A week with MAAS alum Hannah Beswick, Head of Partnerships at the UN Women Liaison Office for the GCC in Abu Dhabi
By Hannah Beswick
On Wednesday morning, I find myself on the road from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, the immaculately paved Sheikh Zayed road, palm and ghaf trees dotting the median mile after mile, the desert surrounding me. One hour later I enter the Palm Jumeirah, an artificial archipelago extending into the Arabian Gulf sculpted to look, from the sky, like a palm tree. As I drive up the trunk of the Palm, I chuckle to myself as I see exits for “Frond A through F,” the developers having chosen to use the term “frond” in place of “street.” I make my way to the end of the Palm and pull up to a swanky hotel.
I’m in my element, speaking to a group of about 200 people from media and public relations firms about how the private sector can turn their brand value into action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s shared plan to end extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet by 2030. I’m there to impress upon these companies why they need to ensure gender parity across the board, from junior to senior roles. I share the latest statistics from the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report: that at the rate we’re going, the world won’t see economic parity between men and women for 257 years. I tell the audience why it matters: that gender parity is directly tied to whether or not economies and societies thrive.
An audience member raises her hand to tell me about a global bank that has just committed to only doing business with companies who have at least one female member on their board. She wants to know what I think of this. “Well,” I tell her, “remember what I said about us not achieving economic parity for 257 years? Small symbolic gestures like this aren’t really going to move the needle. Companies need to take bigger steps.” A few audience members seem surprised that I choose to share my honest opinion about a compa-ny’s efforts to promote gender equality. I shift in my chair and give a wry smile in my red dress, hoping that my symbolic clothing choice for the day was noticed: red is the color of Sustainable Development Goal 5, which seeks to achieve gender equality and em-power all women and girls.
On Thursday, I park my little white hatchback in a dirt lot and find my way to the Khawla bint Al Azwar Military Academy for Women, the first military school for women in the region, founded some thirty-odd years ago. My organization, the UN Women Liaison Office for the GCC, is working with the UAE Government to host a military and peacekeeping training program for women across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. We are there to talk to the trainees about why it is critical that women engage in all aspects of conflict prevention, mitigation, and resolution, from serving as peacekeepers, to drafting peace accords after conflict, to participating in transitional justice processes. We explain that all of our research and data demonstrates that when women meaningfully participate and lead in peace and security processes, our societies become more stable, tolerant, and prosperous. When women are excluded, the conversation at the peace table tends to focus on ceasefires and power-sharing arrangements. But when women join, the discussion turns to issues of fixing infrastructure, getting the hospitals and schools back up and running, addressing transitional justice concerns—the things that make society function. We must remember, peace is not just the absence of violence.
The trainees share their perspectives, and it is striking to see the progress they have made in a matter of just a few weeks. Many who were initially shy and soft spoken are now speaking confidently and at ease while engaging with their fellow trainees from different countries and cultural backgrounds. I imagine how this experience will impact them when they return home at the end of the three and a half months of training. My hope is that it broadens the possibilities of what they can imagine for their futures.
My day ends, and I hop back in my car, thinking how glad I am that I paid the extra money to tint the windows as I turn the A/C on full blast, ready for the next day’s adventure.
Hannah Beswick graduated from the MAAS program in 2014. She serves as the Head of Partnerships at the UN Women Liaison Office for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Abu Dhabi.
This article appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue of the CCAS Newsmagazine.