Social norms and practices hindering young women from reaching their potential in MENA was highlighted as one of the main impediments to the region’s developmental aspirations, at a panel discussion organised last week on Wednesday October 24 – the inaugural day of the third edition of the Investing in the Future (IIFMENA) conference in Sharjah.
Held under the patronage of Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of Supreme Council, Ruler of Sharjah and Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of the Big Heart Foundation and UNHCR Eminent Advocate for Refugee Children, the biennial IIFMENA event focuses on humanitarian and development challenges in the MENA region.
Based on the theme for this edition, ‘Youth – Crisis Challenges and Development Opportunities’, the session named ‘Social Norms and Practices Hindering Young Women Reaching their Potential’, organised in partnership with NAMA Women Advancement Establishment and UN Women, shed light on the plight of women in the region and around the world as they continue to face discrimination at various levels – social, economic and political – and stressed that young women are even more marginalised in areas affected by war and crisis.
Moderating the session was Senior Advisor for UN Women in the GCC, Ms. Nicolla Hewitt. Joining her on the panel were Dr. AlAnoud Al Sharekh, Researcher on Youth and Gender Demographics; Ms. Tanu Priya Uteng, Senior Researcher, Institute of Transport Economics in Oslo, Norway; and Reem Aslan, Women Labour Rights Activist, Gender, Management and International Development Expert.
Ms. Hewitt opened the session by discussing empowerment and the need for women to have the same opportunities as men. “Since the late 1980s we have been talking about women’s empowerment, and despite technological advancements, we are still having to discuss equal rights for women. This has to change,” she said.
Hewitt then outlined the ‘Seven pillars of women’s empowerment’, which espouse the following: To establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality; to treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and non-discrimination; to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all male and female workers; to promote education, training and professional development for women; to implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women; to promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy; and, measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender.
The above would prove essential for gender equality, added Hewitt.
The introduction of flexible working arrangements, shared jobs and compressed weeks, and also aiding women’s reintroduction into employment, following time off due to childbirth were highlighted as being essential in a country’s infrastructure that can be called fair and equal.
Dr. Al Sharekh presented the Kuwaiti experience, saying her aim is to run a longer conversation on violence against women in the country and give them better representation in society, governance and economy.
“When it comes to Kuwaiti women, more women in governmental positions are needed. We need more women in politics. We need more women in decision-making positions. We need to challenge the notion that a woman’s place is in the home,” she said.
“What kinds of mobility needs do women have? What are the limitations they face with time constraints? This all needs to be taken into consideration if we are to see women fully-integrated into society, with the same opportunities being made to both women and men,” Ms. Uteng remarked.
The session concluded with Ms. Hewitt quoting Nobel Prize laureate and advocate Malala Yousafzai: “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
Mastercard unites female executives to lead the way in the drive for equality
As part of its ongoing drive to promote female empowerment and equal opportunities for all, Mastercard welcomed senior female executives to Dubai for its ‘Together We Lead’ event. The initiative was organized by the Women Leadership Network, a global Mastercard community that unlocks enhanced career opportunities for women, encourages entrepreneurship, inspires success and empowers female leaders.
More than 50 senior female executives gathered at Mastercard’s regional headquarters, where they explored the impact of artificial intelligence on equality, female empowerment in the technology industry, and ways in which women can leverage their collective strength to realize their ambitions and build the foundations for an equal world. Attendees discussed plans to drive the inclusion agenda and tangible ways to enable greater opportunity and empowerment for women across the region.
According to a report from the McKinsey Global Institute, global GDP could be boosted by as much as $12 trillion by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. Female empowerment remains a key pillar of Mastercard’s global strategy, with women accounting for 50% of its new hires in the Middle East and Africa region in 2017.