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Women of the Middle East

July 13, 2012 by Doaa Mansour

When asked to describe a Middle Eastern woman, often times the image is of a veiled, submissive, shy and helpless one. Well, I am a woman who was born and raised in the Middle East, and I can assure you that this image is truly far from reality. I am Muslim but not veiled, I am respectful but never submissive, I am certainly not shy, and the feeling of helplessness was never an obstacle but a motivation that pushed me to pursue and achieve my dreams. I can also assure you that I am not the exception. The Middle East is crowded with highly accomplished, strong, and determined women. The Middle Eastern women who constituted the Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program 2012 are a perfect representation of this population. The group could not be more diverse academically, professionally, religiously, socially and economically. Yet, they are all highly accomplished in their respective fields, and are all committed to developing their country despite the countless challenges they face. There is no denying that Arab women, Muslim and Christian, have faced and continue to face enormous challenges. But, if we are to conduct a productive discussion about women of the region and come up with helpful strategies of empowerment, it is crucial to avoid falling into the trap of generalization. There is a great female population in the Middle East that is contributing significantly to the betterment of their communities, and who continue to challenge the cultural, political and economic boundaries. These women are the true catalysts of change, and role models for young women in the region. In our pursuit to empower this population, it is detrimental to feed the narrative of victimization. Instead, we must acknowledge their significant work and countless accomplishments, and focus our energy on providing these women with the support and opportunities to help them reach their full potential. While telling the stories of suffering and injustice are of great value in the efforts to combating them, it is equally important to highlight the stories of triumph and accomplishment.  The Women's Initiative will proudly spotlight the achievements of the Women's Initiative Fellows in subsequent blogs to showcase these strong women, highlight their progress, and illustrate the impact of the program. It is time to change the narrative about the Middle Eastern woman, and it is time to give her the credit she deserves. Because with that, we will not only help reflect a realistic image of her strength and true potential, but will also provide her with the type of support that she might be lacking in her country, and among her people. This post was written by Doaa Mansour, Program Coordinator for the Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program at the George W. Bush Institute.    

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