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November 26, 2018

Ambassadors Address Gender

Reuel S. Amdur

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Rima Alaadeen and Souriya Otmani, from Jordan and Morocco respectively, share on a couple fronts. They are the only Arab female ambassadors to Canada, and they both attribute much of their progress in the foreign services to the attitude and policies of their countries' progressive kings. Both governments have implemented more progressive family codes. In Jordan, according to Alaadeen, if your children don't go to school or marry under the age of 18, you go to jail.

These accomplished women had, each, her own perspective on gender.  Alaadeen believes that “women are more effective than men in politics and diplomacy,” in that “they bring sanity to an otherwise chaotic world.”  But to get into the position where they can work their magic, they are forced to overcome bias.

Otmani, by contrast, sees no difference in the abilities of the two sexes.  Women in the halls of power are, she said, hard workers, but it is important that this hard work not be confined to the office.  An ambassador needs to get out among the people.

Role models are important for women’s progress, according to Alaadeen.  “You can’t be what you cannot see.”  Thus, she wants to do but also to show, to be open to junior colleagues.  She needs to be a good mentor. “I had no mentors” among women.  Again, by contrast, Otmani credited women who went before, who were role models who fought for rights and privileges.  Women have gained from them.  Alaadeen remarked, “Islam gave equal rights to women.  Social norms were wrongly imposed on them, not by Islam.” 

Otmani pointed to some of the challenges that remain.  “There is still a big issue of violence against women.”  As well, there is a divide between how women fare in urban Morocco and in the countryside.  Society, especially in the rural places, has the expectation that a female will marry as soon as possible.  “There are good laws, but there is not good implementation,” she remarked.  Morocco is beginning to change, but Salafism there and in the Arab world generally presents a challenge to progress.

Some measures implemented to improve the lot of women may be more contentious.  Alaadeen takes issue with the quota system, which reserves 25% of the seats in the Jordanian parliament for women.  Her fear is that women seated under this arrangement will be seen as less capable, as being in their posts for reason other than their abilities.  She was pleased, however, that some additional women are being elected outside the quota, giving them a status equal to their male counterparts.

Alaadeen and Otmani appeared at a gathering on October 30 in Ottawa, arranged by the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations and Gowling WLG, an international legal firm. 

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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