Our Special Women

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Celebrating womanhood is about commemorating women achievers, the innate power of women, and talking about equality- as well as, creating awareness to the splendid realm they preserve. I had read about a young woman in Burkina Faso, so beautiful she might in a different world be a fashion model, but stoops down and runs the dry dirt through her hands, and says despairingly, “The seedling burns down in the sun”. She has four children, one of them tied to her back, and works all day in the fields, trying to grow enough food to feed her family. “I can see the women are tired,” her husband says,” but our tradition stops us helping them.”



Almost everyday of a woman’s life is borne with strength and fortitude- a mask of submission is only worn to melt a man’s heart… but that does not say that that she is not sensitive and emerges as a gender to be admired. I recommend the sensational book of “My Feudal Lord”, about Tehmina Durrani’s life story; a woman from Pakistan who had succeeded in reconciling her faith in Islam with her ardent belief in women’s rights. Her marriage to Mustafa Khar, one of Pakistan’s most eminent political figures, soon turned into a nightmare. However, she thrived to diagnose the corruption in this male-dominated society by writing this book, aware of the perils and the condemnation of society for breaking the ‘tradition of silence’ as she so-calls it in her book. I cannot resist quoting the epilogue for my readers, “Well, Mustafa,” she said. “Now the world will soon know you only as Tehmina Durrani’s ex-husband.”




We all know Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan and, God rest her soul, leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party. She had a special feminine energy and Ms Bhutto presented a plausible face of modernity: a young, glamorous woman in a male-dominated society, educated at Oxford and Harvard, fluent in the political idiom of western capitals. And she was also tough and ruthless – south Asian politics is not for the faint-hearted. To some, she was one of the last hopes they had in Pakistan for a peaceful transition to democracy.


Too often, a woman’s natural and earned talent may enable her to sustain communities and manage the earth’s biodiversity and natural resources. In approximately, 1995, Egypt took its first step to putting environment on its political agenda. It was then that the government created a separate Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs headed by HE Nadia Makram Ebeid as minister. I had the pleasure of interviewing this remarkable lady, who is now spearheading the Center for Environment and Development for the Arab Region and Europe (CEDARE) as Executive Director. She has an extraordinary range of knowledge and smiled at me cordially all through the interview, I must say that before commencing my interview details with her because I was really impressed.  


How can a woman be successful or encounter satisfactory results in her life?


“Success is a big word. Do you mean success on the family level, work level or social level? Nevertheless, there are common grounds to the fundamentals of success in anything in life. First, one should be honest with oneself, and this word carries a lot of weight. One should organize time effectively, as the time spent for family does not affect work, for instance. And, the most essential thing is that one does something intrinsically convinced of, and satisfied with.


We must have good interpersonal relationships with each other- like helping others and having the ability to give, which as a result bestows on a person peace and serenity that is important for success of any human being. One has to be conscientious and truthful in everything done, – even in self-care like sleeping. Also, one has to hold oneself accountable for everything done or said.  A person must also respect oneself, because that self-respect reflects on others and forces mutual admiration.


On the professional level, my experience says that there must be a strategic vision and projected objectives. A large proportion of the success of any organization is in injecting a dose of appreciation to teamwork. Occasionally, some people believe in the one-man show, which is wrong. I always believe that we all contribute to each other’s success. Human resources and their interaction with one another is all the essence of a healthy and conducive environment. 


My success has always been by leaning on a strong and diligent workforce to enable the completion of the work in-hand. Meanwhile, one of the themes that might affect any organization is the awareness’ and responsiveness’ of its workforce to the concept of globalization. Egypt is part of a cosmic existence, and it must train its staff to deal with this thrusting trend. My priority and most pressing issue was the appropriate training and giving of needed qualifications to the workforce in the ministry, in which I have been a minister for five years.


To conclude, success is a very general word because one may find utmost pleasure in succeeding as a mother, as well as a professional or a patriot who loves her country.”


Up till now, everybody in the ministry admires your accomplishments and speaks of your kind and fair treatment-how did you manage to make people like you so much?


“I must admit that I was lucky because I had a wonderful team that was bounded together by feelings of love and respect. The fountainhead of my leadership style was sharing; I used to tell them I am the one accountable to the president but you represent me on the highest level. Brainstorming sessions were conducted to build decisions together and create for them a feeling of belonging and confidence. They were glad of their work because what they did came from their heart, and so executed it better. One of the things I remember is that we used to move around a lot because environmental work is not a sedentary job; we used to go to factories, villages… and communicate frequently. There was momentum; there was motion, and there was enthusiasm. Moreover, there was a vision with targeted days and we divided responsibilities accordingly. Today, I admire what the minister is doing .He has a military background, a vision, and is making solid progress in the environmental field.”


What do you regard to be your best accomplishments?


“One of the dreams I always had for the environment was to declare the river Nile free from polluted industrial waste product discharge. This dream, with God’s will, was realized- and the tremendous team I had has done a lot to help this assignment. There was perpetual political assistance and we applied the method of the “carrot and stick approach”. We set environmental awareness procedures to the industries, asserting that they will not only benefit emotionally, but also profitability because they can recycle some of this water.  


Building a strong workforce will always be my best accomplishment for Egypt. This process will go on forever, but I must say that some of my employees are now working at the International Bank in Washington because of their high qualifications and aptitudes.


Environment is not an easy task to tackle; there is always the excitement and the challenge with dealing with something that could be everything to us: the air, the earth, technology and even the international relations. I remember when I first became minister and was visited by the Japanese minister, who was a lady at that time. I asked her a conventional question, “How long did it take your great country Japan to address its most important environmental problems?” She told me 30 years. Europe and America spent 25 years. However, this does not mean that we must take all this time. We can start from where others ended and today we have environmental friendly technology that can really help. Within the context of Egypt‘s first Biodiversity Strategy and promotion of ecotourism, we have now 23 Egyptian Natural Protectorates, representing 15% of Egypt‘s total land surface. Recently, there was a natural protectorate in Fayoum that entered the international record of heritage.                  .


It is very important to create environmental awareness among the various stakeholders. Moreover, if there is awareness it must be translated into prompt actions. You can see school boys in school today recycling and caring a lot about the greenery, but still we have a long way to be environmentally responsible. The private sector has a necessary role in the environment. For instance, to build a factory they have to be careful that it won’t be beside a hospital and that it has to have filters for discharge of waste. This is what we call an Environment Impact Assessment study that draws attention to whether we are complying with the stipulated law 4/1994.


There is also a very important issue which is the civic society; the state in Egypt now is really encouraging and supporting the civil society, particularly non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). But, we should never forget our roles and responsibilities as individuals. God created the earth for us to care and protect.”


What are the projects that are yet to be addressed after you left the ministry?


“Many. The black smog and river Nile contamination mainly, although they are considerably lessened. You get air pollution from exhaustion of cars, from different industries and from the farmer. The farmer needs support to overcome the negative cultural behavior of his ancestors. One needs to convince the farmer by removing the raw straw and using it for recycling. One needs to educate the farmers and citizens. The private sector is now involved with other ministries particularly the ministry of land production; where we have Sayed Mishaal as its wonderful minister.


One of the projects that have to be continued is building a strong HR base. I call it a critical mass of young men and women, and young environmental leaders who can push Egypt forward into what I call a hypercompetitive world.


The concept of the environment has changed. In the early 1970’s, particularly 1972, we had one of the first international conferences on environment. The word that the conference understood was “environment or development.” In 1992, when we had the famous world summit in Rio De Janeiro in Brazil, we became much wiser and we started understanding that it is not environment or development but the new terminology “sustainable development.” Sustainable development is basically a triangle based on three corner stones which has: 1)economic development which is basically justifiable and needed, 2) Social development because we need to work with the people, find them jobs and meet their basic needs 3) Ecological balance which our life or future is based on. If we look at these entities together in a balanced manner, then we can have a sustainable future- Environment and Development. They are like Siamese twins; one cannot do without the other. We believe that international organizations like the United Nations Environment program which is the conscience of the environment on the global level, can prosper and grow without necessarily stripping the earth of our precious natural resources on which our very future and sustainability depends. Today, no country can export and develop sustainability, unless it complies with the international criteria, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and committee for environment agreement. When we talk about trade, we talk about country’s that really want to move forward…so we need to look at things like eco-packaging and equilibrium if we really want to be pioneers in the competitive world.”


What is CEDARE?


“CEDARE is an international organization that has a vision based on Environment for Development. What we are doing now is forging very strong partnerships with different entities that really care about the environment, such as the United Nations Environment program and the European Union. We are also forging partnerships with universities in different countries. Furthermore, we have priorities in CEDARE like water management and land management.”

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