Working women across the Muslim world now at 155 million, says economist

Saadia Zahidi
Updated 08 March 2018

Working women across the Muslim world now at 155 million, says economist

DUBAI: An incredible increase in female employment in the Muslim world during the past 15 years means that there are now more women working in the region than in the US or EU.

“Just after the turn of the millennium, across the largest emerging markets of the Muslim world 100 million women were working,” said economist Saadia Zahidi, head of education, gender and work, and a member of the executive committee at the World Economic Forum. “Today, that number is 155 million, more than a 50 percent increase in just a decade and a half.”

Speaking exclusively to Arab News ahead of International Women’s Day, Zahidi told how her book, “Fifty Million Rising,” published in January 2018, sheds light on this change in employment patterns through the stories of some of the Muslim women playing crucial roles in their economies.

However, the Western world might continue to view and stereotype Muslim women. She points out that their combined income now ranks them as a major economic force.

“My book is about this remarkable rising of an additional 50 million working women across the Muslim world, focused in particular on 30 economies including many in the Arab world as well as Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Indonesia and Malaysia,” said Zahidi.

“The combined income of the 155 million working women across the Muslim world is nearly $1 trillion, making them the 16th largest economy in the world. As consumers, employees, employers, entrepreneurs and taxpayers, they are a newfound economic power and this in turn is changing both the economy and society in their countries.”

The quality and availability of education for women in Saudi Arabia is much better than many other countries, Zahidi pointed out.

“Half of all university-age women in Saudi Arabia attend university,” she said. “This proportion is more than in Brazil, India and China and is a unique education success story. The potential of this talent
is unparalleled and, if unleashed, it can contribute to the goals of Vision 2030 and the diversification of the economy.

“The changes in regulations around driving and being able to register a business are a good start. More must be done to ensure that women can fully integrate their skills into the economy through employment and entrepreneurship.”

A lack of role models remains a hurdle for many young Arab women but change is happening regardless.

“For many young women who are joining the workforce today there are no working women in their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations, said Zahidi. “A lack of positive role models is often a drawback.

“However, the positive is that young women in the Muslim world today believe nothing can hold them back. They are trailblazers themselves and therefore extremely skillful negotiators in carving new roles for themselves, setting a new standard in the society around them and inspiring a new generation.”


‘No one safe’ from COVID-19, says Abhishek Bachchan after family tests positive

Updated 32 sec ago

‘No one safe’ from COVID-19, says Abhishek Bachchan after family tests positive

  • The Bachchans are the latest Bollywood celebrities to test positive for the disease

PATNA: Nothing can “safeguard you” from coronavirus, actor Abhishek Bachchan told Arab News on Sunday after three members of his family, including Amitabh Bachchan, one of India’s best-known screen stars, tested positive for the deadly disease.

“In spite of all precautions, if paa and I tested positive, it means there is no safety, no amount of caution (that can) safeguard you from the virus. Luckily, we have mild symptoms, and hopefully, we’ll be over this soon,” the 44-year-old actor said.

His wife, actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, and their daughter Aaradhya have also tested positive.

But Amitabh’s wife, former actress and parliamentarian Jaya Bachchan remains COVID-free, she told Arab News.

Abhishek said that he “felt no signs or symptoms of the virus” and got himself checked only after his 77-year-old father tested positive for the disease. Amitabh was moved to Mumbai’s Nanavati Hospital on Saturday after complaining of breathing difficulties.

Later in the day, the Bollywood superstar confirmed his coronavirus diagnosis on Twitter, asking those who had been in close contact with him to get tested as well.

“I have tested Covid positive,” he tweeted. “Shifted to Hospital. Family and staff undergone tests, results awaited. All that have been in close proximity to me in the past ten days are requested to please get themselves tested.”

His posts led to a series of tweets from veteran and contemporary actors, who said they were shocked to learn of the development.

“I am in a state of disbelief,” actress and parliamentarian Hema Malini told Arab News. “Mr. Bachchan is a very dear colleague. We have worked together for more than 45 years now. His energy level remains unchanged over the years. I am younger than him, but he’s far more energetic. I am sure he will beat the virus and will be back to work in no time. To keep Mr. Bachchan indoors for months is nearly impossible.”

While Abhishek has completed all his pending work, Amitabh has several assignments outstanding, including shooting for the new season of the enormously successful game show “Kaun Banega Crorepati?” (“Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”).

Amitabh’s immune system is severely compromised by several serious illnesses, including a near-fatal accident in 1982 on the sets of Manmohan Desai’s film “Coolie,” when he almost lost his life.

The current health issue is “child’s play for Mr. Bachchan” in comparison, according to colleague and fellow actor Anupam Kher.

“He has faced and overcome much worse. I’ve worked in several films with Bachchan Saab. Nothing can keep him down,” he said.

The Bachchans are the latest Bollywood celebrities to test positive for the disease, with singer Kannika Kapoor contracting the virus early in March. The Uttar Pradesh government later booked her for flouting the lockdown rules.

Kapoor was followed by starlet Zoa Morani, who reportedly contracted the virus from her sister Shaza.

“The only thing you can do is keep calm and wait for it to go away,” Morani told Arab News. “Because there is no vaccine yet. It was a learning experience for me, how the little things in life matter so much like taking care of our health physically and mentally. Prayers are magic that can help you pull through anything.”

Maharashtra’s state government has come under intense fire after an uptick in infections especially in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, where the Hindi film industry is based, and for introducing draconian guidelines to curb the outbreak, including the prohibition of actors aged 65 and over from working in movies.

Morani said that the government was doing a “commendable job” given the circumstances.

“This is an extremely distressing situation, and everyone is doing the best to cope. We must follow the rules and also take care of our health, mentally and physically. Yes it is scary, and we keep reading a lot of negative news, but there is an equal amount of positive news as well, and people are bouncing back to normal.”

Actor Purab Kohli said he was taken aback when he and his entire family were diagnosed with COVID-19 in London in April.

“I didn’t believe we had it until we started talking to the GP which was on day six, and we found out that someone we knew and were in contact with got serious with the infection and taken to hospital. By then I was already better,” he said.