Salwa Haddad is one member of a gradually increasing group of people who do not get talked about at great length. Smyrna Khalaf Moughabghab is another.
This group consists of people who are at the unique intersection of three previously incompatible categories: (1) women; (2) in Christian leadership; and (3) in the Arab world.
However, times are changing, and these categories are no longer as incompatible as they were once considered to be.
I recently corresponded with Salwa and Smyrna to ask them what it is like to be an Arab woman in Christian leadership in this part of the world.
Salwa started her career in computer and management. After 16 years, God gave her a passion for the humanitarian sector.
She now works with World Vision International as a people and culture business partner focusing on the areas of organizational development and change management for the West Africa region based in Dakar, Senegal.
Her female counterpart on the board is Smyrna. She has a master’s degree in family and marriage counseling and is a practicing psychologist in this field.
She also leads the family and couples’ ministry at Hadath Baptist Church, where she serves in the area of Sunday school education ministry.
Haddad said she considers it a privilege to serve as a board member at ABTS.
“What I like about the board is that it includes a wide array of different skills – theologians, pastors, professionals … and the female board members add ‘soft skills’ that are essential for the board’s overall well-being,” said Haddad.
Paul Sanders, ABTS international board member, agreed.
“It is not common in the Arab world to see women compose 40 percent of a board of trustees, and yet that is the case for the ABTS local board. Salwa and Smyrna are both highly trained professionals. Not only do they bring a ‘feminine’ perspective to the issues discussed, they bring their own distinctive contribution through their training, intelligence and experience,” said Sanders.
“They are a real blessing to the ABTS board, and I believe that other Middle Eastern boards would do well to avail themselves of capable women as board members – an amazing resource.”
When asked about the role of women in Christian leadership in the Arab world, Smyrna said: “I would like to see more women equipped for leadership, not just in Christian settings but also medical, teaching, really all areas. This way they can impact others through their careers, which will ultimately be part of their ministry.”
She pointed out, however, the importance of Middle Eastern society encouraging women to step out into leadership.
A specific area that Smyrna saw as important is providing women with adequate theological and ministerial training.
“At ABTS, I still see a majority of men, although I know ABTS leadership works to recruit both men and women. What I would like to see is more churches encouraging their women to study theology and putting an emphasis on equipping them for ministry,” said Smyrna.
I asked both women if they had any advice for women aspiring to Christian leadership positions in the Arab world while not denying the fact that females have some hurdles to overcome being in one sense “new on the leadership scene” in the Arab world.
Smyrna valued “encouraging women in leadership to have high standards of integrity, so that they can be great models for the women around them.”
Salwa added that she believes the important thing is to not let any hurdles hold women back from the Lord’s calling.
“I encourage the Christian women in our region to step out of their fears and comfort zones and be courageous to move into leadership roles in relevant ministry areas. By God’s grace they can excel, shine, make a difference and glorify the Lord,” said Salwa.
According to World Development Indicators 2009: “At less than 50 percent, the Middle East North Africa has the lowest employment to population ratio among all regions. The participation rate of women is particularly low. As a consequence, the region shows the largest gender gap in its employment rates.”
The good news is that this is not true for ABTS and its sister ministries.
Moreover, increasingly more and more Arab women are preparing for ministry. Last year, one third of ABTS’ full-time resident students were women.