New regional pact places women’s rights, diplomacy at the fore
The Sarah and Hajar Accords signed last week in Tel Aviv is feminist answer to Abraham Accords
When French human rights artist and academic Guila Clara Kessous watched the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates on the White House lawn in September 2020, she noticed there was something conspicuously missing: women.
Last week, Kessous, together with prominent women from each of the Abraham Accords countries, as well as from Morocco, which also normalized ties with Israel in 2020, launched the Sarah and Hajar Accords, an initiative named for the biblical wives of Abraham that aims to spark deeper dialogue between the countries on women’s issues.
“I’ve been working on this since the Abraham Accords was first signed,” Kessous, who is a UNESCO Artist for Peace, told Jewish Insider in an interview. “This was very important for me for two main reasons: first, to show that women’s rights have to be addressed as a separate issue and not just as one of many issues.”
“The second,” she continued, “is because feminist diplomacy, or rather that women chosen by their governments to represent them in the Sarah and Hajar Accords, can become a role model to inspire young women to become diplomats and to join the negotiation table.”
“I also believe that having a women’s consortium will give us a place to think about different women-related issues, including beyond women’s rights,” Kessous added.
“The goal is not to do something separate from the men, but to have men and women working side by side for these issues,” she emphasized.
Kessous, a longtime advocate for human rights — with an emphasis on women’s rights — told JI that she reached out to more than 30 prominent women in the region and in Europe, including Nobel Peace Prize winners and royalty in order to convince the governments of the four countries to embrace a spinoff pact that would highlight women’s rights and elevate women in the diplomatic process.
“During my life, I had the opportunity to meet with many people who really encouraged me to make a difference in the world, especially in terms of women’s rights,” she explained. “I’ve been working on this for the past three years because it was my dream to have a feminist equivalent of the Abraham Accords.”
Kessous, who traveled to Tel Aviv for the signing of the agreement, said she did not want to use her standing with UNESCO to establish the complementary pact, preferring to send the message that her goal “was pure, genuine willingness” and “a personal aspiration by someone who really believes that by communicating, by allowing each other to be interconnected, we will go further,” she said.
While the new accord is just a framework at this stage, Kessous has recruited prominent officials and leaders from each of the Abraham Accords countries. In Bahrain, Nancy Khedouri, the first female member of the country’s Shura Council and deputy chairperson of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and National Security Committee, has joined the initiative.
Maria Belafia, an elected official in the Rabat region and president of the Economic Commission in that region, will represent Morocco. From the UAE is Afra Mahesh Al Hameli, the director of the Strategic Communications Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
In Israel, former Knesset Member Ruth Wasserman Lande, who co-founded the first Knesset Caucus for the promotion of the Abraham Accords, will work with Kessous.
“We are still in a very preliminary stage, but I thought it was a beautiful initiative,” Wasserman Lande, who was a member of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party in the Knesset, told JI.
“It is meant to be complementary and not at all in competition with or an attempt to replace the Abraham Accords,” she said. “On the contrary, it just allows a platform for women to be representing their countries and their interests, also on issues that are completely irrelevant of gender, like poverty or climate change.”
“Women have a very interesting angle, they have different ideas and experiences but they are very often they’re less involved in these types of things,” Wasserman Lande, who hopes to draw backing for the initiative from Israel’s first lady, Michal Herzog, explained.
“When Guila raised the possibility of strong, well-connected, experienced women being the people behind this framework, giving them the opportunity to brainstorm and think of initiatives, whether in terms of consulting or on the more practical, or business-related side, I thought it would give an added value,” Wasserman Lande said. “It’s different, it’s fresh, it’s enlightening and it’s eye-opening, and I connected to it very, very much.”