Sir John Moberly,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We meet here just two weeks after a very significant event, the 4th World Conference on Women, the largest ever gathering of women committed to securing a more equitable world.
I believe that Beijing sent two messages to the world -- one about the rights and dignity of women, and another about the rights and dignity of nations and cultures. One called for the end of gender inequities; the other for the end of colonial relationships among nations and states. Both messages warn us that exploitation and servitude would no longer go unchallenged in our increasingly transparent global village, and, instead, that dialogue, tolerance and co-operation should be shaping a world community based on respect, diversity and interdependence.
'Women in International Business' is certainly a topic worthy of your attention. But I would suggest that a more comprehensive focus for your deliberations could be the international business of women -- not only the concerns and aspirations of women throughout the world, but also the manner in which women and their societies in general interact with one another in the international arena.
Some four decades ago, Harold Macmillan spoke eloquently about "the wind of change" that he saw transforming the global order of his time, the era of decolonization after World War II. Today, as we look around our world, we see that mid-century promises of economic progress and political rights have been fulfilled in many industrialized states; but throughout the developing states of the South, such promises generally remain unfulfilled, vast potential is still untapped, and many basic human rights and aspirations unattained. Moreover, many in the North find it difficult to shed archaic and opportunistic attitudes towards the cultures and resources of the South.
Beijing brought these realities into sharp focus on the question of women, at another moment of change and hope in modern world history. The issues you will be discussing here in London also defined the debate at Beijing -- issues of women's opportunities, rights and capabilities, of education and training, of access to basic social and economic services; issues, in other words, about how we can achieve prosperity and stability for entire societies by assuring the capabilities and rights of individuals.
Your deliberations about forging more profitable relationships among women in business and the professions would have maximum impact if they were also to help forge economically balanced and culturally sensitive partnerships between North and South. On your own, you cannot redress all the imbalances or the abuses that have defined modern world history. But you can send a message by raising your voices in unison and calling for a new global framework -- a more humane and equitable political and economic foundation upon which to build productive and sustainable relationships. You can work together to define new rules of constructive engagement between societies that are wide apart in their technological development, but close in terms of their aspirations and human values.
Today, the relationships among different aspects of women's lives, notably their personal rights, their economic activities and their political attitudes, are better understood. The remarkable advances in female education which have characterized the modern Middle East have significantly increased the number of women in the labor force, and in particular the number of business and professional women. Women's enhanced economic role has helped, in turn, to create new jobs and to boost their participation in decision-making and national affairs. As women move well beyond their traditional activism in such social sectors as children, health and education, into the fields of politics, economics, human rights and environment, we are seeing a sometimes quiet, but significant, impact on society.
My own work in Jordan for the past 17 years has focused primarily on achieving three related goals: equal access to social services for women and men, expanded involvement of women in their communities' social, economic and cultural activities, and greater participation of both men and women in public decision-making. We have initiated numerous projects to facilitate and accelerate women's participation in productive economic ventures, including the establishment of private businesses or co-operatives in both urban and rural communities. Contrary to prevailing misconceptions our religion, Islam has supported this process because it recognizes and protects women's property rights and exhorts Muslims -- men and women alike -- to seek education. Women's involvement in business affairs and public life is, in fact, an ancient Islamic tradition.
Equity and participation are the fundamental principles which have underpinned the progress of women in Jordan. As in Beijing, our gathering today should take into account those principles, which are as relevant to relations between countries at the global level as they are to individuals at the local or national levels. This conferences' focus on the role of Middle Eastern businesswomen in the global economy is an opportunity to examine the full range of relationships between the Middle East and the rest of the world. You are more likely to succeed in your endeavours to promote the interests of business and professional women if you simultaneously work for the wider goal of equitable relations between the West and the Middle East in trade, finance, culture and the environment. If not, you may derive some personal, social or corporate satisfaction from gatherings such as this, but little more than that.
Many people in the South, already sceptical about the so-called new world order of our day, are asking probing questions: will the promises of free market democracy spread throughout the world and allow all people to express their national identities in freedom, or will global political and economic trends aim primarily to secure wider markets and lower raw material prices for the Northern industrial states? Will the globalization of free market democracy force inappropriate changes in traditional cultures? Or will the globalization of values also enhance the North's knowledge of and respect for the South's cultural values, religious beliefs, and social traditions?
It will take time to transform the unsustainable, exploitative legacy of the past into new, more balanced relationships among the countries of the North and South. Meetings such as this can play a constructive role in this process by promoting a more realistic and objective exchange of information between different cultures and regions. This conference will provide a valuable opportunity for professional and business women from the Middle East and the rest of the world to learn from each other about new business ideas, techniques and markets. But the business of this conference should not be only about business. This gathering of men and women from many different countries can prompt all participants to heighten their awareness of the realities, needs and aspirations of their colleagues elsewhere.
In the Middle East, yesterday's enemies are consolidating the foundations for a durable peace by endeavoring to translate new opportunities into tangible economic results and transnational partnerships, which would improve the quality of life of all the peoples of the region. Such peace-building measures are a vital component of regional stability and would greatly contribute to the acceleration of the process of reconciliation. Jordan, at the end of this month, will host the Middle East and North Africa Economic Summit -- one of our region's most important gatherings in recent years. The summit is intended to bring Middle Eastern and international business people together to forge mutually beneficial and profitable partnerships. I would encourage you to keep in touch with developments related to this meeting, because it could have a substantial impact on international business prospects in the region. Jordanian participants in this conference will, I believe, elaborate in greater detail on the implications of recent progress in the peace process in our region and the potential for greater regional cooperation, such as improving the investment climate in countries like Jordan which have introduced new legislation to this end.
The changing environment in our region holds the promise of new opportunities for businessmen and women. Middle Eastern women are overcoming discriminatory socio-cultural constraints that once denied them equal access to services and hindered their participation in the economy. Encounters such as this conference will provide them with opportunities to elevate their successes to a higher level and to make an essential contribution to the global economy.
Copyright 1995 by Queen Noor. All rights reserved.
Speech from http://gos.sbc.edu/n/noor4.html.