Muna AbuSulayman, Saudi social activist and the Kingdom’s first UN Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador, pens a moving message on female empowerment.
“I’ve learned that love is truly the most powerful motivator in the world… There is no better fate than love.” With these words, Saudi businesswoman and activist Muna AbuSulayman completes her three-page letter to Margaret Garner, an enslaved African American woman who, in 1856, upon being apprehended by slave catchers after escaping, killed her two-year-old daughter rather than have her returned to enslavement. The letter forms part of a new anthology by Elizabeth Filippouli, called From Women to the World: Letters for a New Century. “I first encountered Garner thanks to Toni Morrison’s powerful novel Beloved,” AbuSulayman says. “As a young mother, the deep shock of that moment when I realized the full horror of slavery, where killing your own daughter is the only act of liberation you can think of, is one of those moments where who I am and what I fight for – poverty, empowerment, justice – came together.”
AbuSulayman is something of a Saudi superwoman. She founded and for 16 years co-hosted the popular MBC TV show Kalam Nawaem, focusing on cultural, social, and gender issues – the blog HuffPost called her “Saudi Arabia’s Oprah.” She has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and was the first Saudi woman to be appointed by the UN Development Programme as a Goodwill Ambassador. In 2005, she became the founding secretary-general of the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s organization now known as Alwaleed Philanthropies. Under her leadership, the foundation established interfaith and conflict resolution centers at Harvard, Georgetown, Edinburgh, and Cambridge universities. She works relentlessly to bolster female empowerment and employment in Saudi Arabia, and in 2020, she joined Gucci’s Global Equity Board.
Despite being a television show host, AbuSulayman is a private person. “The letter format meant that in order for our messages to be powerful and to connect to others, we had to be vulnerable and weave in our own most personal narrative,” she explains. “But I rarely reveal my personal life, and not to this extent. I felt I owed it to other women to see under the hood and understand the price one pays for the life we chose.”
“With all her accomplishments, including being a champion of free speech, revolutionizing social entrepreneurship, and being a doting mother to two daughters, Muna’s letter is a powerful addition to the collection,” says Filippouli.
“An important motivator to continue my work are my two daughters and the world they will inherit,” writes AbuSulayman to the woman who killed her own daughter out of love. “Not only to help open more doors to them professionally, or to increase their knowledge, but also to help create a world that looks after their emotional wellbeing, as well as their productivity.”
From Women to the World: Letters for a New Century (I.B. Tauris) will be available from July 1.
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Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia