Translation of the speech of HRH Princess Basma bint Talal
First Conference of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries for Combating Violence Against Women
12 January 2015
I would like to begin by extending my heartfelt congratulations to members of the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries for Combating Violence against Women on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Coalition’s founding. Your dedication is to be commended.
I also extend a warm welcome to our esteemed guests in Jordan. We look forward to this distinguished group of Arab women creating a real and tangible difference in the lives of women in the Arab World.
And a special welcome to Baroness (Emma) Nicholson and Sandra Osborne MP from the UK Parliament, who bring with them many years of experience from which we hope to benefit.
I would also like to thank the Westminster Foundation for Democracy for its continuous support for the Coalition.
It is a privilege for me to serve as Honorary President of the Coalition, and I will do all I can to help achieve its goals. Today, I wish to focus on a set of ideas which I consider crucial to the Coalition’s sustainability and ultimate success.
First is the matter of our mutual interests in the Arab World. When we convene in formal settings such as this, there is a lot of focus placed on our shared culture, values and history – and rightly so. But I believe we must pay more attention to our mutual interests as well.
The topics you will discuss today are vital to all women in the Arab World. Their interests are intertwined by the common circumstances of discrimination, oppression, terrorism and violence. And where individual rights and freedoms are denied, basic human dignity is denied.
And so I ask you to draw from past experiences in other parts of the world to learn from their accomplishments, and also from their shortcomings, and not to reinvent the wheel.
There is, for example, the Network of African Women Ministers and MPs, which represents 45 countries and has operated since 1995. It is considered the leading forum for African women leaders aimed at empowering women to play a greater role in population management and sustainable development. The Network has succeeded in amending multiple laws on reproductive health in a number of member countries.
Here in our region, I would point to success stories in Egypt and Morocco, where they’ve been able to amend their penal laws to prevent the marriage of underage girls to their rapists as a means for rapists to escape prosecution.
The past four years of escalating violence in our region have been accompanied by an unprecedented rise in incidence of human trafficking, rape and early marriage.
And so I encourage you to remain focused on the problem of violence and not allow secondary matters to divert your attention from this priority. Who is better positioned to promote legislation on violence against women in the Arab World than our women MPs?
When it comes to sustaining the Coalition over time, which requires efforts on several fronts, we must work on a financial strategy, especially where financial support from international donors is lacking.
There is also the question of parliamentarians’ limited terms in office. Some of our Coalition members may only be serving a few more years. What can we do to guarantee that the Coalition can continue the important work already in progress?
I have great confidence in this Coalition, especially if its work can engage with the public sphere. In the case of the African Network, with its joint support and strategic partnerships, NGOs have been critical to their success.
I believe that building solid, harmonious relationships between the Coalition and civil society institutions will place women’s issues – and most importantly, the issue of violence against women – high on the public agenda.
Ultimately, if you support and seek the support of civil society, you will go a long way toward mobilizing the community in your favor. With this support, coupled with your expertise and unique positions as legislators, the future will be safer and more stable for women. This is the future they deserve, and may it be the near future indeed.