The reputation of the Middle East and the Arab world in terms of women empowerment has suffered for various reasons tied mostly to culture and heritage practices in and around countries of the region.
This has lead to economic losses in the billions of dollars that could have contributed to some of these countries’ growth and development.
However, in recent years, the GCC countries have caught up to the fact that women empowerment is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed to bring about the changes needed towards sound economic development.
Working in this direction, Mediaquest Corp organized the first edition of Arab Women Forum at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Jeddah on Tuesday.
This forum is part of the two-day Top CEO Conference & Awards (April 10 and 11, 2018).
“There has been a paradigm shift in the society and signs of changes are there. Issue of gender parity is not only an important one but also a fundamental one. Therefore it is imperative for us to focus more on the important role of women leaders who are active in this region,” said Julien Hawari, Co-CEO, Mediaquest Corp, the publisher of TRENDS magazine, in his opening remarks.
The Arab Women Forum will be conducting many thought-provoking sessions including ‘The Economic Revolution’, ‘Entrepreneurs’, ‘Boardrooms’, ‘Arab Women’s Image’ and ‘Political Representation’.
“There is a huge economic opportunity available if a larger number of women are added to mainstream society and boardrooms. Best practices are emerging globally and good results are before everyone to witness,” said Nicolai Nielson, Junior Partner, McKinsey Dubai office, while speaking on the issue of ‘Reinventing the workplace and the power of parity’.
It is a known fact now that apart from social and cultural benefits, the inclusion of women in the workforce can dramatically boost GDPs. Having more women employed will result in a reduction in the rates of unemployment and will enable the much needed parabolic shift in the region’s economy. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that women employment, in the workforce and in form of entrepreneurship, is the answer to most all economic woes of Arab nations.
Ghada Elkeissi, Director, Software Engineering & Analytics, GE Digital, Middle East & Africa, told TRENDS, “The majority of businesses are carefully examining their diversity strategies, and are working on defining areas of improvement with women empowerment as a core focus. Also we see lots of efforts around hosting women networking events, and conferences covering topics related to empowering women in various domains and industries.”
Ghada is one of the panelists during the ‘Entrepreneurship’ session of the Arab Women Forum.
Losing economic potential
Studies have shown that the MENA region loses more economic potential due to low female economic participation than any other region of the world, which is a loss of around 40 percent of income per capita. Women constitute around 45 percent of the total population in the GCC and are better educated than men and yet they represent only 25 percent of the labor force.
Also, there is a direct relation between GDPs and economic empowerment of women. Facts from a World Bank report stated that raising female employment rates to male levels in the UAE by 2020 can increase the national GDP by 19 percent.
From the formation of Gender Balance Council by UAE to the royal decree of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia – the region is taking necessary steps towards making women and hence the nations economically strong. But are these steps really enough? The region needs to question the pace of these efforts as the World Economic Forum predicted that it will take 129 years for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to close the gender gap.
During the day-long Arab Women Forum, some of the best minds in the region will brainstorm to find answers to many burning questions such as “Are we moving fast enough to reach a stage where women and men can equally contribute to the economic growth?” “Why are unemployment rates among GCC female nationals, especially first time job-seekers, high?” “What can be done about the under-representation of women in the workforce and how can retention percentages be increased? Can the Fourth Industrial Revolution help in bridging the gender gap in any way?