There was something quite exciting about this year’s Arab Media Forum (AMF), which recently concluded in Dubai and was attended by over 2,000 media leaders from around the region. This year marked the tenth anniversary of the forum, which has served as an annual platform for debating Arab media issues and concerns for the past decade. In addition, almost all of this year’s panels have echoed ongoing transitions in the Arab world and their implications for the media landscape. I thought many of the discussions were highly stimulating when it came to the convergence of youth demographics and new media in triggering the current unrest.
There is ample evidence showing that women in this part of the world have made impressive strides in a wide range of professions, including media. At universities, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) female faculty members in media and communication departments have been on the rise and so has their integration into the media market. As a former student, at both the American University of Sharjah and the University of Sharjah, I was fully aware of the huge Emirati female attendance in communications programs at undergraduate and graduate levels. In the media profession itself, there are bright examples of GCC women serving as impressive role models for females in the region. They have excelled in different fields: some in film making, such as Emirati producer Naila Al Khaja; some have taken their achievement to global levels, such as foundation director Muna Abu Sulayman; while others have emerged as powerful figures in social media and cyberspace, such as Saudi writer Sabria Jawhar.
Unfortunately, such presence seems to have made little showing in female contributions to public discussions of media issues. Traditional research has generally focused on female representation in media content and media professions, but more attention needs also to be given to women’s contributions to public forums of media developments like AMF. What I found most worrying about the event was the underrepresentation of female media leaders and practitioners from the Gulf region in the AMF panels.