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"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

Egypt’s first lady Suzanne Mubarak describes her fight for Arab women’s rights

Mar 9 2009 by Amy Willis, Western Mail

EGYPT’S first lady Suzanne Mubarak – seen as one of the most influential women in the Middle East – has spoken out against human trafficking, sex slavery and female genital mutilation.

Her stark message, given ahead of yesterday’s International Women’s Day to an international conference in Bahrain, received a standing ovation from the room full of male politicians, businessmen and judges.

She said: “It’s all about changing mindsets. We have to break barriers. We have to work across so many different levels of taboos. And we are, you know. Subtly and quietly, we are changing a lot.”

Her comments underline the half-Welsh first lady’s pioneering work for women’s rights. The daughter of a nurse from Pontypridd and an Egyptian doctor who studied at Cardiff University, Mrs Mubarak has been instrumental in improving the condition of women in the Arab world for many years.

Seven years ago she set up the Arab Women Organisation. Since then, 15 out of 22 first ladies of Arabic countries have joined, making the group a major force for change.

Mrs Mubarak was born to Lily May Palmer in February 1941. Her grandfather Charles Henry Palmer was a local colliery manager.

The 68-year-old wife of long-serving President Hosni Mubarak says her Welsh roots have always been an asset in her diplomatic efforts.

She told the Observer: “I still have cousins [in Britain]. I am comfortable in both cultures, in both languages, in both worlds, and that helps. And that’s what I would like for the Arab world, for children from a very early age to start appreciating other cultures.

“Yes, there is a movement of Islamic conservatism and it is on the rise. But women have earned rights and it is now up to them to defend them.”

Mrs Mubarak’s Egyptian father Saleh Mustafa Sabet was a medical student. After her parents married in London in 1934, both aged 29, they moved to Upper Egypt, where Mrs Mubarak was born.

She was educated at Western school St Claire’s, Heliopolis, in Cairo. She later went to the American University in Cairo to study for a BA and Masters degree in Political Science.

Hannah Austin, policy officer of the Wales Women’s National Coalition, said: “It is important women like Suzanne Mubarak raise awareness of issues like this.

“In Wales, female genital mutilation and rape within Arabic communities is also a problem. It is really difficult to help these women as they are very closed in speaking about these things.

“We need people within the Arabic culture to be speaking out and helping towards creating equality between men and women.”

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