“Daunting? Yes. Impossible? No. In fact, such challenges energize me.” – Queen Rania
At 5’9” and coupled with a slender figure, Queen Rania of Jordan at first glance may appear more like a Victoria’s Secret model than one of Forbes Magazine’s 100 most powerful women. But Queen Rania is so much more than a pretty face. Queen Rania, the youngest queen in the world, has done more for women’s and children’s rights than anyone else in the Middle East. In a male dominated society, where women rarely speak out and in most cases don’t have equal rights, Queen Rania is breaking all cultural stereotypes and boundaries. She is connected to over thirteen philanthropic organizations and has received several honorary degrees from several prestigious universities located all over the world. She is an awe-inspiring role model for all women and children across the world, and it appears she will not stop at nothing until her goals of women’s and children’s rights are accomplished.
Queen Rania Al-Abdullah (formerly Rania Al-Yasin) was born in Kuwait on August 31, 1970 to a prominent Jordanian family of Palestinian origin. She attended elementary school and high school in Kuwait, and then went on to the American University in Cairo, Egypt to earn a degree in Business. After graduation, she briefly worked at Citibank and Apple Computer, both in Jordan. She married her husband, now King Abdullah II, in 1993. It wasn’t until 1999, that her and her husband received the throne and she was able to continue her passions of improving human rights.
In 1995, then Princess Rania, established the Jordan River Foundation. They are a non-profit organization that wants to improve the quality of life for women and children in Jordan. Their official mission statement is “The foundation's mission is to promote, in partnership with stakeholders, the development of a dynamic Jordanian society by initiating and supporting sustainable social, economic and cultural programs that empower communities and individuals based on their needs and priorities.” Three years after the Jordan River Foundation was founded, Queen Rania added the Child Safety Program, which focuses on preventing child abuse. In 2000, Queen Rania chaired the National Team for Family Safety, which helps women from domestic violence and such practices as ‘honor killing’, and Islamic tradition of killing women who cheat on their husbands.
Also, in 2000, Queen Rania started the National Team for Early Childhood development, which focuses in on education of children typically of pre-school age. In September of 2001, Queen Rania also headed up the National Council for Family Affairs, a private institution aiming towards “recognition of the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society and the best environment to prepare generations for productive lives and responsible citizenship” (NCFA Official Website). The council also collects data on Jordanian families that are sent to various government organizations to help policy reform. These foundations and programs listed are only a small sampling of the amount of philanthropic work she has accomplished.
In addition to her charitable efforts, Queen Rania has also focused on the improvement of technology in Jordan. Their vision, as stated on their official website is “An economic engine by which Jordan’s intellectual wealth can be uplifted to unprecedented levels and a regional cornerstone for technology commercialization and entrepreneurship development.”. Queen Rania is a huge fan of technology and the advancement of it in Jordanian society. She also sees it as a great forum to connect with people all over the world. In March of 2008, she created her own official YouTube site, with videos she has created addressing such issues as women’s rights, honor killings, and terrorism. She also has her own Twitter account, with over 2000 followers and updates several times a day. On her ‘about me’ section in Twitter, she describes herself as “a mum and a wife with a really cool day job”. Her humility is more than impressive.
It is this very humbleness and hard work that has helped her receive world wide recognition. There is a long list of foundations in her name, and inspired by her work. In 2001, the Italian Government sponsored Lifetime Achievement Award was given to her for her efforts with the International Osteoporosis Foundation. In the same year, she was awarded with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. She recently received an honorary degree in International Relations from the University of Malaysia. In 2008, she received the YouTube Visionary Award in recognition of her YouTube video channel. She was also awarded the 2008 North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, which is an award for human rights. And in addition to numerous awards, she was awarded the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award, again for her women’s and children’s rights work.
However, not everybody is a fan of Her Majesty. Although Queen Rania does countless philanthropic work for her own country and the world, some critics feel it is not enough. Even though she pushes for children and women’s rights, Jordan still has the highest number of honor killings in the Middle East. Their unemployment rate (in 2008) was still at about twenty-five percent. In 2001, she also received criticism for leaving the country when Israel was increasing it’s military strength in Gaza and The West Bank. In May of 2001, her hometown was bombed in retaliation of a suicide bomber in Israel. As CNN Reporter, Paul Willis explains “She may talk passionately about freedom of speech and equal rights. Yet Jordan's own human rights record under the stewardship of her husband King Abdullah II has hardly been exemplary, and has included accusations of terrorist suspects being tortured, harsh laws to clamp down on public dissent and the arrest without trial of critics of the government.”. None of this criticism towards her or her country has managed to slow her down.
When recently asked in a Time Magazine interview on whether or not Muslim women will ever have equal rights, she responds hopeful with “Absolutely, I believe they will. I think that mind-sets are changing in the Middle East. Poll after poll is showing that men see the value of greater female participation and empowerment. We still have a long way to go, but Islam should not be used as a scapegoat. The obstacles that face women today are more cultural. It's not about the religion.” It is this positive attitude that has kept such a strong force going for Queen Rania and it is completely obvious that she believes that there is no limit to what can be accomplished. She is a beacon of hope for not only the Arab world, but the entire world.