UAE panel event highlights role of women in Middle East peace-building

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UAE panel event highlights role of women in Middle East peace-building

Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace holds first female-only panel event showcasing Jewish and Muslim women's ability to cut across faith lines

UK-based director of the Abraham Initiatives Liz Harris-Sawczenko (right) and Akeela Ahmed, an entrepreneur and founder of the podcast 'She Speaks We Hear'
UK-based director of the Abraham Initiatives Liz Harris-Sawczenko (right) and Akeela Ahmed, an entrepreneur and founder of the podcast 'She Speaks We Hear'

The role of women in building interfaith bridges and ending conflict was highlighted during the first all-female panel to be held at the Abu Dhabi Forum for Peace.

Among the speakers were Board of Deputies’ interfaith consultant Liz Harris-Sawczenko and Akeela Ahmed, an entrepreneur and founder of She Speaks We Hear, a podcast which seeks to highlight and celebrate the achievements of Muslim women.

The high-level panel also featured Dr Raheema Abdaleem, who has worked as  senior lawyer within the US Department for Justice, and Asmaa Kuftaro, a member of the women’s advisory panel to the UN envoy for peace-building in Syria.

Harris-Sawczenko, who serves as an advisor to the Forum’s UK branch, took part in the people-to-people track of the Oslo Accords while living in Israel. She said: “There are thousands of women working together to end the conflict who don’t get recognition. They are facing immense challenges now.”

In the Israel-Palestine arena, she highlighted the work of The Women in Black and the Bereaved Families Forum, a group bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the conflict.

Robi Damelin, who of the most prominent figures in the group, was named in 2015 by the New York Times on a list of women who have made the most impact in the world. “These women have very little resource or institutional support but they have made a huge impact,” she insisted. “Rather than seeing obstacles they circumvent them.”

The first Jewish director of the Council of Christians and Jews, Harris-Sawcenko also highlighted the Jewish-Muslim women’s group Nisa Nashim and Yachad, founded by Hannah Weisfeld, as examples of female-led initiatives in the UK.

Recalling conversations she facilitated in Britain following the upsurge in tensions in Jerusalem last year, she said the first meeting had been “extremely painful and difficult”.

But after hearing from one Jewish participant about how their child had faced antisemitism at the time, she said, the atmosphere changed “In my experience women search for their common humanity. There is strength in the ability to share their vulnerability.”

Ahmed told the mainly male audience that women’s efforts in building cohesion were often undertaken quietly – meaning there was less opportunity for others to be inspired and follow suit. She called for more discussion about the immense contribution of Muslim women to society, medicine and other fields.

In the wake of the Westminster Bridge attack in 2017 and amid a rise in anti-Muslim hate, she organised for a group of women to stand at site holding hands for five minutes as an expression of their disgust and solidarity as British women

She told the Forum: “It was very brave for those women who knew wearing the hijab we could be targeted. That image went viral and received global coverage. That act changed the narrative in terms of how Muslims are seen in reacting to terror.”

She suggested that it was a collaborative approach that men sometimes didn’t take that made women effective peacemakers.

Also on the panel were Rev Dr Mae Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace, and Dr Fatima Dahmani of the Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed University in UAE.

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