“All mankind is divided into three categories: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move,” is an Arabic proverb that resonates in the context of Dr Amal Mohammed al-Malki, who most definitely belongs to this third category of people.
Dr Al-Malki is the Founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar Foundation. Prior to this she served as Executive Director of the Translation and Interpreting Institute, which she founded in 2011.
She was recognised as a Qatar Foundation Achiever in 2010. She was an honoured guest at the first Middle Eastern meeting of the Active Leaders for Women’s Advancement in the Near East (ALWANE) Coalition, an initiative by Women’s Campaign International (WCI), which advocates gender equality around the world.
Dr Al-Malki holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of London-SOAS, where she also earned a Master’s Degree in English-Arabic Applied Linguistics and Translation.
She is a sought-after public speaker and social commentator and has been invited to speak at conferences and forums throughout the Middle East, United States and UK.
She was the first Arab and Muslim to serve as a Keynote Speaker at City University in New York in the wake of 9/11. She was also the first Qatari to be invited to address the Cheltenham Literature Festival. She has lectured at Carnegie Mellon, Durham University, SOAS and Maryland University among others. She was also selected to take part in the Future Leader Program in 2014 by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Dr Al-Malki’s research interests include the negotiation of identity between East and West, media representations of Arab women and postcolonial literature. She has published numerous articles in academic journals in the United States and UK. Her book Arab Women in Arab News: Old Stereotypes and New Media — published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation — was lauded as the first comprehensive study of the subject in the world.
These are, but some, of the honours to her name. Focusing on women’s rights and Arab identity, she strives to help deepen international understanding of Qatar and its evolving place in the world. Dr Al Malki shares her views on this subject with Community.

You are admired and respected both nationally and internationally, for your passion and work towards supporting women’s advancement in Qatar. How far has the subject of women’s empowerment moved over the years and do you think enough has been done to facilitate it in Qatar?
Qatari women have achieved milestones during the last two decades, and the numbers indicate, clearly, an increase in women graduates in general and women obtaining higher degrees. The numbers also indicate an increase in the percentage of women in the work force – albeit still low compared to other countries in the Gulf or Mena Region. There is an evident increase in the number of women joining professions that were previously male dominated…women entrepreneurs, women journalists, women doctors, women engineers, and much more.

But we are more than numbers, aren’t we?
Behind each number is a unique story that speaks volumes about the woman and her social, economic and political context.

As Founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hamad bin Khalifa University at Qatar Foundation, what are you hoping to do in the next year or so to further the subject of female empowerment?
I believe that the biggest form of empowerment is the freedom of expression and to express your thoughts about any given issue, you need to have a voice of your own, you need to define yourself, your principles, your dreams and ambitions, and your fears and challenges.
I am very fortunate to have this role at HBKU. From a professional perspective, I will keep on writing and exploring different themes. I have a new post as Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at HBKU. I am looking into a new Qatari faculty, if it happens to be women, then why not! We’re looking at creating new syllabi and new teaching material that speak about Qatari women and represents them in the correct light. There are many ideas and many things we want to do. It’s just support that is needed. I am very lucky to have the University support, all I need is women to be engaged with us, that’s what counts.

Do you think that socially, Qatari community accepts for women to play a dynamic role outside the home?
It’s not about acceptance. It’s that they are not used to it! Some people resist change, are afraid of change. I believe change is a very positive and powerful thing. Hence, we started with baby steps. But I think we have been taking those baby steps for so long. Now, we are at a stage where you need to put us on the spot. Acceptance will come. I think what stifles us most, is our own fear of rejection. Let’s not think about it. Let’s do what is right for everyone.

Do you think Qatari woman are represented correctly in media, both nationally and internationally and if not, then what remains to be done?
The problem is we don’t have Qatari women representation in the media, so women’s ideas and views get reflected in a generalised manner by media looking from the outside which then creates stereotypes about Qatari women. If you look around you, you will notice we are all very different. We look different, we dress differently, we think and behave differently...So it is important for media to understand that Qatari women are not just one and the same, they have different voices. If we had one collective voice to speak on behalf of Qatari women, it would have been amazing and we could have gone to media as a collective entity.
What would be your message to the media, in general?
Don’t speak to one or two; speak to many of us, so that you have a balanced and fair understanding of what Qatari women are like. Capture their diversity and the richness of their identity.

And your message of empowerment to women?
Empowerment is a very stretchy word. It also requires us to accept each other, accept our differences and build on our commonalities. Embrace what makes us unique as individuals, but also engage with a collective identity that we make rich and diverse.
Personal narratives are very important, and because of the fact that we belong to a young country, these narratives are often about precedence and pioneering, which can sound exclusive. So we need to take it a step forward and turn the exclusive into inclusive, by turning these stories into action plans for new paths to be explored.
Women need to come forward and share what empowerment looks like to them. The first step to empowerment is speaking up rather than being spoken about or spoken to. So, just speak up!

And you think that is not happening?
No, not yet.

How can you help them to be bolder?
(Laughs) Well, by being bolder myself!

Slim and slight she might seem but she is powerful! Beneath her tranquil visage, many a storm is raging. There is strength of character and the courage to confront, challenge and sift through the sands of time and tradition in search of the precious pearls that are there for the taking...waiting only to be drawn out with the hands of understanding and wisdom....truly a woman the country will be proud to call her own.

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