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Edit+Sheika Lubna+Ambassador Kriechbaum

24. Jšnner 2006Dear Women without Borders!

We live in a time when everyone is very frightened, a time of ‘them and us’ and pompous theories of clashing civilizations and not seeming to lead in to positive, solution oriented analysis. Global threats like terrorism, nuclear build–up, and rebel squabbling are unwanted daily guests in our living rooms – now we can lock the doors and shut the windows or in 2006, we can push open the doors, let in the light, and go out and face the challenges. We need a vision we can work with, we need goals we believe in and down-to-earth measures that we can all participate in – and not leave our security only in the hands of authorities.

The Middle East is still a big unknown for us and subject of stereotypical media coverage. But contrary to common belief - in fact many of the developments are surprising and inspiring. Women seem to be at the forefront of modernization efforts. Just imagine women dare to fly in a closed country like Saudi Arabia where the personal pilot of Prince Alwaleed Ibn Talal is the 27 year old courageous Hanadi Zakaria Al-Hindi. Indeed at the graduation ceremony he said ‘I believe that Saudi women are as capable if not more capable than their male counterparts’.

Women are breaking through into long dominated male arenas, such as business and engineering. Nadia Bakhuri who was the only female out of 72 men contested the first ever elections for the Council of Saudi Engineers – and won! And her 4-point agenda is most encouraging – including the support of other female engineers to overcome barriers.

Sheika Lubna from Abu Dhabi knows very well what these are. As the only female minister for Finance and Planning in the Arab world from Time Magazine to the BBC the news traveled fast. She is aware that she is setting the tone for this change and she is very pleased with the positive resonance. In a personal conversation with me, she remembered that one Gulf News Journalist asked her to ‘Speak for us – you have raised the bar for women’. “I realized that I am part of a movement when others followed my appointment without any taboo”. She added “As a women working in technology as I did, you have a very strong card, you are in demand more so than in any other field and this gave me visibility”.

It is clear that the emerging female intellectual capital will be the key for a stable future of the region. Women without Borders is seizing the moment and saw the launch of our major action-research project: “Bridging the Gap - Empowerment strategies for the New Arab Female Talent Pool.” This project asks who are the women changing the face of the Arab region? How can they help empower the next generation of young women leaders?
In 2006 a study will examine the short-fall between the numbers of highly educated women and the number in employment in the Middle East.
The project will not only provide original data and analysis, but will pilot three innovative professional fairs, enabling the national and multinational commercial companies, media outlets as well as governmental and civil society organizations to connect with the young female talent pool.
We have been very well received by universities, the business world and media alike. With much support from universities, students and activists, we are looking forward to a dynamic and fruitful year of research!

Make playing sports your new years resolution, since playing sports might turn you into a political activist! Sports is a new playing field for Women without Borders! And why? There are many reasons, first we have been moved to see how women around the world have been restricted and prevented from their right to play: from girls under practical house arrest to cultural taboos, girls and women are missing on self-expression and self-realization. Women without Borders have been promoting sports in several of your projects before, such as basket ball in Afghanistan, football in Rwanda and now swimming in India.

The project, “Swimming into the Future!”, is strengthening women in the South Indian tsunami-hit region and offering swimming and confidence training to several hundred participants. We are very excited to travel with a group of distinguished trainers from the Austrian Life-Savers Federation and the Austrian Youth Red Cross and implement this unique program which will be a profound contribution to women’s security since so many drowned in December 2005 tidal wave. The project will also result in the first Women without Borders film and film director Archana Kapoor, our India representative is already preparing the script.

We are motivated by wonderful role models as the 18 year old Khalida Popal who plays in the Afghan football team who says “The boys in my neighborhood used to shout she is not a good girl, she is playing football, but I did not care, I kept playing anyway”. And Alia Hayel Al-Howaite, who is the first female world-class Saudi Jockey.
We are promoting girls rights to play and win. Women without Borders also sees sports as a tool for healing societies and encourage individual competence. In the female mindset cooperation is seen as good and competition is seen as bad, but through sports we learn that competition can be fun and productive.
So join in, take part and get fit for change! We must be proud of our strength and show muscle as we work towards our goals. Let’s win a gender just future!

Edit Schlaffer and the WwB-Team


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