MENA Center for Peace & Development Launches with Forum on Women’s Rights

MENA Center Launch

Webster University Geneva hosted a Forum on Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) on Thursday, December 3, an auspicious occasion that also announced the launch of the new MENA Center for Peace and Development.

The one-day Forum, with interventions hosted via Zoom from renowned experts and moderators from across the MENA region, Europe and beyond, created synergies between women activists in the field, from academia, and international organizations in Geneva. (See below for links to full recordings of the panel sessions).

A keynote address from Professor Hoda El Sadda, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cairo University, was followed by four high-level panels that shed light and analyzed the on-going struggles, challenges and threats to women’s status and rights:

  • The Role of Education on Women’s Empowerment and Mobilization
  • Feminism and Identity Politics: The Rise of New Social Movements
  • Women’s Rights Movements, Technology and Digitalization: Opportunities and Obstacles
  • Feminism and International Organizations in the Age of Covid-19: Reimagining the Future

Dr. Beth Stroble, Chancellor of Webster University, delivered an opening address by video to launch the conference. She highlighted that the Forum continues a longstanding tradition at Webster University, founded by and for women before women gained suffrage in the U.S., to champion the cause of access to quality education for women. Chancellor Stroble concluded by asking all to join the campaign against discrimination and violence against women and girls by signing the RedCardPledge online.

Dr. Clementina Acedo, Director General of Webster University Geneva, followed with the official launch of the new MENA Center for Peace and Development, sharing the importance of the University’s leadership in convening conferences on these and similar topics. She recognized the tireless efforts of the Founder of the MENA Center, Dr. Maryvelma O'Neil, as well as the vision, aspirations and impact that the new MENA Center aims to achieve. Dr. Acedo also referenced the important synergies between the Forum topics and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, and applauded the extraordinary gathering of expertise among the speakers on the conference agenda.

Rascha Osman, Deputy Head of the MENA Division at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, delivered a welcome address to the audience, with an overview of Switzerland’s engagement in the MENA region and insights about the Swiss government’s MENA strategy for 2021-2024, which demonstrates Switzerland’s ongoing commitment to international law, protecting and advancing women's rights in the region. Also joining from the Swiss DFA, Dr. Francis Piccand, Head of the Think-Tank Middle-East and North Africa, led the day's closing remarks. An adjunct faculty member (Political Science) in Webster's International Relations Department, Dr. Piccand also serves on the MENA Center's steering committee.

Prof. El Sadda presented in her keynote an analysis of of Arab feminist movements in the pre-and post-2011 era in Egypt, and the many strategies that feminist activists have used in their engagement and advocacy to safeguard human rights. It investigated the case of Egypt, while recognizing both commonalities and differences in the changing contexts that women face across the region—particularly in the fight to counter violence, harassment and sexual violence. She also examined new social movements and how they differ from the roles women played in national liberation movements for independence and the Arab Spring of 2010-2011.

The Forum set a goal to create new opportunities to advance peace and development by assessing both the achievements and setbacks to women’s rights in the past decade, as well as to address the challenging implications of COVID-19 for the lives and empowerment of women of the MENA region today and tomorrow. It investigated women in the media, social movements in the digital age, women and nonviolence, the imperative for ensuring access to quality education for women and girls, and political activism during the current pandemic.

Finally, the inaugural Forum set the stage for future events and conferences to follow, with the launch of the new MENA Center for Peace and Development. The University expresses its congratulations and gratitude for the enterprising spirit of the MENA Center’s Founder and Co-Director, Dr. Maryvelma O’Neil; thanks also to MENA Center Co-Director Dr. Jubin Goodarzi, Associate Professor and Deputy Head of the International Relations Department, and to René Schegg (who serves as the Director of Development for the MENA Center) and to Célia Joachim (Events Coordinator at Webster University Geneva), for their collective efforts to ensure a successful conference.

The panels from the event can now be viewed on YouTube:

Panel One:
The Role of Education on Women’s Empowerment and Mobilization
Panel Two:
Feminism and Identity Politics: The Rise of New Social Movements
Panel Three:
Women’s Rights Movements, Technology and Digitalization: Opportunities and Obstacles
Panel Four:
Feminism and International Organizations in the Age of Covid-19: Reimagining the Future