BEIRUT—A passionate advocate of teaching political science in higher education, Fadia Kiwan discovered her lifetime vocation due to circumstances that affected the course of her professional career in Lebanon, a volatile country marred by years of civil war and unrest.
Holder of a Ph.D. in political science from the Sorbonne in Paris and a degree in philosophy and psychology from the Lebanese University, Kiwan has dedicated more than four decades of her life to teaching, research and educational advancement.
She currently serves as director general of the Arab Women Organization, an international nongovernmental organization with headquarters in Cairo. Kiwan says the diplomatic position, which she has held for almost two years, has made her aware of how much she misses teaching and the university world.
“I discovered that I was mainly born to be a professor,” Kiwan said. “I feel much more comfortable in teaching and research, even though I initially wanted to join the diplomatic corps in Lebanon.”
“I studied political science in the first place to have a career as a diplomat,” she said, “but the war decided for me. I moved to France to continue my studies, although I had never intended to go for a Ph.D. in political science.”
Circumstances also thrust her into the field of education when she started teaching at the high school level while writing her dissertation. “Once my doctorate was in hand, I shifted to university teaching,” Kiwan said.
Founder of a Political Science Institute
While a professor at St. Joseph University of Beirut, Kiwan founded the university’s Institute of Political Science in 2002 and served as its director until 2014. She also set up a research center that operated as an observatory of good governance in the public sector, and helped put in place the university’s first school for Ph.D. candidates in political science, which was later incorporated into the Institute of Political Science.
She served as an advisor to Lebanon’s minister of education and minister of culture and higher education in the 1990s, and was frequently commissioned as a consultant by the United Nations and the Arab League.
From 2007 to 2013, she served as a member of the Council of the United Nations University, and she was a member of the Senior Expert Committee commissioned by Unesco to produce its 2015 report on education in the 21st century, “Rethinking Education: Towards a Global Common Good?”
“It was then that I jumped in the pool of women’s affairs. When the Arab Women Organization was launched in 2003, I was nominated to represent Lebanon in the preparation and set-up of the organization.”Fadia Kiwan
Director general of the Arab Women Organization
She also acted as Lebanon’s representative to the Permanent Council of La Francophonie, the group of nations where French is an official or culturally significant language, from 2013 to 2017, and she has published many research papers in the fields of civil society, good governance in the public sector, women’s issues, and political systems in a comparative perspective.
Getting Involved in Women’s Issues
Kiwan’s involvement in Arab women’s issues was also spurred by chance when she was asked to prepare Lebanon’s report for the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995.
“It was then that I jumped in the pool of women’s affairs,” she said. “When the Arab Women Organization was launched in 2003, I was nominated to represent Lebanon in the preparation and set-up of the organization.”
Recalling her tenure at the Council of the United Nations University, Kiwan said she had “the chance of interacting and cooperating” with top international experts and thinkers in the field of education.
“We were then seeking to implement postgraduate studies that fit the fields of work at the U.N. I still have ideas to put on the table but have no time to do so. I wish I had 48 hours a day just to achieve part of my ideas.”
For Kiwan, the highlight of her career is indisputably the founding of the political science school at St. Joseph University.
“It was my baby and a fundamental project, because if we want to shift from doing politics like the feudal practices of the 19th century to scientific and evidence-based approach in public policies, we should improve such schools and encourage young generations interested in the public sector to enroll. Unfortunately, this field is not given enough consideration in our (Arab) world because people are often parachuted into politics.”
A Role Model for Other Women
As a teacher, Fadia Kiwan is credited with influencing the professional future of many of her students.
“She had a human interest in people and was concerned by students’ problems. She was more of a pedagogue than a teacher.”Rweida Hamadi
A teacher of philosophy
“She taught me philosophy in high school,” said Rweida Hamadi. “She made the subject so interesting to the point that I later majored in philosophy and became a teacher of philosophy for 17 years. She encouraged students to raise questions and have critical thinking instead of just dumping information on us.”
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After being her student, Hamadi became a friend of Kiwan’s and later a colleague working on research projects. “She was very close to students because there was not such a big age difference,” Hamadi said. “She had a human interest in people and was concerned by students’ problems. She was more of a pedagogue than a teacher.”
In her current position with the Arab Women Organization, Kiwan is hoping to set in motion several key programs on enhancing Arab women’s empowerment and adjusting cultural mind-sets in that regard before her three-year-term ends in 2022.
“I also have a dream which I cherish very much and which I hope to be able to implement before I leave, and that is to establish the Arab women academy for empowerment,” Kiwan said.
To read more about issues of women’s empowerment in the Arab region, see the following sampling of articles from Al-Fanar Media’s archives:
- “Libyan Women Push for a Bigger Role in Rebuilding Their Country”
- “Survey Finds Modest Gains in Support for Arab Women’s Rights”
- “A Syrian Women’s Organization Illuminates Possibilities for Private Efforts”
- “Arab Women Are Left Out of University Leadership”
- “Behind the Numbers: Arab Women in Research”
- “Women Make Gains as Judges in Tunisia”
- “After University, Arab Women Struggle to Find Work”