“It is important to work with the public and private sector and civil society to achieve accessibility, progress and peace and provide opportunities for the future,” she said.
As the founder and chairman of the Arab International Women’s Forum she has driven major initiatives to help women in the MENA region achieve equality and parity in the workplace, whether as high flying executives in blue chip companies or hard toiling agricultural laborer. She is constantly working to improve legislative protection for women, open up educational pathways and foster cultural shifts that allow women to fulfil their roles both career wise and in their roles as mothers and nurturers of the next generation.
She takes a positive view of what has been achieved to date and emphasized that it is important to acknowledge progress as “it comes on the back of a lot of effort by women themselves and others in the community.”
She noted: “Over the last year I have seen a lot of progress in the Arab world in women’s leadership. We have seen women assuming high level positions in the private sector, in government and in the judiciary and legislature. Our region is leading the way in technology and women are very much involved in the tech business, benefitting from the innovation and driving new projects and setting up SMEs.”
With reference to the Tech Sector, Al-Kaylani pointed to a recent initiative undertaken in Lebanon.
“In Lebanon the Central Bank has given a guarantee to the commercial banks to grant loans to viable tech projects by young entrepreneurs. This is unusual as the Central Bank would normally focus on running the monetary and fiscal policies but this new measure is to support what they believe can be a vibrant tech sector driven by young enterprise.”
She also pointed to important measures introduced to protect women.
“Looking at the region, we have seen legal reforms, especially in Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia, to protect women from domestic violence. Egypt also passed a law granting women inheritance rights on an equal basis with men. The UAE is leading the way on maternity rights for mothers and the recently launched Ministry of Happiness and Wellbeing is outstanding.
“Jordan recently appointed its first female judge, Ihsan Zuhdi Barakat, to the Supreme Court.
With reference to Saudi Arabia, she said: “We have seen young women graduating with outstanding accomplishments across all fields of study. They are attaining success at the highest levels including within the Consultative Assembly. They have been moving forward very well in their roles in the economy and in education and it is welcome that they are now able to attend public events in sports and be legally empowered to drive. A lot is happening – all indicators of positive change. Women are keen to play their role in the economic development of Saudi Arabia as outlined in the very valuable 2030 Vision of HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
While recognizing the significant progress that has been made, Al-Kaylani is clear that there are many challenges that must be faced and overcome.
“The region needs to bridge the gender gap which includes promoting financial incentives and support for women. Finance remains a barrier. We still need to promote technological literacy and improve the infrastructure. We need to focus on capacity building and to build on advocacy to reshape cultural attitudes as we still suffer from certain societal and cultural norms. We need to inspire women’s self-belief in themselves. This is crucially important”, she said.
Al-Kaylani believes that female role models have a major impact in driving change within society that is beneficial to women.
“We need more visible role models. Active, vibrant, dynamic, accomplished role models are extremely important – they help to change mindsets and inspire the younger generations,” she said.
She recalled: “I remember from our many events over the years that young women, especially those from the UAE, would say that Sheikha Lubna Qasimi was their inspiration.
“They all wanted to be like Sheikha Lubna – and she remains a trailblazer. She was the first woman to hold a cabinet position in the UAE and with so many accomplishments.”
She wants to see a culture in which the rights of women are recognized and embedded in law.
“We need to move ahead with reforming the laws in the region to give women equal pay for equal work, more maternity leave and acknowledge the work as homemakers. This is very important to secure the legal provisions that guarantee the rights of women as full members of society,” she said.
Last December, as part of its Young Arab Women Leaders initiative, following on from the successful Young Arab Women Leaders conferences held across the MENA region, AIWF partnered with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the World Bank and PwC, in London, to promote women-led innovation in STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Al-Kaylani, who hosted and chaired the conference, noted the valuable participation of the Saudi scientist Hyat Sindi, who is an Adviser on Science, Technology and Innovation to the President of the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah.
Al-Kaylani serves as a Fellow of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative 2017, and as a Commissioner on the ILO Global Commission on the Future of Work. Her commitments see her travelling constantly, always with the aim of using her talents to make a difference.
She is clear about what she brings to the table.
“At heart I am a Development Economist through and through. Wherever I see an angle where I can add value, especially as an Arab woman with roots in the region as well as being a global citizen, I participate. I focus on where I see an impact that will create economic growth, development and equality of opportunity – breaking stereotypes. I am also at heart a bridge builder and wherever I see a chance to build better understanding of my region and the Middle East, I am proud to serve,” she said.
Her latest initiative is in the field of Sustainable Agriculture. She has just launched a project to develop a Social Enterprise that will provide an innovative model for sustainable development through agriculture across the MENA region. The project, based in Jordan, will introduce 21st Century technology and innovation to the oldest industry in the world – farming.
As she stated in a recent speech at Harvard: “Many countries in the Middle East are considered both water and food insecure. This problem is exacerbated by climatic changes, scarcity of water resources and the challenges the region is encountering in absorbing the huge flux of refugees from Syria.
“The population of Arab States is expected to reach 487 million by the year 2025 and food production will have to increase by 70 percent in order to sustain the growing population.
“The looming scarcity of water in the Middle East is a huge challenge that requires an urgent response, as access to water is a fundamental need for food security, human health and agriculture.”
The project in Jordan is intended to be scaled-up and replicated across the wider MENA region in the years to come.
At the conclusion of the interview, Arab News asked Al-Kaylani, to describe the qualities and outlook that enable people to create positive change. A positive approach, she said, is key.
“You cannot make any difference in this world or move any agenda forward without a positive, determined, well informed and well researched approach.
“Over my 30-year career, it’s been a learning process for me throughout and also an opportunity to exchange and engage with others – to give and receive. I have always tried to work on common agendas that have an impact on improving peoples’ lives.”