KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia: Women’s role in society is essential as it helps drive the economy and create diversity around the world - that was the ongoing message throughout the first Arab Women Forum held at King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) on Tuesday.
Delegates spoke of the struggles women face on a day-to-day basis in society, whether socially, through obstacles preventing career progression or economically.
“The glass ceiling is there, it has to be broken,” said CEO of Hawkamah Dr Ashraf Gamal El Din, referring to the hurdles women face.
And Managing director of Women’s Forum for Economy and Society, Chiara Corazza said it was not a true representation if people did not acknowledge the significance of diversity women give.
“It would be fake if you don’t take diversity as a key role,” she said, adding: “It’s a global fight, it’s not just regional.”
Director at the Babson Global Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Amal Ali Dokhan said younger generations of women and girls needed examples of success stories - women who had succeeded in entrepreneurial leadership.
“The problem,” she said, “is the lack of female examples that have experienced entrepreneurial success.”
She explained that society needed to hear women tell their success stories so “they actually can lead the way.”
But Dokhan said men still dominated education and entertainment industries. “When we talk about entertainment and education, all the examples are men, all the success stories are lead by men, when you actually focus on that, you find that this is again what they are instilling in their heads.”
She said the cure to the root of the problem “No matter how you educate women, if you don’t educate a society that accepts women as business owners, as entrepreneurs, that will never become a norm, you need to make it a norm, it’s not a norm yet.”
But it was not all bad news. The forum heard numerous examples of women who had found business opportunities through technology, or where they had exploited aspects of their daily life to create business opportunities.
Executive Director at the Neom Project Dr Maliha Hashmi said: “A woman in a remote area can open an online store and thus she helps the economy.
We see women selling food on Instagram, designers, and just the fact that you have 14 year old girls running their own stores online is fascinating.”
Managing Editor at Büro 24/7 Middle East Maddison Glendinning said women were being confronted with more opportunities now than before.
“It means women can start their own businesses from the comfort and the safety of their own home and that can have a viable career option for them that they haven’t had before,” Glendinning told Arab News.
“It’s a really exciting way forward for business and for women.” She added.