The Stories Behind the Statistics
In honor of International Women's Day, a short look into the successes of three strong women in the Middle East
In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, it seemed appropriate to report on the progress of women today – how they have gained respect, overcome limitations, and made themselves active and influential members of the global community. This year, 2015, marks the 20 year anniversary of the UN Women’s meeting in Beijing where 189 countries came together to discuss a Platform for Action focusing on twelve aspects of life that directly affect women such as education, employment, and marriage.
In revisiting these areas informally throughout the past twenty years, some have seen major improvement. It was disappointing, though, to see how few of these action items saw significant progress, and how many anecdotes of greatness were accompanied by a less-than-encouraging statistic. For example, although the sex-ratio in primary schools around the world is almost equal, the gap between male-female enrollment in secondary schools has widened. The number of women in government has doubled since 1995, but they still only take up 22% of the seats. Egypt and Syria have passed legislation to place punishment on men and family members who murder a woman upon discovery of infidelity or promiscuity. Sadly, in 2012, half of women killed, worldwide, were still murdered by a family member or partner despite changing laws.
But do these statistics give the real picture? Are you a statistic? What are these telling us about the genuine passion, perseverance, and strength of each individual woman on this planet? Absolutely nothing.
In today’s society, one running rampant with stories of conflict and defeat, it is essential to stop focusing on statistics. These numbers that we see thrown at us are misrepresentative of the female community. Both male and female citizens cannot be summed up by “how many” and “how much”. We need adopt words such as “who,” “how,” and “why,” to give importance and familiarity to our strong sisters. It may look like our numbers are discouraging, but hearing the stories of individual women who have made a difference in their world is anything but discouraging. Take a look at the profiles of these women and have a restored hope for the future of each and every individual woman, no matter how they place in the world of statistics.
Maha Almuneef is a doctor with a vision. Mother of three and native to Saudi Arabia, she is a Board-certified physician. If this wasn’t impressive enough, gaining an education in a “man’s profession” as a Saudi Arabian woman, she is also head of the National Family Program where she and her staff join forces to end violence against women. She also manages the Saudi Child Helpline where she gives abandoned and abused children a new lease on life. Throughout her journey, she found criticism and harassment to be a daily struggle, but she says that she overcame her oppressors by knowing that she was helping her country and she also strove to see herself as a doctor, not as female. Her advice to young girls around the world? Do NOT underestimate yourself.
Rafea Um Gomar is the first female solar engineer in Jordan and the first solar engineer, male or female, in her village. Married at 15, divorced at 16, and married as a third wife to her current husband shortly after, Refea had the opportunity to study solar engineering in India – against her husbands’ wishes. Her engineering, as well as her goals to eradicate poverty, empower women by providing them with work, improve her community’s economy, and bring power to her village, has brought shame upon her family; enough so that her children were almost taken away from her. She has yet to give up, providing 80 installments of solar energy to her community and training other women to install even more. She has gained such confidence that she was recently elected as the first woman on her municipal council. As the first female solar engineer in her country, despite facing potential social ruin, she is truly a role model to all young women, especially those coming from small, rural communities with a seeming lack of opportunity.
As the highest ranking female member of the Palestinian Civil Police, Lieutenant Colonel Wafa Muammar has a social cause as well. She is the Head of the Palestinian Civil Police Family and Juvenile Protection Unit and is truly proud of her accomplishment to make the special unit a reality. With four kids and only 17% of women in the Palestinian labor force, the odds are stacked against any woman wanting to rise in the ranks, but to gain a Masters and achieve her level of status, she attributes her opportunities to two sources: her supportive husband and the struggling women around her.
What makes these women special is not the amount of opportunities they had, but how many opportunities they took. You, too, can be a role model for other women around the world simply by striving toward your goals and persevering through adversity. Take some time today to celebrate your successes. Your success is a success for all women.