Why Arab countries must give women a fair chance

Why Arab countries must give women a fair chance
Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud, known for her advocacy work on women’s rights, made history last year when she became the first female Saudi ambassador to the US. (AFP)
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Updated 08 March 2020

Why Arab countries must give women a fair chance

Why Arab countries must give women a fair chance
  • International Women’s Day is celebrated across the Arab region with calls to action for accelerating gender equality
  • Day has been observed on March 8 for over a century, with the first gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people

DUBAI: As the world marks yet another International Women’s Day (IWD), the resonance of an occasion dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in different fields is being felt in a changing Middle East.

IWD has been observed on March 8 for well over a century, with the first gathering in 1911 supported by more than a million people. Of late, IWD has been celebrated across the Arab region with calls to action for more gender equality.

Still, progress remains mixed. As experts who spoke at the recent Global Women’s Forum Dubai noted, achieving gender equality in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is a key driver of change, yet the region’s female workforce participation level is the lowest in the world.

According to a McKinsey & Company analysis, women’s participation in the MENA labor force stands at 24.6 percent, compared with 77.1 percent for men and a world average of 47.8 percent (the corresponding figure for men’s participation is 75.2 percent).

INNUMBERS

  • 30% of researchers in tech, humanities and various sciences (natural, medical and health, agricultural and social) are women.
  • 20% of landholders are women, which limits economic opportunities for female farmers.
  • 700 million women alive today were married before age 18, including 250 million who were married before 15.
  • Source: UN Women

“It’s purely a women problem,” said Chiara Marcati, a partner at McKinsey & Company. “It matters if you think about the future and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The Fourth Industrial Revolution refers to the emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, energy storage and quantum computing.

Marcati pointed to a number of developments, including advances in automation, that will impact repetitive and labor-intensive tasks in male-dominated sectors.

“It’s good news in the sense that it won’t directly impact women, but it’s also an opportunity for women,” she said. “Only 15 percent of women will be directly impacted, so they can access sectors that are traditionally dominated by males.

“Imagine if we have the first woman miner from Saudi Arabia who will (do her job) from her living room. That’s what automation can offer.”

That being said, with demand for technological skills set to rise 55 percent by 2030 and digital advancements transforming many occupations, women will need to expand their capabilities to stay competitive.




Queen Rania of Jordan has been a long time advocate of greater female empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa region. (AFP)

“At the moment, it’s not the case,” Marcati said. “Women are a step behind compared with men (in technological skills). So, if we want to stay competitive, digitization needs to be on our mind.”

The situation is no different in online activity, with women in MENA countries underrepresented on different platforms.

Only 28 percent of women in the region are online compared with 44 percent globally, and they apply for 20 percent fewer jobs than men, according to Marcati.

“Online platforms are a beautiful tool for women to access jobs,” she said.

“Networking and developing professional relationships that could create opportunities for jobs was traditionally conducted in a majlis.

“The majlis was a hub of professional networking, but women weren’t allowed there. So (being active online) will give women fantastic access.”

According to Pedro Conceicao, director of the UN Develop Program’s Human Development Report office, the period from 2010 to 2014 saw a “shocking” reinforcement of social norms worldwide that reflected antipathy towards gender equality.

“It was quite puzzling,” he said, adding: “Part of the pushback was actually happening in some of the countries (with) the highest substantive achievements in gender equality.”

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What the experience showed, Conceicao said, is that the achievement of gender equality is a never-ending struggle.

“It always needs to be energized,” he said. “It’s a job that’s never done, and especially as women come to more powerful positions, we see that this pushback becomes more intense.”

If efforts to close the employment gender gap succeed, economies will benefit from growth, as proven in places such as the US and Europe throughout the 20th century, according to Conceicao.

“It had a big payoff in economic growth,” he said. “The big game changer is that women aren’t just like men when they come into the (picture). They bring diversity, creativity and new perspectives. Firms in which women are represented in senior management and boards yield higher returns.”

Conceicao’s view was seconded by Marcati, who said enterprises fully or partially owned by women generate two and a half times more return on investment than other kinds, even though only a quarter of Arab start-ups belong in that category.

“Humankind has become very creative in inventing jobs,” she said. “The new generation are self-starters. However, the starting point (in the Arab region) is not good, so we need to work on this.”

In regard to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, according to Marcati, the challenge lies in improving the level of women’s participation in technical and professional work that plays a key role in shaping the future of society.

Here again, figures from the MENA region are abysmal: For every 10 men in such roles in the GCC, there are three women. In Saudi Arabia in particular, for every four men holding technical and professional jobs, there is one woman.

“We have to change the (situation) if we want to be somewhat active in the future,” Marcati. “It is of paramount importance.”


MILESTONES

  • June 21, 1946 - UN-backed Commission on the Status of Women is established as the first global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
  • March 8, 1975 - UN begins commemorating International Women’s Day and the UN General Assembly officially formalizes the day two years later.
  • June 19-July 12, 1975 - The first World Conference on Women takes place in Mexico where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is prepared.
  • Sept. 4-15, 1995 - At the fourth UN World Conference on Women, a progressive blueprint for women’s empowerment known as The Beijing Platform for Action is drawn up.
  • Sept. 6-8, 2000 - World leaders adopt UN Millennium Declaration. Goal 3 calls for the promotion of gender equality, Goal 5 for improving maternal health.
  • Jan. 30, 2007 - With the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325, multiple calls are made to increase women’s participation in civilian, police, and military components of peacekeeping operations.
  • Sept. 5, 2013 - Domestic Workers Convention (C189) on labor rights takes effect, giving this category of workers, most of whom are women, the same basic labor rights as other workers.

For all the energy expended, gender balance remains elusive, not just in the Middle East but the world, where women are granted only three-quarters of the legal rights men enjoy.

Experts point the finger at laws that they say are particularly discriminatory when it comes to treatment of married women vis-à-vis married men.

Other barriers have to do with the lack of support for childcare and elderly care.

“Around the world, lack of care is a huge constraint,” said Caren Grown, senior director for gender at the World Bank Group.

“Many transportation systems are also unsafe, even though more women rely on them than men.”

Although technology is viewed as a crucial enabler, far fewer women than men have a phone or internet access. And due to the way in which income and wealth is distributed, women do not earn as much, she said.

“We are learning to change the systems that would allow women to take part in a level playing field,” Grown said.

“There are still many gaps, and there are good approaches to address and close them quickly. We cannot wait 75 years.”

In Grown’s view, gender parity is not a matter of merely achieving the right targets; women have to participate with men and, at the same time, institutions, markets, laws and policies must change.

“You have to make a workplace empowering for women,” she said. “In transport ministries of some of the lowest-income countries we work with, there’s not even a single women’s bathroom.

“If you don’t have the basic enabling infrastructure, you have to implement changes in workplace policies and in acceptable standards of behavior.”

To speed up the process, Marcati suggested a set of targeted interventions, one of them being education to create awareness.

“We have to revisit all curricula so they cover skills women need to succeed,” she said.

Governments and CEOs can do their bit “by fixing structural foundations, effecting regulatory changes, influencing critical policy drivers, and devising work policies that promote gender inclusion and diversity.”

Finally, what is needed is a conducive environment that will “call out bias” and encourage efforts to promote networking and mentoring.

“But it’s not enough,” Marcati said. “The real change starts from within.”


Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths, 27.3m vaccines given to date

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 508,994 after 1,620 more patients recovered from the virus. (SPA/File Photo)
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 508,994 after 1,620 more patients recovered from the virus. (SPA/File Photo)
Updated 20 min 18 sec ago

Saudi Arabia announces 10 more COVID-19 deaths, 27.3m vaccines given to date

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 508,994 after 1,620 more patients recovered from the virus. (SPA/File Photo)
  • A total of 8,259 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced 10 deaths from COVID-19 and 1,063 new infections on Monday.

Of the new cases, 244 were recorded in Makkah, 217 in Riyadh, 152 in the Eastern Province, 108 in Asir, 88 in Jazan, 70  in Madinah, 45 in Najran, 44 in Hail, 20 in the Northern Borders region, 18 in Tabuk, 17 in Al-Baha, and five in Al-Jouf.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 508,994 after 1,620 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,259 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.

Over 27.3 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches

Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches

Saudi Arabia to fine air passengers up to SR500k for COVID-19 travel ban breaches
  • Similar penalties would also apply to operators or owners of the means of transportation

RIYADH: The Saudi Public Prosecution office has warned it will impose fines of up to SR500,000 ($133,323) on passengers breaching travel ban restrictions by boarding flights to countries hit by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Similar penalties would also apply to operators or owners of the means of transportation.

In a tweet on Sunday, officials added that severe punitive measures would be taken against travelers who failed to disclose they had visited any countries listed on the Kingdom’s COVID-19 travel ban list.


Saudi HR ministry launches tough measures for unvaccinated workers

A nurse speaks to a man before administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine as part of a vaccination campaign by the Saudi health ministry, in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
A nurse speaks to a man before administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine as part of a vaccination campaign by the Saudi health ministry, in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi HR ministry launches tough measures for unvaccinated workers

A nurse speaks to a man before administering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine as part of a vaccination campaign by the Saudi health ministry, in Riyadh. (AFP file photo)
  • Authorities instruct all institutions to require proof of immunity against COVID-19 from employees

JEDDAH: Unvaccinated employees within the Saudi public, private, and nonprofit sectors will have their leave days deducted until they receive a COVID-19 jab, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has warned.

The ministry issued a statement on Sunday clarifying procedures to deal with unvaccinated employees following the Ministry of Interior’s instruction for institutions to limit entry to vaccinated people after Aug 1.
The number of COVID-19 vaccines administered in Saudi Arabia has increased ahead of the deadline, with about 350,000 doses being administered per day, with a total vaccination rate of about 78 doses per 100 people in the Kingdom.
As a result, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development instructed all institutions in the Kingdom to require proof of immunity against COVID-19 from employees and workers, as approved by the Ministry of Health on the Tawakkalna mobile app.
The gradual plan to deal with unvaccinated employees begins with directing them to work remotely, according to the work need. In case remote work is not beneficial for the institution by Aug. 9, the employee will be granted leave deducted from their official leave balance.

HIGHLIGHT

The gradual plan to deal with unvaccinated employees begins with directing them to work remotely, according to the work need. In case remote work is not beneficial for the institution by Aug. 9, the employee will be granted leave deducted from their official leave balance.

As for the public sector, employees will consume their eligible leave days according to their legally approved conditions and requirements. However, if those requirements are not met or the employee has exhausted their leave balance, then absence days must be deducted from the balance of regular leaves or will be considered as an unpaid excused absence.
In the private and nonprofit sectors, employers will allow unvaccinated employees to go on official leave that will be calculated from their annual leave.
In case the annual leave balance is exhausted, employees will be granted unpaid leave, and their work contract will be considered suspended during the period once it exceeds 20 days, unless the two parties agree otherwise.
In case of disagreement with a worker, the employer shall deal with the consequences according to the procedures approved by law. The employee must be informed about decisions issued in this regard.
However, the ministry said that the new regulations do not apply to people who are excluded from taking the vaccine according to the Tawakkalna app.


Only fully jabbed students can return to school, says Saudi Education Ministry

Only fully jabbed students can return to school, says Saudi Education Ministry
Updated 02 August 2021

Only fully jabbed students can return to school, says Saudi Education Ministry

Only fully jabbed students can return to school, says Saudi Education Ministry
  • Primary, kindergarten pupils will return to classrooms once 70% of population has been double-jabbed or October 30

JEDDAH: Only students who have been fully jabbed against COVID-19 can go back to school once the academic year begins on Aug. 29, the Kingdom’s Ministry of Education said on Sunday.
High school and middle school students who have completed their vaccination program in Saudi Arabia are set to return to the classroom by the end of the month.
Elementary and preschool students will be exempt from returning until 70 percent herd immunity has been achieved through double dosage.
Saudi Arabia has so far administered more than 27.2 million vaccine doses and 8.25 million people have received both shots, making up 23.7 percent of the country’s 34.8 million population.
The ministry said appointments would be provided for staff and eligible students to get vaccinated in time for the start of the school year.
At Sunday’s press conference, Ministry of Health spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly urged pregnant women to get jabbed. He reaffirmed the vaccines’ safety and efficacy and said a large number of unvaccinated pregnant women around the world had been hospitalized with COVID-19.

FASTFACT

The total number of coronavirus cases in KSA reached 526,814.

He also called on doctors to do their part in communicating the importance of COVID-19 vaccines to pregnant women. “You aren’t just protecting one life, you’re protecting two,” he added.
Exemptions, including cases of medically proven hypersensitivity to the vaccines or one of their components, are determined through reports issued by the ministry.
Ministry of Commerce spokesman Abdulrahman Al-Husain said that more than 1 million commercial establishments had followed health precautions to only admit immune customers on the first day that all residents in the Kingdom were required to have had at least one dose or have recovered from COVID-19 in order to enter commercial, government, private and public establishments.
On Sunday there were 1,084 new cases recorded in the Kingdom, bringing the total to 526,814.
There were 1,285 new recoveries, taking this total to 507,374, while 12 new deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 8,249. More than 25.12 million PCR tests have been conducted so far.


Saudi military chief meets Bahraini counterpart

Saudi military chief meets Bahraini counterpart
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi military chief meets Bahraini counterpart

Saudi military chief meets Bahraini counterpart

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili received Chief of Staff of Bahrain Defense Force Lt. Gen. Dhiyab bin Saqr Al-Nuaimi, and his accompanying delegation, at King Salman Air Base in Riyadh on Sunday.

During the meeting, they exchanged military views and discussed issues of common interest, stressing the strength of relations and ways to achieve the shared goals of the armed forces of the two countries.

Saudi Deputy Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Mutlaq bin Salem Al-Azima, who is also the acting commander of the joint forces, then accompanied Al-Nuaimi on a visit to the Joint Forces Command and briefed him on the progress of the operations led by the Arab coalition forces to support legitimacy in Yemen.

They also discussed ways to support and enhance these to ensure regional security and stability.

Maj. Gen. Turki bin Bandar bin Abdul Aziz, commander of the Royal Saudi Air Forces, also received Al-Nuaimi in the Air Force Command. During the meeting, they discussed many issues of common interest.