Combating ISIS and Islamist terrorism more generally requires bullets and bombs, but it requires far more--including changing the social practices that have marginalized so many Arabs in their own countries. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the country where women (and, it’s worth noting, trade unions) have advanced the furthest, Tunisia, is also the country that has advanced furthest politically.
In October 2014 the United Arab Emirates demonstrated its commitment to changing the role of women when an Emirati woman who is a jet pilot bombed ISIS. As CNN put it then, "Maj. Mariam Al Mansouri may be ISIS’ worst nightmare. The first female fighter pilot in the United Arab Emirates, she led a strike mission this week against the terror group."
This week, Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi was appointed President of the Federal National Council of the UAE, making her the first woman in the Middle East to lead a national assembly. An architect by profession and the first woman to be a member of the Council, she is now its president and Speaker.
Yes, it was an appointment and not a popular election. And in the last election for the Council (some members are appointed, some elected) about a fourth of the candidates were women, but none were elected. And of course the Council itself is only advisory.
But the appointment clearly shows the commitment of the government to change the status of women. Like the model of a female jet pilot in the UAE military, it’s a terrific message to Emirati women-- that they can go well beyond traditional roles. And it’s a model for other Arab countries, if only they would understand and adopt it.
CORRECTION: It has been pointed out to me that Dr. Qubaisi is the first woman in any Arab country to lead a national parliament, but not the first in the entire Middle East. Dalia Itzik was speaker of Israel’s Knesset from 2006 to 2009. I’m glad to make the correction and give Israel the honor due it.