She was mobbed. This lady of iron will, by ladies fawning fan-like over the Guest of Honour of the evening, Her Royal Highness Dr. Sheikha Hissah Saad Al-Sabah, Princess of Kuwait, in India to address the inaugural session of the Women Economic Forum 2016, held at the Pullman Hotel, New Delhi.
Greeting each other in Arabic, it was a long wait to get this dynamo leader — seen by the Kuwaiti population and the rest of the world as an extremely vocal and fearless path breaker – to sit down for an interview. Earlier, addressing the audience in the presence of Shri Venkaiah Naidu, Union Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development, Government of India, and Digvijay Singh, MP Congress, Rajya Sabha, the Princess of Kuwait had stated that India and Kuwait shared interactions in the field of science, technology, education as well as cultural exchanges. Stressing on the role of women in both countries as still evolving and progressing towards women empowerment, Dr Sheika Hissah Saad Al-Sabah promised `We will work together, share and participate on all aspects in business and culture,’ to cement her commitment towards this common goal.
When we finally sat down, drawing on memories and comparisons between the Kuwait of my youth and now, Her Royal Highness stressed that the advent of education and its mandatory policy to educate the girl child or face prison, changed the way Kuwaiti society looked at women, and therein contributing (and there is much to do), to women empowering themselves and getting into businesses.
“After the invasion — and war always exerts sacrifice and martyrs — Kuwaiti women understood their power and told the men that they had sacrificed and given up enough, including their political rights, for a long time. But no more now. It gave them a voice, they actively sought out education and that translated into the young generation educating themselves. Slowly women began to get into small and medium level businesses. It was time to put off the fire. As education awareness increased, taboos slowly began to change. The younger generation of Kuwait is responsible for shaking up old thinking. Now being a Chef for a girl is no longer a taboo. Earlier it was unthinkable. Kuwait’s young are the country’s game changers. And the future will be driven by them,” shares this firebrand.
For those coming in, Sheikha Hissah is the second daughter of the late HH 14th Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Saad Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah. Upon her graduation from AUB Lebanon, she started her retail company in Fashion to be the first lady in business in Kuwait, From there on a Masters in Hospital Administration and worked at the military hospital as head of Medical Services. In 1992, she started her own gallery to promote Arab artists, and in 1999 established the Council for Arab Businesswomen to promote Arab women in business. She has succeeded as President for the last 15 years to bring Arab women from 19 countries in a full force of economic power, receiving a doctorate in Humane Letters subsequently.
Acknowledging that more women need to get into politics, including her effort to increase their participation and induction in Kuwaiti political systems as Ambassadors, Her Royal Highness confides that she learnt many lessons for her own father. “I was challenged by my father to succeed. Our forefathers were men and leaders of the Arab world. He told me it was my duty to make use of that link,” a task she set out exercising with her own business acumen as the chairwoman of the Arab Businesswomen’s Council, encouraging women’s involvement in high-profile Gulf projects like the Dubai Waterfront. Strongly encouraging the presence of more women in the boardroom as business heads and political decision making processes, Dr Sheika Hissah Saad Al-Sabah shares that her goal is to invite more women across Hungary, Africa and India to Kuwait, including hinting an invitation to host the next Women Economic Forum in her country as an example of diverse economic and business thought processes finding a unified voice.
As a Kuwaiti born, my fervent prayer may every daughter in Kuwait grow to emulate the values of this fierce princess.