'Remarkable' women of Gaza acknowledged at London Arabia awards ceremony

The event, now in its 10th year, celebrates the achievements of women in the Arab world

Arab Women of the Year Awards in London draws performers, CEOs and politicians

Arab Women of the Year Awards in London draws performers, CEOs and politicians
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Gaza was on the minds of winners of the London Arabia Arab Women of the Year Awards on Thursday, as tearful speeches were made amid the celebrations.

Shirine Khoury-Haq, the first female chief executive of the British supermarket brand Co-op, could not hold back tears when she spoke about the war after receiving her award.

“I am very grateful for the recognition but also aware there is a very unfair allocation of opportunities,” she said.

“As a woman of Palestinian descent, I dedicate this to my Palestinian sisters and brothers and especially to the children of Palestine. I hope that very soon they will see peace and will have the opportunities they deserve to shine in the world.”

Paediatrician Dr Tanya Haj-Hassan, who has worked as a medical trainer in Gaza and the occupied West Bank with Medecins Sans Frontieres, dedicated her award to the women doctors in the besieged enclave.

“This is a difficult award for me to accept because I stand in the shadow of remarkable women,” she said.

Journalist Baria Alamuddine, who opened the award, did so with prayers “for the people of Gaza”.

The award, now in its tenth year, celebrates the achievements of women in the Arab world and the diaspora and was held during a gala dinner at the Carlton Tower Jumeirah in London.

“Too often the successes of Arab and Muslim women are written by authors from the West. Tonight is about us talking about our successes in our own voices, talking about what we’ve learnt along the way,” Nusrat Ghani, UK Minister of State at the Department for Business and Trade told The National.

“This week, as a British politician it's wonderful to end the week with so many powerful Arab and Muslim women,” she said.

Others talked about the challenges they faced pursuing career paths deemed “unusual” in the Arab world.

Award-winning Egyptian opera singer Farrah Al Dibbany, talked about the challenges of pursuing an operatic career while growing up in Egypt, as she received an award. “Opera is not the thing [in Egypt], despite having the support of my family,” she said.

“People asked why do you have to go to Germany to study alone for seven years.”

Emirati Kholoud Hassan Al Nuwais was awarded for her contributions to social development, including her “pivotal” role in establishing the Emirates Foundation in 2005. “My family's belief in me has been my greatest strength,” she said.

“My journey from the private sector to philanthropy was driven by the desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others.”

Speaking to The National, she said she hoped for "more women to come together to be the key change-makers around social development issues."

"Women should believe in themselves and no obstacle should stop them. They have to keep going and the doors will open," she added.

Omar Bdour, the awards’ founder and chief executive said the event this year was marked by the large number of women who travelled to the UK to attend the ceremony.

“The highlight is having a group of Arab women travelling from all over the world just to attend the event,” he told The National.

London remained a crucial hub for the Arab world despite a sense of “disunity” at present, owing to the war in Gaza, he added.

"Many Arabs call London home, it will always welcome Arabs with open arms. Lately there is a feeling of disunity, but that disunity is not making London far from the Arab community and the Arab world. London will always be close to Arab hearts," he said.

"You can't divide what's going on Gaza away from the people who see it every day. What we called for is, no matter what religion you are, a woman is a woman and her suffering should be acknowledged," he said.

Hana Basrawi, a Saudi fitness and wellness influencer with more than 1.2million followers, told The National she travelled from Jeddah specifically to attend the event.

"Being a Saudi woman I feel like we have something to prove. The Western media has had an image of us that hasn't been correct for so long," she said.

"We're very passionate and creative, for us to have a chance to showcase our heritage and our talent is quite honouring," she added.

Updated: March 01, 2024, 4:33 PM