No proper woman participation here
Opened by Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, Emir of Makkah region, the Chamber of Commerce and Gulf Research Center-organized event will focus on the key sectors of banking and finance, energy, environment, trade, agriculture, industry, education, health, and science and technology over its four days of activities.
Forum supervisor and head of the Gulf Research Center Abdul Aziz Bin Saqr, said that groups of academics from Saudi and foreign universities worked together to draw up the list of speakers and the issues to be addressed.
“There will be 42 speakers over nine sessions, and the Gulf Research Center will resume each one in a set of final recommendations to be presented to the Chamber of Commerce once the forum has concluded,” he said. “All the events will be transmitted live on the forum’s website.”
Bin Saqr noted that of the 1,200 participants, 370 were women.
“There have also been special invitations to members of the Shoura Council and officials, and 15 percent of those in attendance will be academics,” Bin Saqr said.
Not everyone is happy with the way events have been planned, however, as a number of specialists have noted that of the over three dozen speakers scheduled to address the gathering, not a single one is female.
Nadia Bakharji, an engineer who spoke at the forum in 2005, said she was surprised not to receive an invitation.
“If I’d been asked I would have been happy to provide my experience as a twice-elected member of the Engineers Commission and as a member of its board for four years,” Bakharji said.
“I have also recently completed ten years on the board of the International Arab Forum for Women, and have experience in many areas of private economic activity. I think I have a lot to say and could have contributed.”
Bakharji added: “I hope this doesn’t suggest they’ll be ignoring women at future forums, and that they realize the error as soon as possible and select a Saudi woman who will do us justice.”
Businesswoman Izdihar Batoubara was equally perplexed.
“Where is Nahid Tahir the first bank director general, and where is Lama Al-Solaiman, the first vice president of a chamber of commerce, and where are all the other Saudi women who’ve distinguished themselves in economic affairs?” Batoubara wondered.
Batoubara further questioned whether the absence of women speakers was an “oversight” or not. “If there aren’t any women speakers in the future I shalln’t be attending,” she said.
Amani Abdul Wasi’ was more magnanimous.
“It’s a troubling surprise, but we can only suppose that there was no ill intention and that everything was organized ahead of time and that women were invited to speak but were unable to attend,” she said.
In response to the dismay, Bin Saqr said that the Gulf Research Center did not discriminate between men and women, and said that speakers were chosen in accordance with their fields of specialty and subjects to be addressed.
“It must be remembered that the forum has a global dimension,” he said.
“The organizers have tried to find a balance between guests from the Kingdom and abroad to bring in diversity.
Women have a significant part to play at the forum, and there will be female academics present who will have the chance to table questions and speak from the floor during discussions.”
The Jeddah Economic Forum will begin proceedings at 8.30 P.M. Saturday evening when Prince Khaled Al-Faisal will give the opening sponsor’s speech, followed by the Minister of Trade and Industry Abdullah Zainal, President of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce Saleh Kamil, and President of the Gulf Research Center Abdul Aziz Bin Saqr.
The first business will involve the honoring of numerous individuals for their work in economic fields, and subsequent sessions over the four days will look at “Global Economic Management after the Crisis”, “Future Reserve Currencies”, Rebuilding Confidence in Financial Bodies, Energy and Environment, Trade and Investment Protection Policies, Agriculture and Food Security, and Health.
ccording to Bin Saqr the forum expects to show a surplus of 1.5 million riyals, “thanks to the great support given by Prince Khaled, Emir of Makkah, who put back his holidays to take part in the forum”. – Okaz/SG