with Islamic values, including the contribution to consolidate social security, strengthen harmony and integration among all its members, and achieve comprehensive well-being and sustainable development.
The Mauritanian minister stressed the need to highlight the specific teachings of Islam toward women’s honor and reverence.
He said that empowering women in Islamic societies should occupy the forefront of a strategic vision in achieving a desired renaissance.
Five working sessions will be held during the conference, with ministers, officials, scholars and thinkers delving into the status of women and their rights in Islam, examining ways to empower Muslim women in education and work, and discussing issues related to women in contemporary societies.
On the sidelines of the conference, the OIC chief held talks with the Bangladeshi PM. She stressed the importance of supporting women’s rights and status.
During the meeting, cooperation and ways to boost joint Islamic action were discussed, as well as the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip and their repercussions on peace and security in the region and the world.
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