Empowering Arab women scientists for leadership roles

Empowering Arab women scientists for leadership roles
The AWLA program is set to shake up the role of women in science in the Middle East and North Africa. Female scientists make up just 17 percent of the total across the MENA region — the lowest number in the world. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 August 2019

Empowering Arab women scientists for leadership roles

Empowering Arab women scientists for leadership roles
  • AWLA fellowships are designed to develop a cadre of scientists for leadership roles in agriculture
  • A total of 22 scientists from across the MENA region have just become the first AWLA fellows

DUBAI: Imagine a program that aims to develop a pool of Arab women researchers who can make a positive impact in their workplaces, communities and countries. Next, imagine a program that seeks to utilize the talents of these researchers to achieve agricultural prosperity and also addresses the career challenges they face.

Now imagine a single program that combines those two objectives plus advances the UN’s goal of achieving “a more sustainable future for all.” Established recently by the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), Dubai, the program is called Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA).

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, AWLA seeks to develop a cadre of Arab women researchers equipped with the knowledge and leadership skills to advance the goal of agricultural sustainability and food security in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Far away from the glare of the media, a cohort of 22 women scientists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia recently became the first AWLA fellows. As members of the region’s first networking platform for female researchers working in various agricultural and food security-related disciplines, they will address pressing regional challenges.

“We believe women in management will understand the challenges better,” Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA’s director general, told Arab News. “The fact that very highly educated women get stuck in lower positions doesn’t give a country the full advantage of female education.

“Once you have a woman at the helm of an organization, you have what I call ‘soft leadership’. It’s about engagement.”

Elouafi said the idea of AWLA began two years ago, designed based on data from the Arab world.

The numbers showed that female representation was strong regionally at university level — around 50 percent — but made up less than two percent at the management level in the workplace. On average, just 17 percent of scientists across the region are women, the lowest rate in the world.

“Agriculture employs a large number of women, mainly at factory, food-processing and farming levels,” Elouafi said.

“Yet we see very few women in the upper management of scientific organizations, specifically in agriculture. This means there is something wrong.”

She said the name AWLA — which means “I am worthy” in Arabic — was chosen because “we wanted an Arabic word that meant that every Arab woman should be invested in to provide her with the opportunity to advance her career.”




The 22 Arab women scientists from across the Middle East and North Africa selected for the first fellowships under the AWLA program. (Supplied photo)

The first phase of AWLA commenced with an eight-day workshop on June 30 in Tunis, involving mentoring, orientation classes and positive leadership sessions. The 10-month program will be conducted in Tunisia and the UAE, and will include three face-to-face learning modules and 12 research and development online courses.

A critical element of the program is team-based academic “capstone projects,” which will give the participants an opportunity to apply the skills, tools and knowledge they will have gained during the 10-month fellowship. To encourage diversity and inclusion, the teams comprise fellows from different countries and backgrounds. The idea is to encourage interaction between the team members.

At the end of the program, the fellows will have to present their projects and hold discussions with potential funders.

“Through this first workshop, I have started to find myself,” said Dr. Hasna Ellouzi, an assistant researcher at the Biotechnology Center of Borj Cedria in Hammam-Lif, Tunisia.

“Now I believe that every step, every second of my journey depends on me. I now see my goals. They are in my hands and I am sure that through AWLA, I will be able to achieve them.”

We believe every woman given an opportunity  to go through the mentorship program can advance her career.”

To meet the expectations of Ellouzi and other fellows, AWLA will facilitate their access to leadership roles; promote research excellence and impact; encourage gender-responsive working cultures and enabling environments; and provide a platform for highlighting their intellect, capability and contribution.

Elouafi, the ICBA head, has few illusions about where the problems lie. “We have still a male-dominated leadership in this region, not just in agriculture and science,” she said. “And the reasons behind this phenomenon are both cultural and biological. Many women want to have a family.”

At the same time, according to Elouafi, women have an edge over men in the way they lead. “It’s not only about rules and responsibilities, hours and deliverables, or being tough,” she said. “It is much more about engagement, fulfilling yourself and delivering.

“I don’t see it much with male leaders because it takes a lot of emotional intelligence, an area where women have a natural advantage.”

The difference AWLA could make at an individual level is obvious to Dr. Mounira Azouz, a fellow from Algeria who works as a food scientist at Algeria’s National Institute of Agricultural Research. “The fellowship is a huge opportunity for me,” she said, “to improve my skills and learn new tools to enhance my capability for leadership roles in the food and agriculture sector.”

On a broader scale, AWLA is aligned with four of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — on gender equality (SDG 5), climate action (SDG 13), life on land (SDG 15), and partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).

As AWLA’s website puts it, the program’s “long-term goal goes beyond capacity development and includes improved food security and nutrition, a better research and development landscape, and economic and social benefits of a narrowed gender gap in the region.”

According to Dr. Mouldi El-Felah, a professor of agronomy and genetics from Tunisia, “The program is very important and very innovative. What I found during the workshop is that the approach is very clear and helpful for women fellows who will take on leadership roles in agriculture in the future.

“In this way, AWLA works to address an important issue, namely the gender gap in the region.”

Ultimately, AWLA is about giving female Arab scientists the equal opportunity they deserve, Elouafi said.

“We believe that every woman who is given an opportunity to go through the mentorship and leadership program, can eventually acquire the skills necessary for advancing her career.

“Most of these women didn’t get the opportunity to develop their leadership abilities. So we are hoping that once they get the opportunity, they will see how enjoyable the job and experience could be. This will make them interested in managerial positions.”


Panic in Lebanon as desert locust swarms hit farmland

Panic in Lebanon as desert locust swarms hit farmland
Updated 43 min 6 sec ago

Panic in Lebanon as desert locust swarms hit farmland

Panic in Lebanon as desert locust swarms hit farmland
  • Videos showing the insects flying over farmland in the towns of Ersal and Ras Baalbek in Bekaa circulated on social media, with the hashtag #locust trending in Lebanon
  • The Lebanese military said that helicopters had begun spraying pesticides over Baalbek and Ras Baalbek to “fight and eradicate” the desert locusts

BEIRUT: The arrival of locust swarms in Lebanon has caused panic among the country’s farmers.

Videos showing the insects flying over farmland in the towns of Ersal and Ras Baalbek in Bekaa circulated on social media, with the hashtag #locust trending in Lebanon on Friday as people made sarcastic comments about the latest crisis to hit the beleaguered country.

The Lebanese military said that helicopters had begun spraying pesticides over Baalbek and Ras Baalbek to “fight and eradicate” the desert locusts.

Ersal Mayor Bassel Al-Hujairi recounted seeing “millions” of locusts flying and attacking cherry trees and crops.

“Locusts have invaded one-third of Ersal,” he told Arab News. “As we rushed to find out the size of the disaster, locust swarms had already gone across the town, which means that in the early hours of Friday locusts were able to cross 15 km, heading from barren areas toward Ersal. If these swarms multiply, they can cover the sun.”

Ersal was home to more than two million cherry, apple and apricot trees that were located on the town’s southern and eastern sides, said the mayor, and locusts were still on the northern side of the town. 

“I hope wind will not take them to other directions,” he added.

The swarms arrived in Lebanon after invading Syria, Iraq and Jordan.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the appearance of desert locusts in Syria and Jordan was an “unusual and rare” event caused by several days of strong southerly winds and high temperatures that brought the adult groups to these areas.

It added that while the swarms did not represent a “large-scale invasion” and could be controlled, it feared that some of the mature adults may lay eggs and reproduce.

The ministries of agriculture and defense have mobilized to address the problem as Lebanon is a member of the FAO’s Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region.

Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada inspected Ersal and said that ministry teams had witnessed “locust waves” and were able to define their approximate scope. 

“But we still have fears that these locusts may reproduce and invade fields and farms. People are filming the locust swarms, but they are still relatively far.”

Ras Baalbek Mayor Menhem Mhanna reported “huge numbers” of locusts over the town’s barren areas and expressed his fears about these swarms reaching inhabited areas.

“Locusts will not find anything in Lebanon since the politicians have devoured everything,” said one person on social media, while another said: “Lebanon’s politicians are more dangerous than these swarms.”

“Locusts are the cherry on the top to be added to Lebanon’s economic collapse, political gridlock and starvation,” read another comment.

The crisis has brought the Lebanese back to the beginning of the 20th century, when swarms stripped the country of almost all its vegetation.

At that time Lebanon was already grappling with economic hardship and a double blockade by both the Ottoman Empire and the Allied Forces, resulting in a famine that led to more than a third of the population dying.

In 2013, historians and researchers Dr. Christian Taoutel and Father Pierre Wittouck released a book compiling the previously unpublished French chronicles of Jesuit priests during the famine called “The Lebanese people in the turmoil of the Great War of 1914-1918.”

According to the book, “famine started with a hungry swarm of locusts that devoured everything, where the Lebanese called the year of 1915 ‘The Year of Locusts’ which were impossible to control.”


Cyprus to impose partial lockdown to stem virus surge

Cyprus to impose partial lockdown to stem virus surge
Updated 23 April 2021

Cyprus to impose partial lockdown to stem virus surge

Cyprus to impose partial lockdown to stem virus surge
  • Restrictions will be slightly eased for Orthodox Easter at the start of May
  • Measures would help Cyprus’s vaccination rollout play catch up and ease pressure on hospitals, said Health Minister

NICOSIA: Cyprus on Friday announced a two-week partial lockdown as hospitals struggle to cope with surging coronavirus cases, with restrictions covering the key Orthodox Easter holidays.
“The growing number of infections, combined with intense pressure on the health system, cannot leave us indifferent and requires difficult decisions, drastic measures,” Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou told reporters.
The new restrictions, running from April 26 to May 9, mean that people are encouraged to work from home and must seek authorization for only one non-work-related trip daily.
Non-essential shops will close, and a 9:00 p.m. to 5:00 am curfew will be imposed, tightening the start time from 11:00 pm.
Restrictions will be slightly eased for Orthodox Easter at the start of May.
After May 9, people wanting to gather — such as in a restaurant — must provide either a negative Covid-19 test result with 72 hours or proof they have either had their first vaccine jab or have contracted the virus within the past three months.
Ioannou said the measures would help the Mediterranean island’s vaccination rollout play catch up and ease pressure on hospitals, witnessing record patient admissions.
Local daily the Cyprus Mail reported Friday a record high number of coronavirus patients in state hospitals, with the western town of Paphos opening a second Covid-19 ward to cope.
“We are in a very difficult phase of the pandemic,” Ioannou said.
Cyprus is facing a third wave of Covid-19 infections fueled by the more contagious British variant, with daily cases peaking at a record 941 on Tuesday.
The situation marks a stark deterioration from September last year, when reported cases were often close to or at zero per day.
Cyprus detected 668 new cases per 100,000 people over the seven days to April 22 — the highest population-adjusted rate of any country in the world, AFP’s database shows.
Uruguay was second highest worldwide on this measure, with 558 detected infections per 100,000 people.


King Abdullah II declares Jordan’s ‘strong’ as defendants in ‘sedition’ case released

King Abdullah II declares Jordan’s ‘strong’ as defendants in ‘sedition’ case released
Updated 23 April 2021

King Abdullah II declares Jordan’s ‘strong’ as defendants in ‘sedition’ case released

King Abdullah II declares Jordan’s ‘strong’ as defendants in ‘sedition’ case released
  • The king said the “sedition” would not shake Jordan and that his country was “strong”
  • Defendants in sedition case released in honor of Ramadan

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II said in a meeting this week that in honor of Ramadan 16 defendants involved in a “sedition” case would be released.

“As a father and a brother to all Jordanians, and in this holy month of tolerance and solidarity, when we all wish to be with our families, I ask the relevant officials to look into the proper mechanism to have those who were misled into following the sedition, return to their families soon,” he said during the meeting with officials from Jordan’s various governorates at Al-Husseiniya Palace.

The king said the “sedition” would not shake Jordan and that his country was “strong.”

King Abdullah II said although “what took place was painful,” recent events in the kingdom “won’t shake us.”

Several people have been arrested since the beginning of April following events that threatened to undermine the kingdom’s security and stability.

Reaffirming his commitment to the Jordanian people, the king said: “My duty, goal, and the pledge I have made is to serve and protect our people and country, and this is the standard that defines how we deal with everything.”


Libyan FM calls for ‘stability, peace, security’

Foreign Minister Najla El-Mangoush, Libya’s first woman foreign minister, speaking in a hearing of the Italian Chamber of Deputies’ foreign affairs committee attended by Arab News. (AN Photo/Francesco Bongarrà)
Foreign Minister Najla El-Mangoush, Libya’s first woman foreign minister, speaking in a hearing of the Italian Chamber of Deputies’ foreign affairs committee attended by Arab News. (AN Photo/Francesco Bongarrà)
Updated 23 April 2021

Libyan FM calls for ‘stability, peace, security’

Foreign Minister Najla El-Mangoush, Libya’s first woman foreign minister, speaking in a hearing of the Italian Chamber of Deputies’ foreign affairs committee attended by Arab News. (AN Photo/Francesco Bongarrà)
  • Tripoli laying path for ‘fair, legal elections,’ minister tells Italian MPs

ROME: “Stability, peace and security” are Libya’s major priorities ahead of the country’s next elections, Foreign Minister Najla El-Mangoush told a meeting of Italian MPs.

Speaking in a hearing of the Italian Chamber of Deputies’ foreign affairs committee attended by Arab News, El-Mangoush said that Libya’s transitional government intends to “talk to everyone the same way and put a new agenda on the table.”

“Peace and security will not be possible without regional and international support,” she said.

Libya’s first woman foreign minister addressed Italian MPs for more than an hour, and was quizzed on her Cabinet’s views on issues ranging from Libya’s relationship with Italy to tackling illegal immigration. 

She said that Libya takes responsibility for violations of migrants’ rights in its territory, but urged the global community to adopt a “different and alternative approach” to stop the flow of illegal immigrants crossing the country’s southern borders.

“Illegal immigration is a broad and thorny topic. However, it is not only a Libyan issue, but a regional and an international one,” El-Mangoush said.

“I ask the international community to be practical and proactive: You need a strategy that is consistent with the current phase. Blaming the coast guard is useless. We have an uninterrupted flow of migrants coming from African states. We do not know who is coming: They could be criminals or sick.

“We are against the violation of human rights and we are sad for the condition of these migrants, but Libya is a transit country for migratory flows and our resources are limited.”

She added that “in southern Libya, we have a famine in progress. What can you ask to a people on the edge  of famine? How can these people help somebody arriving from the south if they need help themselves? Please, don’t blame us, but try to understand the difficult situation we are facing. We have limited resources and outdated policies to deal with this.”

Discussing the withdrawal of foreign forces from Libya, the minister said she believes this will not happen in a day, but will be the result of long negotiations. However, she believes that the dialogue with several states involved “gives us hope.”

“For us, sovereignty is the top priority, so stability and security are in order to be able to hold democratic, clean and legal elections,” she said.  

“We asked everyone, including Turkey, for cooperation to get all foreign forces off Libyan soil. Our safe future depends on the withdrawal of foreign forces.”

El-Mangoush said that the Libyan government “wishes for an even bigger role for Italy to solve Libya’s crisis, to put an end to foreign interference and help us to release all foreign forces.”

She called for Italian help in economic, medical and cultural areas, including the restoration of Tripoli’s old town and ancient buildings in the center of Benghazi damaged by war.

“Only the Italians can do a good job,” she said.


Thousands fall victim to $2bn Turkish cryptocurrency fraud

Thousands fall victim to $2bn Turkish cryptocurrency fraud
Updated 23 April 2021

Thousands fall victim to $2bn Turkish cryptocurrency fraud

Thousands fall victim to $2bn Turkish cryptocurrency fraud
  • The founder of cryptocurrency exchange Thodex, Faruk Fatih Ozer, fled the country with about $2 billion, leaving more than 391,000 users defrauded
  • The fraud case coincided with an overnight decision by the Central Bank of Turkey to ban the use of digital currencies and assets to pay for goods and services from April 30

ANKARA: Turkey’s cryptocurrency market has seen its first large-scale fraud case after the founder of cryptocurrency exchange Thodex, Faruk Fatih Ozer, fled the country with about $2 billion, leaving more than 391,000 users defrauded.

Ozer reportedly escaped to Albania.

In collaboration with Turkish authorities, Interpol has issued a red notice for the fugitive wanted for prosecution.

Although an investigation was launched into the company whose accounts were blocked by the financial crimes investigation board MASAK on April 21, the scheme revealed loopholes in the system.

The company has operated since 2017. It recently shut down services for several days, saying that it will allow outside investment from “prestigious banks and funding companies” in order to serve partners.

However, shortly after the statement, users began facing problems with money transfers before the site became inaccessible.

The daily volume of cryptocurrency trading in Turkey is believed to be about $1-$2 billion.

The fraud case is the largest in Turkish history, and coincided with an overnight decision by the Central Bank of Turkey to ban the use of digital currencies and assets to pay for goods and services from April 30.

Among other decisions, the central bank also targeted people and companies that fund illegal activities or facilitate money laundering through cryptocurrencies.

The Thodex founder was previously photographed in a meeting with several top Turkish policymakers.

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, Turkey ranked fourth among the 74 largest economies in the world and first in Europe for cryptocurrency adoption by the population.

“Thodex, as a cryptocurrency trading platform, is just another company in Turkey, and there are no laws for this kind of setup,” Fatih Guner, an expert on the cryptocurrency market, told Arab News.

Recent polls revealed that between 16 and 20 percent of Turks used or owned cryptocurrencies last year.

“The adoption is high, but the literacy is not that high. And the lack of literacy is crucial for cryptocurrency trading platforms because these platforms only make money if people buy and sell coins on their platforms. Exchanges from all over the world are investing in PR and dark marketing to gain new amateur traders, with influencers, YouTube creators, newsletter writers and Twitter trolls,” Guner said.

According to Guner, influencers work with exchanges to encourage inexperienced investors with false claims of profit.

“Turkey is a haven for coin exchanges because of the lack of legislation. The government has to step up and legislate heavily,” he said.

“In recent years, we saw that Turkish people heavily indulged in the lottery, football bets and all kinds of lawful gambling. The government seems to see exchanges as some other kind of gambling and loosely controls them to keep people busy while they live on the edge of poverty. Turkey’s cryptocurrency adoption rate is fourth in the world after Nigeria, Vietnam and the Philippines. The economic resemblance is uncanny,” Guner added.

Experts have long urged the government to take tougher measures to deal with criminals who defraud amateur cryptocurrency investors.

In March, a man in the southern Turkish city of Antalya killed his two children and wife before committing suicide after losing a large sum of money in Bitcoin investments.