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.”


Organization of Islamic Cooperation chief, Moroccan envoy discuss cooperation

Organization of Islamic Cooperation chief, Moroccan envoy discuss cooperation
Updated 26 February 2021

Organization of Islamic Cooperation chief, Moroccan envoy discuss cooperation

Organization of Islamic Cooperation chief, Moroccan envoy discuss cooperation

JEDDAH: The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, on Thursday received the Moroccan ambassador to Saudi Arabia and OIC permanent representative, Dr. Mustafa Al-Mansouri.
The envoy signed the statute of the Islamic Organization for Food Security on behalf of his country and discussed with Al-Othaimeen ways to further strengthen cooperation between the OIC and Morocco. Al-Othaimeen praised Morocco’s leading role within the organization and in joint Islamic action.


Who’s Who: Dr. Mahmoud Al-Yamany, executive president of Second Health Cluster

Who’s Who: Dr. Mahmoud Al-Yamany, executive president of Second Health Cluster
Updated 26 February 2021

Who’s Who: Dr. Mahmoud Al-Yamany, executive president of Second Health Cluster

Who’s Who: Dr. Mahmoud Al-Yamany, executive president of Second Health Cluster

Dr. Mahmoud Al-Yamany is the executive president of a group of Saudi healthcare facilities known as the Second Health Cluster. It includes King Fahd Medical City, Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Hospital, King Saud Hospital for Chest Diseases, Al-Yamamah Hospital, and a group of primary healthcare centers in northeastern Riyadh.
Al-Yamany has also served as director of the National Neuroscience Institute, chairman of the board of directors of the Scientific Committee for Neurosurgery, medical director of neurology and head of the department of neurosurgery, both at King Fahd Medical City, and as a consultant of neurosurgery at the Riyadh Medical Complex.
He sat as chairman of the accreditation committee for health promotion at King Fahd Medical City, was a consultant of neurosurgery at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, and was an honorary professor of assistant clinical neurosurgery at King Saud University.
In addition, he held the positions of assistant executive director of medical departments and deputy executive director for medical affairs at King Fahd Medical City.
He is a representative of Saudi Arabia and an examiner on the Arab Board of Neurosurgery, and an executive partner of the Qimam Fellowship, which provides its fellows with one-on-one mentorship from senior public and private sector leaders.
Al-Yamany gained master’s degrees in health administration, and health management from Washington University, bachelor’s degrees in medicine, and surgery from King Saud University’s college of medicine in Riyadh.


Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and US President Biden discuss regional security

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and US President Biden discuss regional security
Updated 26 February 2021

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and US President Biden discuss regional security

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and US President Biden discuss regional security
  • The talks dealt with ‘the most important issues in the region’
  • They discussed Iran’s destabilizing behavior and ending the war in Yemen

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and US President Joe Biden discussed regional and global stability during a phone call on Thursday.
The two leaders stressed the importance of strengthening the partnership between the two countries and the depth of their historical relations, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
During the call, King Salman congratulated Biden on taking office last month.
The talks dealt with the most important issues in the region and reviewed developments of common interest, the report said.
The two sides discussed Iran’s behavior in the region, its destabilizing activities and its support for terrorist groups.
“King Salman thanked the US president for Washington’s commitment to defend the Kingdom against any threats and his assurance that Iran would not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons,” SPA said.
Biden commended the Kingdom’s support for UN efforts to reach a truce and a cease-fire in Yemen.
King Salman said the Kingdom was keen to reach a comprehensive political solution in Yemen and to achieve security and development for the Yemeni people.
A statement from the White House said the US president told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible.


SAF improving lives of autistic children in Saudi Arabia for years

SAF improving lives of autistic children in Saudi Arabia for years
Updated 26 February 2021

SAF improving lives of autistic children in Saudi Arabia for years

SAF improving lives of autistic children in Saudi Arabia for years
  • Arab News spoke to Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Farhan Al-Saud, SAF’s chairman, to discover more about the charity’s efforts since its launch in 2009

JEDDAH: The Saudi-based Charitable Society of Autism Families (SAF) has been assisting families with autistic children and pushing for greater community inclusion for more than 10 years now. But while awareness of autism in the region has improved in that time, there remains a stigma around and lack of understanding of the condition in the Kingdom.

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate or socialize with others. It can lead to a variety of seemingly anti-social behaviors, including a lack of desire to interact with other people, displays of apparent hostility, avoidance of eye contact, repetitive patterns of behavior, and more.

Arab News spoke to Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Farhan Al-Saud, SAF’s chairman, to discover more about the charity’s efforts since its launch in 2009.

“With the right health care and resources, combined with family support, some of the children on the spectrum can gain the necessary skills to lead a ‘normal’ life and, in some cases, demonstrate special talents and capabilities not common in the wider population,” Prince Saud said. “We see many inspiring examples in our society and we regularly showcase these success stories.”

Autism is commonly diagnosed by the age of three and is more prevalent in males than females. The first studies of autism appeared in the 1960s, but less-severe varieties of autism were not identified until the 1980’s. Today, three types of ASD have been identified — each with specific characteristics that help doctors diagnose patients. They are autistic disorder, also known as classic autism; Asperger syndrome; and pervasive developmental disorders, also known as atypical autism.

Prince Saud said it is difficult to produce an accurate estimate of how many people in the Kingdom have ASD, due to the lack of sufficient studies. “However, according to the US CDC, 1 in 54 children — across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups — has been identified with ASD, meaning an approximate 1-2 percent of the global population is on the spectrum,” he said “This percentage might be applicable to the Kingdom.”

One of SAF’s most-common methods of raising awareness is through its series of public seminars, but it has recently also become more active on social media, in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from its campaigning work, the society also helps arrange the provision of services including rehabilitation, educational development, guidance and assistance from other organizations for the families it supports, as well as a range of online offerings, including consultations, lectures and workshops, and rehabilitation services.

“We will continue our efforts to create a welcoming community in which autism is well understood so that those on the spectrum and their families can get the support they need,” Prince Saud said.

 


Saudi Arabia is a critical partner: US Yemen envoy

Saudi Arabia is a critical partner: US Yemen envoy
Updated 26 February 2021

Saudi Arabia is a critical partner: US Yemen envoy

Saudi Arabia is a critical partner: US Yemen envoy
  • Prince Khalid and Lenderking discussed diplomatic efforts and Saudi Arabia’s commitment to finding a solution to the conflict and supporting Yemenis

LONDON: Saudi Arabia is a critical partner of the US, the country’s envoy to Yemen said on Thursday in talks about resolving the conflict.

“The US recognizes the conflict in Yemen cannot be resolved without Saudi support,” Timothy Lenderking said after a meeting with the Kingdom’s Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman.

Prince Khalid and Lenderking also discussed diplomatic efforts and Saudi Arabia’s commitment to finding a solution to the conflict and supporting Yemenis.