We have trailblazers like Sheikha Hanadi of Qatar, along with Waed al Taweel, who I met earlier -- a 20-year-old student from the West Bank who wants to build recreation centers for Palestinian youth. So together, they represent the incredible talents of women entrepreneurs and remind us that countries that educate and empower women are countries that are far more likely to prosper. I believe that.
-President Barack Obama, Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship 4/26/2010
Dear Mr. President,
In your remarks on Entrepreneurship, you said "countries that educate and empower women are countries that are far more likely to prosper." I appreciate these sentiments, sir. It brought to mind the women I met in Palestine, from the Women in Hebron co-operative, who sold crafts and embroidery and invested in their community, or from the Women in Culture co-operative in Jenin, or even the bright students in our group, who studied science or medicine or business at schools in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. These women were inspiring, many of them pulling themselves out of tragedy, the loss of sons or husbands, to earn their own way in the world. Their society values and respects women, and they are living testaments to this. We met with young women in Bir Zeit, student organizers and community leaders. It seemed hopeful, in a society whose young men are often targeted and imprisoned by the occupation forces, that women were taking on roles as leaders in their community. Unfortunately, politically active young women are, increasingly, becoming targets themselves.
One of the things I am asked, most often, is how I was able to travel alone in the Middle East as a woman. I often try to correct the misconceptions about the role of women in Palestinian society, but it is difficult to combat cultural stereotypes. Even the Israeli soldiers who detained our group were asking the American women in our group why we were there, if we knew "what Arabs do to women", and if we were afraid, even as we traveled in a group that was largely composed of young women from a number of countries and religious backgrounds.
I think America often overestimates the progress we've made in the way women are treated in our society. Congresswoman Betty Sutton's republican opponent suggested that she get "out of the House and back in the kitchen," demonstrating that sexism is alive and well in America in 2010. Utah passed legislation this year that makes me think women in that state are valued for little more than their reproductive abilities. I'm glad that your administration has demonstrated through actions, and not just words, your commitment to advancement for women, but, as a nation, we still have a long way to go.