Meet Dr. Alma Abdul Hadi Jadallah a conflict resolution practitioner and scholar, she is a skilled facilitator and is a Virginia Court Certified mediator. She is also the recipient of several business awards. Dr. Alma also worked with United Nations Security Council and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women. Currently Dr. Alma is the President and Managing Director of Kommon Denominator, Inc. www.kommondenominator.com where she focuses on education, research, training and development, peace building, women’s empowerment, gender mainstreaming and diversity strategy. Dr. Alma earned her Ph.D. from the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.
Arab Woman Mag had the honor to interview Dr. Alma and learn from her expertise,
If you can take us to the beginning growing up what did you aspire to be? What drove you towards your career in conflict resolutions and women empowerment?
I grew up in different places with outstanding women role models all around me and had aspired to be a leader in my own right. As a child I loved singing, I would have loved to be an opera singer or musician.
My mother inspired me, she is my first inspiration, and she studied for her undergraduate degree and master’s degree in the 1960’s with two children to raise and family responsibilities. She used to sit me down and tell me stories about the number of degrees women in the Abdul Hadi family held and we would count them one by one. I also had excellent role models around me. More importantly, my father had high hopes for me. He always emphasized that I should sharpen my mind and aspire to get a doctorate. He was a very strong supporter of women’s education and women’s empowerment. At some point, he even encouraged my Mom and I to go together to study abroad. Though it did not materialize, it was an important gesture that I will always remember.
As to my interest in the field of conflict analysis and resolution, I literary stumbled into it. I moved to the States after being a stay home mom for over 10 years. I was determined to complete a graduate degree and took one course at George Mason University and loved it. It allowed for a new way of thinking believing in the principle that there are new and innovative ways to understand and address conflict, and one that can make a difference in our lives and the lives of all people around the world. The ultimate goal of this field of study is to initiate change on the individual, group, and societal level, bring social justice and peaceful resolution to day-to-day issues and problems.
What are some of the challenges as a woman working for women empowerment?
Most of the challenges that I face are related to attitudes towards Arab women in general and women’s leadership in more specific terms.
I have had to respond to so many stereotypes about my ability to do my work as it relates to my heritage. People associate Arab women with oppression and on occasions I have been confronted with derogatory remarks such as whether I have permission to study and whether I was oppressed as a child to mention a few. One time in a professional setting I was even asked if I had a bomb in my suitcase. The corporate glass ceiling is very much alive in corporate America and as minority candidate even more so.
Having said so, I had also great supporters and individuals who believed in my capabilities and me as an immigrant of Arab descent in the US. They were strong allies of women and supported social movements that work on the empowerment of minority groups. I am indebted to them for all of their support and believing that any woman can achieve her goals.
Can you tell our readers about Kommon Denominator and how it all started?
It is truly a result of the desire to share the knowledge and expertise in conflict analysis and resolution and peace building strategies with as broad a base as possible. I owe the set up to two colleagues of mine, Cynthia Irmer and Bruce Engelbert, together we sat down to think about the values that drive the organization and the kind of work we are willing to do to promote our services which are all related to providing technical expertise in the area of women’s leadership development and empowerment, conflict prevention and mitigation, capacity building, training and education, organizational and leadership development, political and public participation process design, monitoring and evaluation and research to mention a few. Our organization has also conducted work all over the world to a variety of clients and is proud of its cultural programming approaches that are sensitive to the local context.
What is your support system? What keeps you going?
I have a broad network of colleagues and former students who I rely on for support and sharing of expertise. My motivation comes from the principle that you should always sustain hope and believe in the capacity of people to do good. I am even more motivated when my work results in educating the public about a problem, raising awareness about issues of peace and justice.
I should also add that I very much enjoy meeting and learning about people from different parts of the world. The diversity of ideas, beliefs and approaches to problem solving intrigue me and allow me to refine my practice in ways that I have never thought of before. I love the diversity of projects that I work on that very from the simple act of serving as a mediator, to designing a political process design for an international conflict, to conducting research and writing a country conflict assessment study of a country in crisis, and advising leaders across the spectrum on how best to resolve issues.
Unfortunately many Arab women are in a state of slumber, in your opinion what are things we can do to help them awaken and take charge of their lives?
I have always believed in the power of Arab women and their potential to raise the Arab world from the current state of conflict, divisions and absent social cohesion. In many parts of the Arab world, Arab women are still challenged with illiteracy especially in rural areas, lack of access to centers of power, a mostly male dominated patriarchal systems that promote the subjugation of women, religious extremism that insists on interpretations of religious text to the favor of men.
I would personally start with education to empower women. An educated woman can have access to information that can help her make informed decision on issues related to her life and the lives of those around her. Women need to know and understand how to leverage their agency and understand the power within to initiate change. When Arab women understand fully the impediments and their role in changing cultural norms that have an adverse impact on their lives, it is then that they can start making a difference.
What are some obstacles that stand in the way of women empowerment in the Arab world?
Institutional bias towards women, illiteracy including financial illiteracy, lack of access to resources, traditions that resist change and hold back the advancement of women, absence of attention to rural areas, patriarchy, financial illiteracy.
Do you think there are enough efforts taking place to help empower women in the Arab world?
I do not know how broad or serious these efforts are, but I know that women’s empowerment has to include a multi fold strategy starting with the individual, the family, the community, and the state. It is important that these efforts include men as full partners in initiating the change that is desired. It is the collective effort of women and men that can help initiate sustainable efforts that promote women. National country strategies that are culturally sensitive and are driven by national interests and complemented by learning from experiences from other countries can make a difference.
What advice do you give girls and women to better their lives?
I would encourage girls to work hard to complete their education and aspire to fulfill their dreams. Having a family should not be an impediment to growth and learning. I went through this myself and leveraged my family support system to help me dedicate my time to my education and raising of my children. In the 21st century, an educated mother is of great value to her society, and family. Economic independence is no longer a luxury.
I would advise them to become allies of other successful women, provide each other with the support necessary, ensure that they are represented in all walks of life and gain financial literacy.
I encourage them to leverage the best aspects of our Arab culture leverage and build on, strong family values that are often shaped by long traditions of respect for our parents and extended family. Volunteer in your community, share your knowledge, do not be afraid to dream about big and lofty goals, find a mentor and mentor others where possible. Finally be proud of your heritage there is much to be proud of and build on for a better future.
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