On 17 November 2021, Aya Burweila, Founder and Director of Code on the Road (COR), spoke at the at Women’s World Majlis organized by the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance and Coexistence, the UAE Gender Balance Council and the Women’s Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Under the theme “Tolerance and Inclusivity for Women’s Rights and Empowerment,” the full recording of the two-session panel can be viewed here: https://virtualexpodubai.com/listen-watch/events/womens-world-majlis-or-tolerance-and-inclusivity-for-womens-rights-and

The conference began with a keynote speech from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence. The first panel discussed the role of social norms in making gender gaps and the ways society can instill values of tolerance and coexistence. The speakers were Baroness Floella Benjamin (British Politician and Actress), Peter Maurer (President of the International Committee of the Red Cross-Switzerland), and Benita Diop (Founder and President of the African Women’s Solidarity Foundation in Senegal) who presented her experience in empowering women in Africa.

The second session highlighted the importance of tolerance, coexistence, inclusivity and equality in supporting the most vulnerable groups in re-establishing a stable society. Speaking in this session were Aya Burweila (Founder and Director of Code on the Road, Greece), Nadine Labaki (Oscar-winning Lebanese filmmaker), Rada Akbar (Afghan artist and photographer), and Maqsoud Kruse (Strategic Communications Advisor at the UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs and former Executive Director of Hedayah). The session was chaired by Hind Alowais, the Senior Vice President of International Participants department at Expo 2020 Dubai, one of the leading figures behind the event.

In his keynote address, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, affirmed that women deserve a greater opportunity to develop their full leadership and practices in any of the roles they aspire to occupy. He said women must obtain a high-quality education, a rewarding career, a satisfying family life, and a prominent role in their public and private lives.

He also noted that men and women still have a lot of work and effort to build a world for women and men alike, a world which values competence and merit regardless of gender, a world that welcomes, protects, educates and empowers all women. “Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, there has been little or insufficient change. There continue to be places where women still endure unequal treatment. This inequality takes many forms ranging from social, economic, legal, health, and representation at the risk of personal safety and life itself,” he added.

 

In her speech at the event, Aya Burweila, tapped into her Libyan experience to discuss the issue of women’s empowerment in times of conflict. “I am from Benghazi, Libya, and after 2011 we found ourselves in the same situation as the Afghans are in today, our city was mostly abandoned, extremists took over, and for the first time Libyan families were losing their sons to beheading, to mutilations,” said Burweila.

She also recalled, “What we did was fight, we had to fight, and women took a very leading role in it, because when it came to rights, institutionally, we were quite advanced, but we saw we were losing those rights.”

She said the biggest lesson from the Libyan experience is that “you must be a fighter, you cannot wait until people fight for you, before you start fighting for yourself.”

Stressing the need to introduce plurality of voices and not to allow public discourse to be monopolized solely by extremists voices that go unchallenged, the founder of Code on the Road pointed out how, “Our values translate into action, our words translate into action, what we believe translates into action, so it is really important that we promote the right values, that we don’t leave an open space for opponents of tolerance and human rights to speak, and we must be fierce about it.”

The Dubai 2020 Expo is a World Expo, currently hosted by Dubai in the United Arab Emirates from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022. Originally scheduled for 20 October 2020 to 10 April 2021, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the Expo and its events and pavilions here.