Women's Achievements - DUBAI WOMENíS COLLEGE
Women's Achievements - DUBAI WOMENíS COLLEGE
Ms Benazir Bhutto
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests and Students,
It is a privilege to address young women from across the world gathered this morning at Dubai Womenís College.
The Dubai Womenís College is a pioneer centre of academics lighting the path for womenís awareness, education and achievement.
I pay tribute to His Highness the President of the United Arab Emirates, to His Highness the Ruler of Dubai and to His Highness the Crown Prince of Dubai whose vision makes the Emirates and Dubai, a desert land steeped with significance, into the gateway of a new Muslim era symbolized with High Towers, Big Projects and even bigger dreams.
I come here this morning at a time when women across the world reach out for excellence.
Todayís woman runs on the fast track. She is up in the skies flying planes. She is in a shuttle exploring outer space or deep down in cyber world developing programs. Todayís woman is everywhere.
Women are reaching out for excellence despite difficulties that exist in many places.
Women still face the brunt of violence, hunger and poverty. We know women are poorer and work harder to get fewer wages than men.
Yet women excel, despite the odds.
Women achievers in more traditional societies reach goals through harder struggles and often at the cost of personal tragedy.
The strongest women often come from regions of lowest opportunity. Regions which are engulfed in conflict, famine, class and gender discrimination. Women from such areas struggle on several fronts: personal, social, cultural.
They survive and they succeed because of persistence in the face of adversity. They never give up.
Each woman has her identity rooted in family, geography and in a belief system.
My identity begins with the fact that I am a woman, a Pakistani and an Asian. I am also a Muslim woman educated in western universities.
I grew up in a modern educated family that believed in education and gender equality, that believed we live in an interdependent world where communication between continents, cultures and communities is necessary.
There are incremental changes that come with time. I see many ladies drive cars in Dubai and in Pakistan. There was a time when this was frowned upon. My Mother was one of the first women to drive a car in Pakistan. She came in for much criticism.
My Motherís experience shows that we take many rights for granted. Behind each right that women enjoy today there is a story. Just as women of the past pioneered changes, so you, the women leaders of the future, will develop new frontiers for women.
Like most Muslim women, I learnt that Islam came as a religion of emancipation to liberate humanity from the age of darkness. This was a time when female fratricide was practiced. Women were considered little more than the property of men.
I learnt that Islam proclaimed the equality of men and women.
The biggest example for me was Bibi Khadija, the wife of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). She was a businesswoman, a career woman in her own right. That the Prophet married a career woman was an eye opener for me. I questioned why so many in my society at the time proclaimed that a womanís place was behind the four walls of her house.
As a Muslim woman I focussed on the strong women in Islamic history. After Bibi Khadija died, the Prophet (PBUH) married Bibi Aisha. She led men into war. She is the source of much important material on the life and practices of the Prophet (PBUH). The Prophetís daughter, Bibi Fatima, was a mesmerising speaker. She was wife to the fourth Caliph of Islam as well as Mother to two holy leaders or Imams. Moreover, Islam taught that paradise lies at the feet of the Mother.
Such Islamic history was important for my own validation. It was important for me to see that modernity and religion were compatible. I felt uncomfortable with much of what I saw around me in the traditional society. I noticed that despite the importance Islam gave to women, often women were treated like second class citizens. The rights of property, of child custody, of alimony, of career opportunities, of equality before the law given by Islam were denied them.
I realised that I was one of the lucky ones. Education allowed me to learn about my rights as a Muslim woman, rights that others in my society were denied by tradition and centuries of prejudice.
I focussed on the Islamic message of gender equality as the guiding principle in my life. I
thought discrimination wrong, my lifeís purpose was born in resisting it where-ever I saw it.
If women are backward in Muslim countries or subjected to primitive methods of existence, it is not, in my view, due to religion. It is because pre Islamic traditions, or neighbouring non Islamic tradition, slowly crept back into societies following the death of the Prophet (PBUH) and the four Caliphs, or Muslim leaders, that came after him. Such cultural and social traditions now pose the biggest challenge to Muslim women as we seek to regain our lost rights.
Forced marriages, for example, are not permitted in Islam. Yet they take place due to traditional values. The circumcision of women in parts of Africa is another hotly debated issue.
My country Pakistan was the first Muslim country to elect a woman Prime Minister. This election in 1988 was a catalyst for Muslim women everywhere.
As Prime Minister, I invited women parliamentarians from all over the Muslim world. Together we marvelled at how many we were, although we did not know it until we met. We gained strength from each other.
My Government had lifted the ban on Pakistani women taking part in sporting events. We decided to hold an All Womenís Olympics. This year a Pakistani woman took part in the Olympics in Greece bringing pride to all our people.
We appointed women Judges to sit on judicial benches with their brother judges to dispense justice.
Believing that economic independence is key to self sufficiency and reliance for a woman, we opened a womanís bank, the first of its kind, in 1989 that allowed women to bank with other women and to get good financial advice. Now there are women banks in so many parts of the world.
Each journey begins with one small step. Never hesitate to take that small step if, in your conscience, you believe it to be right. It takes courage to do what is right.
During my life, I faced prejudice in many forms. I was bitterly opposed by traditional men who felt threatened by the presence of a woman in politics in a Muslim society. However, I was lucky to be considered a sister by the vast majority of the people of Pakistan who stood by me and who made my victory possible. It was a victory for women everywhere, a victory I couldnít have achieved without Pakistani men.
Men and women, together, are important to the direction that society takes. We are two sides of the same coin. Our families, communities and societies can flourish when together we build a consensus on our future directions.
My Father was one of the special people who believed in equality of each individual, irrespective or race, religion or gender. It was my Father who inspired me and encouraged me. He gave me the strength and confidence to be a person in my own right.
At the tender age of sixteen, he sent me to Harvard University to seek knowledge. He followed the Prophetís (PBUH) saying that one should go far and wide to seek knowledge.
Even though we have come far, women still have a long way to go. There are many more glass ceilings that must be broken. And women everywhere, Muslim and non Muslim, still find that because we are women, the obstacles are often greater
The demands are greater.
The barriers are greater
And the double standards are greater too.
As I explained, the obstacles and barriers are not due to religion. The fundamental ethos of Islam is tolerance, dialogue, and consensus.
Extremists and extremism refute the central ethos of Islam which is equality, especially the equality between genders.
Not long ago, the world witnessed the phenomenon of the Taliban.
The Taliban became a symbol of resistance to modernization and of repression towards women.
More recently it was distressing to see the name of Islam being used by pro Chechen rebels in Beslan, Russia who slaughtered children. The Prophet (PBUH) of Islam cautioned men in war to spare children, women and old men.
Today, the Islamic world stands at the crossroads. The winds of change are blowing. Education during the last fifty years has opened up minds. The information age has opened up knowledge.
Our young people ask questions and they deserve answers.
At this time of fluidity, there is a debate within the Muslim world. There are a handful of extremists that believe in terror for political ends. There are the traditionalists who fear losing their identity as the social forces unleashed by modernisation sweep the world. And there are the moderates that believe in the Islamic principle of Ijtehaad. Ijtehaad means independent reasoning and empowers moderates to meet the demands of a transparent age.
Itís important to recognise that while the Muslim world bows its head before one God,
in one direction, believing in the finality of the last Prophet, there are many debates on social and political issues within it.
It would be a tragedy if the failure to make a distinction between terrorists who use the name of religion and Muslims that reject terrorism led to a clash of civilisations.
I see in your visit here great hope for the future, a future where the children of different continents reject stereotypes to reach out and build bridges of understanding.
I am optimistic. I see great progress for women everywhere. One of the most dramatic changes
for women is in Afghanistan where women are taking leadership positions in education, health, government and all other fields.
In Iran, a woman human rights activist went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
In war zones, areas of conflict and those of famine, women show us their hidden strength.
Women are nurturers, women give birth to life. The emergence of women as key players in leadership positions will transform society as we know it today.
My message to you, the young generation to whom the torch of leadership will pass, is to focus on education, on health, on social uplift and on governance.
Through this focus, women everywhere can overcome the gender gap that still exists between countries and within countries.
We live in an age of change, an age where old taboos are giving way to new standards.
From the shadows, women are emerging to play a role that determines the social status and standing of their countries.
Through the centuries, the story of woman is the story of courage and of hope.
It is this story of courage and hope that my generationís hands to yours as you dream dreams and reach for an excellence that is richly deserved.
|Copyright © 2004 PPP California. All rights reserved|