How Empowering Women Can Boost Competitiveness in the Middle East – The European Sting – Critical News & Insights on European Politics, Economy, Foreign Affairs, Business & Technology

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This article is brought to you through The European Sting’s collaboration with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Maroun Kairouz, Middle East and North Africa Manager, World Economic Forum, Kelsey Goodman, Community Manager, MENA Regional and Geopolitical Affairs, World Economic Forum LLC


  • Progress is needed to ensure economic equality for women in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • According to the World Economic Forum, the gender gap in the region will take 115 years to close.
  • Increasing the representation of women in leadership positions can improve global competitiveness.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report, it will take 115 years to close the gender gap in the Middle East and North Africa.

The region is doing well in providing equal health outcomes and continues to improve by closing the gap in educational attainment. However, considerable progress is still needed to ensure equal economic opportunities and the empowerment of governments. Indeed, the average participation rate of women in the labor force is 31% and in six countries, women’s wages are on average less than a quarter of those of men. Across the region, there are not enough women represented on boards, parliaments and cabinets to actively participate in decision-making.

That said, policymakers have paid greater attention to these disparities, as illustrated by the multitude of initiatives that have sprung up to address the problem. For example, the United Arab Emirates has achieved the highest level of gender parity in the Arab world. She established parity of representation in her parliament, the Federal National Council, nine women sit on her cabinet and she demanded that all listed companies appoint at least one woman to their board of directors. The elevation of Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Public Education and Future Technologies, to become Chair of the UAE Space Agenda and Lead Scientist of the team (80% of which are women) in Mars mission support provided a powerful leadership model for girls in the UAE and beyond.

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In addition, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have outlawed wage discrimination in recent years. In Saudi Arabia, the driving ban on women was lifted by royal decree and women now have more control over their personal affairs. Thanks to these efforts, Saudi Arabia was listed among the 10 most improved countries since 2006 globally and the World Bank ranked the country among the “top reformers in women’s rights at work”.

Morocco and Kuwait joined Saudi Arabia as one of the most improved countries in the region. Both countries can attribute their rise in the rankings to progress in participation and economic performance. Last year, Morocco’s parliament passed a reform to set mandatory quotas for women on the boards of listed companies – a law based on international experience that quota-based approaches are effective in increasing women’s participation in corporate governance, management and long-term labor force participation. term.

The positive dynamic in Morocco could be accentuated. The results of the 2021 elections in the country resulted in new records for women’s leadership in the country: seven women hold key positions in the cabinet, including Nadia Fettah Alaoui as Minister of Economy and Finance , Leila Benali as Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development. , and Fatima Ezzahra El Mansouri, Minister of National Territory Planning, Urban Planning, Housing and City Policy.

Create equal economic opportunities

Despite these positive developments, women have borne the brunt of the socio-economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. Women were more likely to face pay cuts and layoffs, manage additional household burdens related to caring for children or elderly family members, and work in the informal economy without social safety nets. As an ILO report notes, in the Arab states of the MENA region, employment for women fell by 4.1%, compared to 1.8% for men (while in Israel, twice as more women have lost their jobs than men).

With the worsening crises of the ongoing pandemic, the potential for a global recession and the worsening climate emergency, leaders in the region cannot afford to let the potential of half their country’s citizens go to waste. .

Without the full participation of women in economic activity, states in the MENA region will find it very difficult to stimulate their economies to achieve optimal competitiveness. The high levels of women’s education in the MENA region compared to the low levels of women’s economic and political participation demonstrate a costly mismatch in which countries lose all the capabilities of a wide range of educated and skilled workers and leaders.

And although much has already been done, much more needs to be done at a faster pace: providing additional social protection and childcare options, rethinking parental leave, adapting social safety nets, strengthening increase laws against sexual harassment in the workplace and ensure that the consequences of technological change are taken into account.

Equally crucial, the region cannot hope to systematically improve the condition of its women, while many of its countries, from Syria to Yemen, are plagued by war and instability.

Scaling up on the necessary scale will require a concerted mobilization of the energies of governments, businesses and civil society. For example, Egypt and Jordan have launched, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator aimed at advancing more women into management and leadership positions, bridging pay gaps and increase women’s participation in the workforce by working closely with private sector leaders.

We look forward to supporting more such partnerships in the Middle East and North Africa to accelerate progress on gender parity.


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