I am extremely excited to start this new journey with you, my future reader and hopefully, my fierce supporter! I have always been a passionate advocate of women empowerment probably since I was born, when my paternal grandfather wanted me to be a boy so that I could maintain his name and the name of the family! Luckily, I was born a girl, in what was to become a family of girls, growing up in the chaotic Middle East that we all know.
I have been fortunate to have a very interesting career so far – read more about me in the “Founder” section – and feel it is time for me to give back to the community around me, and especially to my fellow citizens of our wounded yet so resilient Middle East. I want to dedicate my next decade – and hopefully longer than that – to women and to their empowerment in a region that is full of stereotypes. Needless to say, women are actually fantastic, full of talent, and, in some cases, an untapped asset! I want to advocate the need to have more women at all the echelons of the corporate world in our region as it would definitely lead to better decision making. The topic of women in business is closely linked to issues of women in society; we will cover some of those issues as well, although my area of expertise lies with women in the scope of a work environment.
Furthermore, I am fully endorsing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and their mission of transforming our world by 2030. Indeed less than a year ago, in September 2015 seventeen global Sustainable Development Goals (see picture below) were adopted by Heads of State and Government and High Representatives, meeting at the United Nations Headquarters in New York as the Organization celebrated its seventieth anniversary.
World leaders adopted a historic decision on a comprehensive, far-reaching and people-centered set of universal and transformative Goals and targets and committed themselves to working tirelessly for the full implementation of this Agenda by 2030.
The Sustainable Development Goal where I will personally contribute is SDG # 5 that advocates to “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” by 2030.
Why advancing gender equality in the world of work in the Middle East is important to me as it should be to you, it is because:
- Women are an engine for economic growth greatly needed in the region. Female labor force participation in the MENA region remains lower than anywhere else in the world, and stands at just 20%
- The unemployment rate among working-age women in the MENA, now stands at over 40% in some countries
- Women represent the majority of graduates in the Middle East, yet from the bench to the board, women’s representation drops dramatically. Today, 67 % of university graduates in Kuwait are women, for example, along with 63 % in Qatar and 57 % in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yet only 4 % of all firms in the MENA region are majority-owned by women and only 5 % of firms are led by women. This is significantly far below the averages in OECD countries of 10 and 15 % respectively.
- Similar to their Western counterparts, women in the Middle East have made great strides in the workplace, but inequality persists. Indeed, there’s still a gender gap that needs to be rectified. According to the Bayt.com Status of Working Women in the Middle East survey, 43% of working women in the Middle East region believe they are paid less than their male counterparts.
- Correlation between performance and gender diversity has been established. For example, a recent study on the impact of gender diversity on companies in Jordan found that women brought a valuable perspective to the upper echelons of corporate management. Local firms with female directors were three times more profitable (in terms of return on assets) than those run exclusively by men. The more women companies had on their boards, the better they tended to do. Despite these compelling statistics, women hold just 4 % of all board seats in the country
- According to recent estimates, if women’s participation in labor markets in the MENA region equaled that of men’s, the regional GDP could rise by 47% over the next decade, and the region could realize $600 billion in economic impact annually ($2.7 trillion by 2025) as mentioned in the McKinsey Global Institute’s Power of Parity report published in September 2015.
From the above facts and findings, Stand for Women emerges as an initiative where men and women should work together to achieve gender parity in the Middle East. This can be accomplished by:
- Supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal #5, (Gender Equality) part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;
- Raising awareness and being active on our website as well as on social media and by blogging;
- Rallying allies and influencers via interviews thus providing in depth insight on the matter; and
- Lobbying corporations to share gender data and to work on improving their gender balance.
Our geographical focus will be to advocate for change in most countries in the GCC, the Levant and North Africa. We truly believe that we cannot achieve peace and prosperity in the MENA region if we leave half of the population aside.
Mouayed Makhlouf, Director of Middle East and North Africa at IFC, recently wrote: “MENA countries have been fighting many fires in recent times. But the economic integration of women – getting that “other 50 per cent” into the workforce – is as important as the other pressing challenges of the region, not just because women’s economic development is the right thing to do, but because there’s no doubt it will be instrumental in contributing to the economic recovery and growth of the region”.
If you are a woman and/or a man, interested in gender parity, passionate about the Middle East and its gender complexity, willing to contribute to a more sustainable region, then you are our reader! This is as much a social matter as it is an economical one! So together, let’s change the numbers, challenge the “norms”, and create a more balanced world!
Sources: (http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2016/05/11/middle-east-needs-to-close-gender-gap-to-spur-growth/), (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/275417 ) (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/243468 )