Dr. Amal Al Malki : “For only in our unity we will be able to change our reality”
What did you want to be growing up?
I neither had a career aspiration nor a clear path to follow. I grew up during a period in which girls’ personal and professional lives were predetermined according to specific gender roles. My peers either got married at an early age or worked as teachers in schools. However, I dreamt of a different life, one where I make up my own decisions, where I path my own way. I knew I didn’t want to conform or fit a pre-existing frame.
What are the 2 Leadership Principles you have discovered and executed that have contributed to your success?
To be a leader, you need to be a human first. Empathy is a great source of power in connecting with others. When you treat your team with humanity and empathy, they will replicate this, and thus you will be able to create a culture that is conducive to healthy human interactions.
The second principle is shared causes and shared value systems. Once you identify your common values and attach them to a cause you are working for, the simplest of jobs become meaningful and turn into a life mission. And people put their heart and soul in it.
What is your proudest achievement? And your biggest challenge?
Becoming a mother is my proudest achievement, and yes, I want to claim it to myself. Some women don’t recognize the power they hold within their souls and bodies. My body has hosted, nurtured, and gave birth to a human. Recognizing the power I have as a woman has changed my life. It is my biggest self-realization; it helped me plan for my life and believe in my ability to achieve anything I want.
On a professional level, my whole trajectory in life is a challenge that I have chosen willingly. Advocating for women’s rights and equality defines my journey which I have started since I was only 15. That’s when I decided to have a voice of my own and write under a synonym, then through all my 17 years in academia. Building opportunities for other women is something that fills me with content. I have worked with the best minds to design then offer an MA in Women Studies in my college, that educates women and men about the role of women within our societies and the challenges they face.
Can you talk about one woman who has significantly impacted your life? Do you have a role model?
I learned from all women surrounding me while growing up, especially the weak and disadvantaged. I learned from the struggles of the heroines in classical Arabic novels and their marginalization. Then I learned from women novelists east and west who articulated their struggles realistically or figuratively. Books, especially novels, exposed the injustices that women are subject to, and made me face my own insecurities and reflect on my surroundings. In our context, where women issues are always perceived within the conformation of honor and shame, books were my only window. They allowed me to see myself in other women’s experiences and learn and empathize with them. I am grateful to women writers like Huda Shaarawi, Fatema Mernissi and Nawal El-Saadawi, and novelists like Sahar Khalifeh and Assia Djebar, just to name few.
If you could introduce only one piece of legislation to further gender balance, what would it be?
Feminizing Arabic. Although Arabic is a gender specific language, we see that the legal language of rights and responsibilities are written in the masculine form. I would rewrite our constitutions in gender specific language; turn citizens into (men and women). We need to reclaim our language as women and make it reflective of our rights as well. We see that citizenship in our part of the world is highly gendered and women are treated as second class citizens. So, I call for feminizing the language across all mediums of communication. I insist when referred to in media to be addressed by the feminine form of “dean” and all women should call for feminizing their titles, to set precedence and help make their positions mentally accessible to other women.
What piece of advice would you give to women struggling with limiting beliefs set by their societies?
Unfortunately, women internalize the dominant beliefs of their societies, especially these beliefs that have to do with their inferiority and subordination. No wonder most of the women at the top in our societies either suffer or have suffered from imposter syndrome. Therefore, I believe that it is imperative for every woman who has managed to break a cultural stereotype to make her story accessible to other women. And it is also important to create women support systems, call it sisterhood or not, we need to extend our feminist consciousness to all women and make them believe in themselves the way we believe in them. One thing we need to understand is that society changes only when we change. We must accept the responsibility of making the change instead of waiting for our societies to accept our roles and aspirations.
What horizons and leadership experiences has your current position – as the Founding Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Hamad Bin Khalifa University – offered you, personally and professionally, that other positions have not?
Academic in general has provided me with the tools and the venue to grow as an educator and researcher. Getting into academic administration was a shift in my career, and combined two of my strengths, designing and building programs from the scratch. When I established the Translation and Interpreting Institute (TII), I tapped into one part of my psyche, who believed in a future that is multicultural and multilingual- one with no linguistic or cultural boundaries that usually inhibit healthy conversations between people and nations. Then when I was appointed as a founding dean for a college that didn’t exist yet, I had to look at what the institute has achieved thus far and what other fields are needed to create the means to enable a just and equal future. The college is committed to “Social Justice” as our main driver. I have worked with a top-class experts’ programs that are interdisciplinary, innovative and relevant and will have impact on our societies. A good example of this is our MA in Women, Society and Development, which is the only degree in Women Studies in Qatar. Again, just like TII, the college represents who I am both personally and professionally. We usually hear how people develop passion towards what they do, and the become their jobs. For me, I would say that my job looks like me.
Can you brief us about the Programs offered at your esteemed Faculty?
The college offers 5 MA programs and one PhD program. Three of the MA programs are offered through TII: Translation Studies; Audiovisual Translation; and Intercultural Communication. Two MA programs are offered through the Middle Eastern Studies Department: Digital Humanities and Societies; and Women, Society and Development. Our PhD program is interdisciplinary and is in Humanities and Social Sciences. Through TII, we have a Language Center that offers 12 languages to adults and 6 languages to children; as well as a Translation and Training Center which offers services of quality translation and professional development workshops to the wider community.
In your opinion, what can be done towards attracting more high-scale talents to join the world of Social Sciences?
The very distinction between sciences is disappearing, as we can see a strong trend towards multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary education. Social sciences are at the heart of this trend, simply because humans are the source and target of any knowledge and practice. I believe that social sciences will flourish as a discipline that intersects with all other disciplines and will attract talents from different backgrounds. While technology is important, it is only a medium for reaching our goals. The aim is to help develop well-rounded humans after all, who had the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills that will enable them to contribute positively to building a better world for all of us. Therefore, embedding ethics and universal values at the very core of our education is what we need now more than ever, especially post-covid era.
Based on your expertise, do you believe that there are certain loopholes in the Educational System that need to be addressed to create better and more equal opportunities for the youth? If yes, what steps should be taken to solve them?
The global pandemic has exposed the fragility of our institutions, including the educational systems. Switching to on-line education during the lockdown wasn’t a smooth transfer for some countries who didn’t have the infrastructure. We also know that many underprivileged students didn’t have access to internet, and let’s not forget displaced children. The pandemic showed the inequalities between different nations and their inability to protect the students’ rights to safety, health, and education. Therefore, the eyes were directed towards countries with robust systems and their responsibility to extend their services to others across the MENA and globally. I am proud to belong to one of these systems, in which particular attention was paid to ensure that education in conflict zones were not disrupted, and have allocated the funds and spaces to accommodate many within our schools and universities. The youth make up more of 50% of the population in our region, and we still teach them the way we were taught which doesn’t really correspond to their realities. Many changes need to take place, but can only happen if we engage with the youth and their realities.
What has your role been in advancing Arab women’s Media representation around the world?
I authored a book titled “Arab Women in Arab News: Old Stereotypes and New Media” which was published in 2012. The book was a culmination of research that my research team and I worked on for 4 years. I wanted to produce authentic knowledge about the topic. Besides attempting to debunk the orientalist and reductionist representation of Arab and Muslim women in the West, the book also looks at how women are represented in our own media and the stories they come under, which gives a stock of the diversity of women’s political, economic, and cultural realities in our region. The book became on many universities’ reading lists, and I gave talks all around the world. I dedicated my research after that to working on connecting research with advocacy and activism through op-eds, social campaigns and creating a podcast called “Women of the Middle East.”
Where do you see the future of Women & Gender Studies 10 years from now?
I hope that it would be mainstreamed in the curricular of education as early as K-12 and would thus become a core component of any field of study in higher education. I wish to see that the terminology and the ethos of Women Studies are taken up by everyone in our societies, then we will no longer identify as feminists, for we will all be talking the language of human rights and acting accordingly.
What can more women inclusion – particularly on boards – bring to the table of Academia?
Until this day, certain disciplines in academia are still male dominated and are very female unfriendly. Inclusion comes in different forms and at several interrelated levels. It starts with access and representation of females as both students and teachers. In some part of our region, we still find gendered disciplines that limit both males and females. Who said a female can’t be an engineer or a scientist and a male cannot be a nurse or social worker? In other countries, where all disciplines are opened to both genders, we find the gender glitch in employment. Glass ceiling is real and is not only institutional but also cultural. Our societies don’t accept women in leading positions, and thus there needs to be a mind-set revolution and it only happens through gender quotas. I believe in quotas because it is the only solution to reach gender balance and address the entrenched gender discrimination and biases.
In 2020, you launched a podcast called “Women of the Middle East”. What value does it offer to women in the Arab World that other platforms cannot?
The podcast is an extension of the work I started on Arab Women some 13 years ago. I describe the podcast as one that relates the realities of Arab Women and their rich and diverse experiences. It aims to present the multiplicity of women’s voices, and to break cultural stereotypes about women of the Middle East. It is set to educate and empower the younger generation of Middle Eastern women who were stripped of their historical reference and weren’t necessarily raised to believe in their agency and power to create their own destiny. I wanted to build on the book’s success and expand its frontiers in terms of scope and audience. I have been writing about western stereotypes and misconceptions for so long, and now it is the time to show them what we have. The podcast is set to celebrate women and their multiple realities, through telling their stories and allowing their voices to reach the world.
What’s next for Dr. Amal Malki?
The sky is the limit. I am at a stage in my life where I can focus on my cause. And I believe that it’s a shared cause among other feminists in our region. Today, I feel connected to these women more than ever, and I believe that these connections we are building with each other will make us a trans-region powerhouse. For only in our unity, we will be able to change our reality and build a better one for the next generations of women and men.