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An Olympic Moment for Middle Eastern Women

Article by Charity Wallace August 9, 2012 //   3 minute read

Yesterday, an alumnus from my alma mater, Pepperdine University, crossed the finish line in London and walked onto the pages of history books. Not because she won a gold medal, or because she broke a world record. In fact, she finished last in her heat. No, her accomplishment was far greater. Sarah Attar became the first female track Olympian from Saudi Arabia, a country that had previously not allowed women to participate in the Olympics.

The London games have marked an important moment for women in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar sending women to participate for the first time. In fact, the 2012 Olympics will go down in history as the first time every country sent a woman to the games. While much media speculation has centered on what their participation really means for women’s progress in the Middle East, the reality is that this is an important milestone for women and girls in a region where their role has for too long been ignored. In the past several years as democracy has begun to take hold all across the Middle East and North Africa, the role of women in building stronger, more stable and inclusive societies has steadily increased. And while their gains can never be taken for granted, at the George W. Bush Institute, we are celebrating their involvement. The Women’s Initiative, chaired by Mrs. Laura W. Bush, is focused on empowering women to change their native countries. Our signature program, the Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program, is currently providing 14 Egyptian women with skills-based training, mentorship and resources to help them be positive and effectual catalysts for change in their country. We believe active participation by all citizens – men and women – is key to building lasting, peaceful and prosperous societies. Whether it’s Tweeting live from Tahrir Square, or running track in London, Middle Eastern women are actively changing hearts, and perceptions – and hopefully continuing to change their societies along the way. We’ll continue to root them on, and support them at every step. This post was written by Charity Wallace, Director of the Women’s Initiative  at the George W. Bush Institute.