Lack of women in Middle East workforce hinders growth

Saudi women sit in a stadium to attend an event in the capital Riyadh, in this September 23, 2017 photo, commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the kingdom. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2017
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Lack of women in Middle East workforce hinders growth

LONDON: Women in the Middle East now outnumber men in universities but this isn’t translating into jobs — curbing the benefits of the “demographic dividend” that fuels economic growth.
Almost all girls in the Middle East and North Africa now attend school, and more women than men go to university, according to the World Bank, but women’s participation in the workforce stubbornly remains among the lowest in the world.

The demographic dividend refers to an acceleration of economic growth as the working-age population expands relative to the non-working-age. But without enough women, its impact will be muted in the Middle East, experts said.

“The demographic dividend is not going to be as good as in Asia,” said Tiziana Leone, assistant professor in demography at the London School of Economics. “If they want the benefit of it then you need more gender parity.”

Lack of access to contraception is a hurdle keeping women from the workforce, according to a report by the United Nations’ Population Fund (UNFPA) released on Tuesday.

Poorly educated women in rural areas especially lack the means to plan when and how often they fall pregnant.

Barely a quarter of women in the region are in employment, but with sharp variations. Rates of women’s employment are lower in conflict-hit places such Yemen, Gaza and Iraq compared to the Gulf states and Iran.

The legal and social barriers hampering women’s access to jobs and careers in the Middle East and North Africa is costing the region an estimated $575 billion a year, the OECD said this month.
Such barriers include needing a guardian to travel as in Saudi Arabia or laws requiring permission from husbands or fathers to work, common in Egypt, Jordan and Libya.

A recent survey of attitudes in the region, by the UN Women agency and Promundo found more than two thirds of respondents believed a woman’s primary role should be caring for the household, while at least half the women surveyed also saw this as their most important duty.

Better investment in contraception and sexual health care and equality for women in the workplace could encourage more women into the workforce, according to the UNFPA report. “Poorer countries with large or emerging youth populations that reduce gaps in sexual and reproductive health care and promote gender equality also have the potential to reap and maximize a demographic dividend,” the report found.

In parts of the Middle East, change is already happening.

“Gender relations are changing,” Bessma Momani, a non-resident fellow at Brookings Doha Center think tank, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Children as status symbols has definitely gone down ...it used to be if you had 10, 12 children that was your status symbol as a woman, now education and careers have become the new status symbols.”

The types of jobs women do must also change, experts say. In the Middle East and North Africa only 17 percent of women have jobs in the non-agricultural sector such as engineering and finance, according to the World Bank, while the region has the lowest proportion of female entrepreneurs in the world.

Overcoming these obstacles and tackling underlying gender inequality are crucial to progress, the UNFPA report found.

“Without a greater and equitable engagement of women, the demographic dividend will remain an elusive objective,” it said.

- Thomson Reuters Foundation


Huawei warns US patent curbs would hurt global tech

Updated 27 June 2019
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Huawei warns US patent curbs would hurt global tech

  • US senator’s proposal comes amid mounting American action against Huawei
  • Huawei’s US sales of network gear evaporated after a congressional panel labeled the company a security threat in 2012

SHENZHEN, China: Chinese tech giant Huawei warned Thursday a US senator’s proposal to block the company from pursuing damages in patent courts would be a “catastrophe for global innovation.”
The proposal comes amid mounting US action against Huawei, the biggest maker of switching gear for phone carriers, amid tension over Beijing’s technology ambitions. The company has been devastated by the Trump administration’s decision to impose restrictions on its access to American chips for smartphones and other components and technology.
Disrupting Huawei’s access to US patent courts would threaten the intellectual property system that supports technology development, said Song Liping, the company’s chief legal officer.
The proposal by Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, followed reports Huawei Technologies Ltd. is asking for $1 billion from American phone carrier Verizon for use of the Chinese company’s patents.
“If such a legislative proposal were to be passed, it would be a catastrophe for global innovation. It would have terrible consequences,” Song said at a news conference. He said it would “break the foundation of IP protection.”
American officials accuse Huawei of facilitating Chinese spying, a charge the company denies, and see it as a growing competitive threat to US technology industries.
Huawei’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, said this month it has cut its project sales by $30 billion over the next two years due to curbs on access to American chips and other components. He said smartphone sales outside China will fall 40 percent.
Huawei’s US sales of network gear evaporated after a congressional panel labeled the company a security threat in 2012 and told phone carriers to avoid it. But the Chinese company has a patent portfolio it licenses to manufacturers and carriers.
Song gave no confirmation of how much Huawei wants from Verizon or the basis of its claims.
“Intellectual property litigations are matters that should be heard and ruled on by courts. They should not be politicized,” he said.
Huawei, founded in 1986, has China’s biggest corporate research and development budget at $15 billion in 2018. The company is a leader in developing next-generation telecoms technology.
On Wednesday, a US federal court jury in Texas ruled Huawei stole trade secrets from a Silicon Valley company but awarded no damages, saying the Chinese company didn’t benefit.
The jury rejected Huawei’s claims that Cnex Labs Inc. co-founder Yiren Huang stole its technology while he worked at a Huawei subsidiary.
Huawei’s head of intellectual property, Jason Ding, said the company was studying the verdict and deciding what to do next.
Asked about a report by Bloomberg News that some Huawei researchers had published papers with Chinese military personnel over the past decade, Song said the company wasn’t aware of its employees publishing research as private individuals.
“We don’t customize products or do research for the military,” said Song. “We are not aware of employees publishing papers. We don’t have projects of that kind.”