Gibran Chair Focuses on Arab Women

On Dec. 7, 2016 the George and Lisa Zakhem Kahlil Gibran Chair for Values and Peace presented a groundbreaking symposium, “The Contributions of Arab Women toward a Lasting Peace,” in collaboration with the University of California, Davis. Held in the Juan Ramon Jiménez Room of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union, the symposium was organized by Gibran Chair Director May Rihani.

Housed in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, the Gibran Chair is an endowed academic program that strengthens understanding between Eastern and Western cultures in general, and the Arab ethos and American values in particular.

M. RihaniIn her welcoming remarks, Ms. Rihani outlined the central purpose of the symposium, which was to shed light on the contributions of women in general toward peace-building processes, and on the contributions of Arab women in particular. Ms. Rihani gathered thought leaders and policy influencers from around the world for the daylong discussion of timely topics related to feminism, education, cultural exchange and female empowerment.

Dean Gregory Ball also welcomed participants and attendees, and highlighted the significance of the Gibran Chair within the College. He noted that the Gibran Chair serves as a point of inspiration for all members of the University community who work to be the solution to the world’s great challenges. From addressing food scarcity to promoting mental health to fostering international policy discussions, all work within the College essentially promotes peace and global understanding.

Dr. JosephThe symposium’s keynote address was delivered by Dr. Suad Joseph, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies in the Department of Anthropology of the University of California, Davis. Dr. Joseph’s presentation, “Neither Warrior Woman nor Maternal Thinking: Strategic Feminist Interventions for Peace-making,” challenged limited binary conceptions of women as either warriors or maternal figures. She offered strategic feminist interventions for peacemaking, calling on women to work for peace and visibility in every arena in which they find themselves, be it home or at an office or in a voting booth.

These efforts are timely and critically important, as Dr. Joseph reminded the audience that “Wars don’t just kill people; they displace them and turn them into refugees.”

Following Dr. Joseph’s remarks, Ms. Rihani moderated a panel discussion that offered current global perspectives on the roles of Arab women and on the pursuit of peace. Dr. Ali Alhakami of Saudi Arabia, president of Inma Education, discussed “Arab Women’s Role in Preventing Radicalization and Violence: A Positive Youth Development Approach.” Dr. Souleyma Haddaoui of Morocco, a visiting researcher at Georgetown University, presented “Teaching Moderation: Morocco's Murshidat in Countering Violent Extremism.” Dr. Sahar Mohamed Khamis of Egypt, an associate professor in UMD’s Department of Communication, discussed “Women's Leadership in Peace-Building: An Interfaith Perspective.”

"Women can play a critical role in creating within the new generations a mindset that values peace, women can do so by promoting within the young generations skills and qualifications such as competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring,” Dr. Alhakami said.

Dr. Khamis emphasized the fact that women through the interfaith movement are "searching for and highlighting what unifies people rather than what divides them."

Dr. PaolissoDr. Michael Paolisso, professor and interim chair of UMD’s Department of Anthropology, moderated a panel on how women are fighting for peace and rights throughout the world, amid challenging social and political climates. Dr. Malek Ben Salem of Tunisia, research manager for Accenture Technology Labs, presented “The Contributions of Tunisian Women towards Social Peace and Democracy Consolidation in the Wake of the Tunisian Revolution.” Ms. Marah Bukai of Syria, coordinator general for the Women’s Advisory Council of the High Negotiations Committee for the Syrian Opposition Factions, discussed “Syrian Women’s Struggle for Freedom and Peace.”

Dr. Ben Salem"Al Bousala, an NGO founded by women is presently the observer and recorder of all that takes place within the Tunisian parliament,” Dr. Ben Salem said, pointing out that, in many ways, Al Bousala is presently the monitoring agency of the parliament. 

Ms. Bukai gave specific examples about how Syrian women despite all odds are working to reduce the violence in Syria. She said a major activity that Syrian women undertake is "combatting the recruitment of children and teenagers by warring factions.”

The third panel was moderated by Dr. Hoda Mahmoudi, research professor and incumbent of UMD’s
Bahá'í Chair for World Peace. As Ms. Rihani organized the event, Dr. Mahmoudi moderated a panel, and the symposium was attended by Professor Shibley Telhami, incumbent of UMD’s Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development, all three of UMD’s endowed Peace Chairs were represented during this landmark day.

This panel featured remarks by Ms. Patricia Flederman, an international education consultant, who discussed “The Transformative Power of Girls’ Education,” and by Dr. Cory Heyman, chief innovation officer and executive director of the Room to Read Accelerator, who presented “Making Girls’ Education Even More Strategic in Promoting World Peace.”

The panel focused on how the education and empowerment of girls can lead to increased visibility of and participation by women in the global peace process. This participation is sorely needed. “From 1992 to 2001, only 9% of negotiators at peace tables were women,” Ms. Flederman said.

"Successful life skills programs in girls’ education serve as a great incubator to promote the values of conflict resolution and peace. Effective programs not only improve the life opportunities for individual girls and their families, but also serve as the model for peace-building, understanding, and support that our future generations deserve,” Mr. Heyman said.

Many panelists and moderators commented on one another’s work throughout the conference, and often harkened back to Dr. Joseph’s keynote address. It was clear that participants and audience members were forming new ideas and forging new connections even as the symposium progressed.

In her closing remarks, Ms. Rihani drew insight from each speaker and presentation, and remarked that progress toward peace for all people will require full recognition of and participation by women all over the world.

During the reception, President Wallace Loh greeted guests and speakers and congratulated Ms. Rihani on a successful, engaging and timely symposium.

Read more highlights on social media via #ArabWomenPeace.

Learn more about the Gibran Chair.

Dr. Loh and Ms. Rihani