Bahrain's Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa has made her mark on the world as she bows out as United Nations General Assembly president. SOMAN BABY reports on a year of success BAHRAIN is helping to make the world a safer place, campaigning against war, injustice, poverty and disease, says a leading diplomat.Sweeping moves to bring nations together have been spearheaded by Bahrain's Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa, in her year as president of the UN 61st General Assembly.
Shaikha Haya, who hands over the presidency to Macedonia's Sejan Karim on September 17, bows out with a track record of success that has enhanced Bahrain's global reputation, says Ambassador Ahmed Al Haddad, who heads the Office of the President of the GA's 61st Session.
"Shaikha Haya has been able to build more trust among member states and win the hearts of world leaders," he told the GDN.
"During her presidency, she has been able to make the UN more responsive to world problems and contribute towards creating better understanding between world religions.
"Being a small country in Asia, with no hidden agenda, Bahrain has been able to gain the respect of the international community during Shaikha Haya's presidency."
On Tuesday, Shaikha Haya bint Rashid Al Khalifa received the 2007 Path to Peace Award, at a gala dinner in New York.
Shaikha Haya was unanimously chosen for the major international award by the Catholic Church's Path to Peace Foundation, in New York.
Each year since 1993, the foundation has honoured an individual whose life and work have dramatically affected the world community for the better.
Past winners include two former UN secretary-generals, Dr Boutros Boutros Ghali (1993) and Kofi Annan (2000), as well as former Philippines president Corazon Aquino (1995).
"It is in recognition of her dedicated efforts on behalf of peace and development," Path to Peace Foundation president and Permanent Mission Observer of the Holy See to the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore said earlier.
Mr Al Haddad, who is also the Foreign Ministry Assistant Under-Secretary for Political Affairs and International Co-operation, said Shaikha Haya had won the confidence of world leaders, during her presidency.
She was only the third woman to occupy the post since 1945, following Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit of India, who presided over the eighth session in 1953 and Angie Elisabeth Brooks, of Liberia, who presided over the 24th session in 1969.
"Shaikha Haya, as the first Muslim Arab woman, brought to the post a rich background and a new perspective," said Mr Al Haddad.
"This is particularly evident in her humane approach to world politics, her knowledge of and exposure to diverse cultures and her devotion to the concerns of developing countries such as poverty and HIV/Aids."
Mr Al Haddad quoted Ireland's Ambassador and EU Group chairman David Coony, who, in his speech after Shaikha Haya's election last summer, said he was proud to see an Arab woman taking over as the GA president.
Mr Coony also said he was especially happy that Shaikha Haya came from Bahrain, which had successfully implemented significant political and democratic reforms.
Her determination was to address the world's most pressing issues, such as terrorism, injustice, poverty, religious and international divisions, gender equality and the global threat to the environment.
Shaikha Haya initiated three high-level meetings concerning development, gender equality and dialogue among civilisations.
The purpose of these meetings was to bring the world to the table, to find out a way forward.
The first, on Partnerships towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): Taking stock, moving forward, was held last November 27.
The aim of the meeting was to give impetus to the implementation of MDGs, agreed by world leaders at the UN's Millennium Summit in 2000.
They cover eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and fostering a global partnership for development.
Today, more than 1.2 billion people live on less than one dollar a day.
The meeting brought together donor and recipient countries as well as civil societies, non-governmental organisations and the private sector, to forge new approaches, said Mr Al Haddad.
Shaikha Haya addressed the meeting, along with then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Economic and Social Council President Ali Hachani.
Bahrain's Social Development Minister Dr Fatima Al Balooshi took part as a panelist.
Four key messages emerged from the meeting. Firstly, commitments made at the major UN conferences and summits particularly, the one on global partnership for development, should be fulfilled quickly.
Secondly, partnerships were critical in expediting the implementation of the MDGs and these should be encouraged and nurtured at the national and international levels.
Thirdly, the role of the UN is central to the implementation of the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs.
A highlight of the meeting was the announcement by the Islamic Development Bank of a $10 billion fund for the eradication of poverty and the proposal by Qatar to host a follow-up meeting to the debate, scheduled to take place in Doha this coming Sunday and Monday.
The second high-level meeting was on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women, which took place on March 6, 7 and 8.
Shaikha Haya, in her opening address, noted that gender equality was not only the responsibility of women but the responsibility of all.
The meeting was a huge success with more than 80 speakers in the debate, including 20 female ministers, which compelled the president to extend the meeting from one and a half days to two and a half days.
Her Highness Shaikha Sabeeka bint Ebrahim Al Khalifa, wife of His Majesty King Hamad and chairwoman of the Supreme Council for Women, participated as the keynote speaker, which gave the audience the opportunity to reflect on the Bahraini experience, said Mr Al Haddad. The meeting concluded with the following main findings:
That gender equality is a goal in its own right, and is essential for communities and states to enjoy political stability and sustainable development.
Women have made some progress in their representation in parliaments, at cabinet levels, in the judiciary and in the private sector, sometimes due to quota systems and other measures, but continue to be under-represented, with minimal influence and power over decision-making processes and their outcomes, including resource allocations in all sectors.
The economic empowerment of women is critical to the achievement of gender equality.
Gender-based violence continues to be a major impediment to female empowerment and to the development of communities and States.
The empowerment of women depends on the implementation of strategies in areas such as education, health care, economic and political participation and decision-making.
Women's participation and leadership in conflict prevention, peace processes and conflict resolution as well as in peacekeeping operations, is key to progress toward peace and security.
Obstacles to gender equality and the empowerment of women remain in the forms of patriarchal structures and norms, socialisation processes based on rigid gender roles, discriminatory laws and practices, lack of access to education, health care, economic and other resources and insufficient financial resources.
The achievement of gender equality requires collective commitments by individuals, communities and member states to change deep-seated stereotypical attitudes and expectations toward gender roles.
The third meeting, on May 10 and 11, was entitled "Civilisations and the Challenge for Peace: Obstacles and Opportunities".
The main objective of the event was to explore the reasons behind the growing level of mistrust between people of different religions and cultures and to examine how and why cultural and religious differences increasingly fuel, and are used to justify, conflicts.
A number of prominent commentators, academics and political figures participated in four separate panel discussions over two days, with nearly 100 speakers taking part, including Deputy Prime Minister Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa.
In her opening statement, Shaikh Haya expressed "the desire to understand the realities we live in and analyse more fully the reasons behind the increasing levels of conflict, alienation, extremism and fear in the world, so that we can lay a solid foundation for a genuine dialogue between cultures and religions and bridge the rift that is on the verge of deepening". The debate concluded with the following key findings:
The globalisation process has led to a greater contact of people of different cultures and religions which, in turn, has resulted in a perceived threat to individual identity.
Knowledge of the other is an important factor that can lead to greater understanding and can be gained through education and travel.
Respect and tolerance are important, but not sufficient pre-requisites for dialogue. What is needed in addition is recognition of the other and a willingness to change through dialogue.
Cultures and religions are not identical and should not be confused.
Fundamental views and the notion of exclusivity are among the main obstacles to furthering dialogue between religions.
The exploitation of religion for political ends constitutes an ongoing challenge on the path towards dialogue and tolerance and that tensions were created by believers, not religions.
The pursuit of increased dialogue does not mean the surrender of struggles against poverty and oppression. However, these struggles must be pursued through dialogue and tolerance.
It is crucial to educate the youth, in their formative years, on the need for tolerance and respect for others. The need for general awareness by the broader public is equally important in the efforts to pursuit dialogue between religions.
There is an acknowledged role for the UN to play in facilitating dialogue between religions and in raising awareness. In this connection, the discussion on this issue should continue with a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society and the NGOs.
Mr Al Haddad was Bahrain's Charge D'Affaires in Washington from 1982 to 85' Bahrain's representative to Unesco in Paris from 1985 to 87; and Bahrain's Consul General in Montreal from 1987 to 91. He was Bahrain's Permanent Representative to the UN European headquarters in Geneva during 1991-2000.