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June 7, 2012

BSU hosted its second Middle East International Conference, where participants hailing from all over the world gathered in the campus center's large ballroom for presentations and discussions focusing on issues concerning women's rights and uprisings in the Middle East.

[b](For full videos of all the speakers click [link]here|http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5A595FCACCA9D61E&feature=plcp[/link].)[/b]

The theme of the two-day program was "Women and Gender in the Middle East: Recognition, Reflection and Realignment."

"This is a conference that crosses disciplines and emphasizes the need to think more about women and gender in an international context," said [b]Dr. Sarah Wiggins[/b], assistant professor of history and coordinator of the Women's and Gender Studies Program, who opened and co-organized the program.

The conference attracted 60 participants from a number of higher education institutions in the United States, Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria and Oman.

Conference co-organizer [b]Dr. Jabbar Al-Obaidi[/b], professor of communication studies and director of the Center for Middle East Studies, said the focus of the conference was to help educate a new generation on the importance of improving women's rights in the Middle East.

Dr. Al-Obaidi, who comes from an Iraqi family with seven sisters and three brothers, attributed the oppression of women in the region to a select few powerful leaders. "It is not a matter of religion or culture," said Dr. Al-Obaidi. "The cause of the suffering of women in the Middle East is the policies of an elite group of men, some corrupted individuals. They have the power of law."

However, there is a new spirit in the Middle East today, Dr. Al-Obaidi said. "The Middle East and particularly the Arab world are going through dramatic changes. What the people want is those in authority is to listen to the voice of social justice, a social justice that emphasizes the rule of law, democracy, social stability, employment and good government."

One of the event's keynote speakers was Randa Fahmy Hudome, an internationally recognized expert in Middle East and North Africa affairs, who served in the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government and has been a guest on such programs as NBC's [i]Today[/i] show.

She discussed women's role in the Arab Spring uprisings, which have occurred in a number of countries, including Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. "As we watch these sweeping changes throughout the Middle East, we recognize that women's role in all of this is extraordinarily important," she said in her talk, "Similarities in Challenges and Triumphs Between the Women of the Middle East and the United States."

Ms. Hudome said she is "cautiously optimistic" of women's rights expanding in the Middle East, because American women's rights movements, such as the 1920s suffrage movement, have been successful. "It is indeed possible for women throughout the world to overcome those same kinds of challenges as women in this country have done," she said.

In welcoming remarks, President [b]Dana Mohler-Faria[/b] said it is important to examine the status of women around the world, particularly in the Middle East, where women have fewer opportunities than women in the West. "Significant roles that women can and should play in the world are foremost in the minds of all of us attending this conference, and when we look at those areas of the world where women are playing a subservient role, we see the potential that women have to change those societies and to change the world," he said.

Additional speakers included [b]Dr. Michael Kryzanek[/b], BSU's director of global studies and executive director of international engagement, and [b]Fred Clark[/b], executive vice president and vice president for external affairs.

A dozen panel discussions on related topics were held during the conference, including "Feminism and Islam," "Issues Facing Jordanian Women," and "Women, Islam and Gender Equality."

The conference was sponsored by the university's Center for Middle East Studies and the Women's and Gender Studies Program.

For the full program, names and professional backgrounds of all participants and speakers, click [link]here|http://www.bridgew.edu/MiddleEast/Women%20&%20Gender%20in%20the%20Middle%20East.pdf%20Newest.pdf[/link]. (David K. Wilson, '71, University Advancement; videos by Moakley TV Studio)

Randa Fahmy Hudome
Dr. Jabbar Al-Obaidi
Dr. Sarah Wiggins