Israel Middle East Politics & Diplomacy The Gulf
MENASource February 7, 2023

The UAE and Israel have a history of strong female leadership. Women must take substantial roles in the next phase of the Abraham Accords.

By Marcy Grossman

It has been more than two years since the Abraham Accords normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. A quick assessment of the current situation shows that many things are going well. This is particularly the case between Israel and the UAE—the first two countries that came to the table in August 2020—who have gone from zero to more than $2 billion in bilateral trade during the first two years. Additionally, approximately five hundred thousand Israelis have visited the UAE and there have been countless memorandums of understandings, agreements, and high-level engagements up to the presidential level.

However, to have a sustained and enduring peace in the region after the signing of the Abraham Accords, women must also be equally included and reflected in policy-making, decision-making, and programming. Data by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security shows that the more women are included in the economy, education, environment, politics, and the legal system, the more prosperous, sustainable, peaceful, just, and safe the world will be for current and future generations.

This data also demonstrates that the more women are engaged in peace-making, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding, the more viable and sustained peace there is in the world. Negotiations do better, peace is more enduring, and more members of society will reap the benefits. One doesn’t need to look far to see that there are very few women engaged in peace processes while there is a lot of conflict in the world.

There is already a diverse and deep pool of resources available to incorporate women into the Abraham Accords. The United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) (declared in 2000) reaffirms the important role of women in peacebuilding and preventing and resolving conflicts. The United States and Canada were among the founding members of UNSCR 1325, but now 104 UN member states (54 percent of UN members), including Israel, the UAE, and the Arab League, have adopted it.

The UAE’s upward trend on women

The UAE leads the way in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region when it comes to WPS. Domestically, initiatives are led by founding Mother Sheikha Fatima through the General Women’s Union, who also hosts the Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Women Peace and Security Initiative at the Khawla bint Al Azwar Military School, a women’s military academy that trains cohorts of women throughout the region. Additionally, the UAE has a Gender Balance Council that maintains domestic and international benchmarks to make the UAE the leader in gender equality worldwide.

Internationally and multilaterally, WPS forms part of the UAE’s UN Security Council priorities, stewarded by Emirati Ambassador to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh. Additionally, the UAE also hosts an active UN Women Liaison Office that represents all of the GCC—it most recently hosted an international WPS conference in September 2022.

The Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy (AGDA) publishes an annual Women in Diplomacy Index in which the UAE leads the region. If women are represented in the world equally, the data shows there is less war, less violent extremism, and more prosperous societies.

Israel’s strong history of female engagement

Among its greatest assets, Israel has a long and strong history of female engagement in the military, with mandatory conscription for all women beginning at statehood—seventy-five years ago. There is a rich set of data, experiences, and resources to draw from in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Currently, Israeli diplomat Aviva Raz Schechter, former Ambassador to the UN and International Organizations in Geneva (2016-2020), is Israel’s Special Envoy for the implementation of the country’s WPS commitments. At Expo Dubai, she convened a group of accomplished women in the fields of STEM and innovation (consisting of Israelis and Emiratis, among other nationalities) to discuss the importance of UNSCR 1325 in responding to global sustainability challenges and women’s participation.

Another of Israel’s greatest assets in this domain are the leading civil society organizations that support women, peace, and security. Among the many NGOs is Itach-Ma’aki, or “Women Make Peace,” which promotes multi-cultural gender discourse and female leadership within diverse Israeli and Palestinian communities by creating innovative community models. Another, Forum Devorah, was created in response to UNSCR 1325 and promotes the inclusion of women in national security decision-making processes and peace-making negotiations.

Other potential partners

Outside of these two primary Abraham Accords countries, many current and potential partners exist. The United States continues to be a strong ally on the agreement and the role of women in peace-making and diplomacy, with a strong focus on global women’s issues in their institutions and foreign policies.

Pre-eminent in the space is the Georgetown Institute for Women and Peace, co-founded by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Georgetown University in 2011. In addition to doing rigorous research in the WPS space, hosting global events, advancing partnerships, and educating the next generation of leaders, they also produce an annual WPS Index that measures women’s inclusion, justice, and security in 170 countries.

Canada gets a notable mention in the Georgetown Index, ranking in the top twelve of the 170 countries surveyed and is well-positioned to make an impact. With its leadership in feminist foreign policy and its inclusive trade agenda, alongside it being the first country to appoint a WPS ambassador and achieve parity in its ambassadorial ranks, Canada is poised to be an ally. Many others could also be engaged. Peace in the Middle East is the cornerstone of many countries’ foreign policies, as is the role of women.

There is every reason that women should be taking substantial roles in the next phase of the Abraham Accords. The region is made up of educated and inspiring women. Furthermore, there are domestic and international frameworks to provide structure and the ideas and leadership to create opportunities. There are also partners, like the United States, Canada, and other countries, ready to collaborate.

Abraham may have been the “father of many nations” and the namesake of the Abraham Accords. However, without the involvement of both Sarah, the mother of Isaac, and Hajar (Hagar), the mother of Ishmael, none of this would have been possible. These women are not just the mothers of nations nor the mothers of Judaism and Islam—they are also the mothers of the next generation of young people who will take the mantle of leadership in the Middle East.

The women of this world have much to say and a role to play in making the world a better place. Whoever has the willingness and the strength to build a tent for Sarah and Hajar—or at least invite them in—will be the ones who will reap the greatest benefits of enduring peace.

Marcy Grossman is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs and former Canadian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.

The N7 Initiative, a partnership between the Atlantic Council and Jeffrey M. Talpins Foundation, seeks to broaden and deepen normalization between Israel and Arab and Muslim countries. It works with governments to produce actionable recommendations to deliver tangible benefits to their peoples.

Further reading

Image: Emirati women marshals pose at Yas Marina Circuit, near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on November 3rd, 2013, during 5th Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix. Photo by Ammar Abd Rabbo/ABACAPRESS.COM