Middle East initiative aims to help women-led Arab businesses grow

Special Saudi fashion designer, Arwa Al-Banawi, in her studio. (AFP)
Saudi fashion designer, Arwa Al-Banawi, in her studio. (AFP)
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Updated 28 March 2022

Middle East initiative aims to help women-led Arab businesses grow

Saudi fashion designer, Arwa Al-Banawi, in her studio. (AFP)
  • She Wins Arabia to be implemented in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the UAE, Palestine and Yemen
  • Initiative will offer capacity building and training to key players in region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

DUBAI: Women-led startups across the Middle East and North Africa are receiving a helping hand thanks to a new initiative to provide them with the advice, finance and mentorship they need to grow.

She Wins Arabia is a collaboration between the International Financial Corporation (IFC) from the World Bank and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) to support incubators, accelerators and venture capital funds through capacity building and training.

The initiative, which is part of IFC’s wider commitment to closing economic gaps between women and men in MENA, will work directly with regional women-led startups and businesses to support them in building their business plans and refining their pitches to potential investors.

“There are several challenges faced by male and female founders globally, which are all centered around access to capital, markets and talent,” said Miriam Kiwan, head of strategic partnerships at ADGM.

She cited a lack of awareness in the MENA entrepreneurship ecosystem about gender-specific challenges faced by women-led startups.

“Perhaps the most challenging one is access to funding, which is due to limited access to financial services and bank loans, an extremely low level of female representation in the funding ecosystem, and the persistence of gender biases linked to female and minority founders,” she said.

Sofana Dahlan, CEO of an incubator for design-related startups. (AFP/Getty Images)

A recent OECD report revealed that female company founders receive 23 percent less funding than male founders, despite achieving 35 percent higher returns on investment and generating an average of 12 percent higher revenues than male founders.

In a region where only 6 percent of private equity and venture capital funding is directed toward female-led enterprises, according to the IFC, initiatives such as She Wins Arabia can play an important role in empowering women entrepreneurs.

Moreover, many incubators and venture capital funds do not yet tailor their workspaces, products and services for women entrepreneurs. “We need to focus on developing regional programs to improve the number of female fund managers through mentorship, VC programs and angel investor programs,” Kiwan told Arab News.

“We must reduce unconscious bias and create an equal startup ecosystem through capacity building and engagement of various players across the ecosystem, including incubators, accelerators and investors.”

Kiwan says building the required capabilities and skills within women-led startups is crucial for facilitating their access to the market, through inclusive procurement policies and ensuring their success.

Miriam Kiwan (L), head of Strategic Partnerships at Abu Dhabi Global Market, and Sammar Essmat (R), gender lead for the Middle East, Central Asia and Turkey at IFC. (Supplied)

“As a tech ecosystem enabler with a focus on diversity, it is important for ADGM to support initiatives such as She Wins Arabia to advance gender parity across its ecosystem and improve gender-less investing in the region,” she said.

Supported by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative and the government of the Netherlands, the project will be implemented in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the UAE, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as Yemen.

It will culminate in a competition to enable women-led startups access to support and finance across the region, and to network with funds, incubators and accelerators.

“Female founders play an important role in contributing to economic growth, wealth creation and job creation,” Kiwan said, pointing to a recent Boston Consulting Group report that claims supporting female entrepreneurs can raise global gross domestic product (GDP) by about 3 to 6 percent, and boost the global economy by $5 trillion.

More broadly, she said: “Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and they hold tremendous potential in impacting regional economic development, helping achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the coming decade and contributing to the Fourth Industrial Revolution in reshaping our social fabric.”

Echoing Kiwan’s opinion on empowering female entrepreneurs, Sammar Essmat, gender lead for the Middle East, Central Asia and Turkey at IFC, says women have huge potential to add to the region’s economies.

The Saudi government, under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is phasing in an ongoing series of reforms to both diversify the Saudi economy and to liberalize its society, including the empowerment of women. (AFP/Getty Images)

“A 2015 (McKinsey) study found that MENA economies lose out on an estimated $2.7 trillion in additional GDP because of gender gaps. That’s the cost of a missed opportunity and, together with our partners, we are working to eliminate it,” she told Arab News.

As a leading tech hub, ADGM seeks to provide a progressive ecosystem that supports innovation and entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, with 30 percent of their tech startups in different sectors led by women.

“Closing the gender gap in entrepreneurship is an important part of leveraging this opportunity. In fact, the GDP of MENA countries is estimated to rise 30 to 40 percent if women are better integrated into the economy,” Essmat said.

Fortunately, the MENA entrepreneurship ecosystem has improved and is slowly becoming a leading hub for founders. In regional universities, girls vastly outperform their male peers. In the UAE alone, women account for about 70 percent of university graduates, although the figure drops after women reach mid-career due to organizational cultures and the gender pay gap, among other issues.

“Entrepreneurship offers women better opportunities and alternatives to employment, if some of these challenges are removed,” Kiwan said. “We have collaborated with key regional and international entities to advance our gender equality agenda and ensure equal opportunity for female entrepreneurs.”

In a region where only 6 percent of private equity and venture capital funding is directed toward female-led enterprises, according to the IFC, initiatives such as She Wins Arabia can play an important role in empowering women entrepreneurs. (Supplied)

The IFC’s approach to advancing gender equality in the region also focuses on increasing access to finance, skills and digital technologies for female entrepreneurs, creating more and better jobs for women, and working alongside the World Bank to remove legal barriers to women’s economic participation.

Many gradual reforms had been introduced in Saudi Arabia since it ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2001. The announcement of the Vision 2030 reform plan in 2016 gave a further fillip to women’s empowerment.

Besides changes to laws and regulations governing their lives, Saudi women have been allowed to enter new fields such as commercial aviation, state security, economy, tourism and entertainment. Beyond Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the importance of gender equality — equitable or fair representation of men and women — is also being recognized in Arab countries whose leaders and governments have come to regard it as an economic and strategic imperative.

“Support and mentorship dedicated to women-led startups, those of which actually receive funding being a minority for the region, is an excellent initiative to help encourage more women to move into the entrepreneurial space,” said Dana Al-Jawder, CTO of MAGNiTT, a leading venture data platform for startups across the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Turkey.

“The best catalyst for improved growth in this segment is further success stories from great leaders, like those such as Mona Ataya, founder and CEO of Mumzworld.com, and Nadine Mezher, co-founder of Sarwa, the first and fastest-growing investment platform and personal finance app for young professionals in the region.”

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears
Updated 49 min 7 sec ago

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears

Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire prevented all-out war but remains fragile, UN Security Council hears
  • Egyptian envoy called on Israeli authorities to lift their blockade of Gaza, halt illegal settlement activity, and respect the status of Al-Aqsa Mosque
  • Israeli ambassador accused Palestinian Islamic Jihad of taking its orders from Iranian “puppet masters” whose “hatred know no boundaries”

NEW YORK: Although a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants, brokered by Egypt late on Sunday, put an end to intense fighting and appears to be holding, it is fragile and the underlying causes of the latest eruption of violence remain, the UN said on Monday.

It added that the cycle of violence will only stop with a political resolution to the decades-old conflict that ends the Israeli occupation and includes a two-State solution, based on the June 1967 borders and in line with UN resolutions and international law.

Tor Wennesland, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that 46 Palestinians were killed and 360 injured during the recent escalation, during which Israel launched 147 strikes on Gaza and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 1,100 rockets and mortars into Israel. Hundreds of homes and other civilian infrastructure were destroyed. The figures are provisional and “verification is ongoing,” he added.

“While fully recognizing Israel’s legitimate security concerns I reiterate that under international law, all use of force must be proportionate and take all feasible steps to avoid civilian casualties,” Wennesland said. “Children, in particular, must never be the target of violence or put in harm’s way.”

The UAE, together with China, France, Ireland and Norway, requested the emergency meeting to discuss the recent developments in the Gaza Strip.

Wennesland said that the escalation had exacerbated already chronic shortages of essential medicines in Gaza, and that the closure by Israel of the Erez crossing into the Strip for six days had severe humanitarian consequences for Gazans, including preventing patients traveling for medical treatment in Israel.

“The closures also worsened the already precarious food-security situation in the Gaza Strip,

reducing stocks of basic foods, particularly wheat flour,” he said.

Wennesland thanked Egypt for the role it played in securing the ceasefire, alongside the UN, and also thanked Qatar, Jordan, the US and the Palestinian Authority for their deescalation efforts.

“Together, these efforts helped prevent the outbreak of a full-scale war and allowed for the delivery of much-needed humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza starting earlier today,” he told the council members.

He welcomed the “timely reopening” of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings by Israel following the ceasefire, and he called on the leaderships of Israel and Palestine, along with the international community, to step up diplomatic efforts to resume negotiations aimed at securing a viable, two-state solution.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian permanent observer to the UN, accused Israel of “murdering and oppressing an entire nation.” He added that Israel’s “right to security has become a license to kill and needs to be revoked,” as he urged the Security Council to “act now.”

“If you are against violence, do not exclude Israeli violence,” he added. “Do not justify it. Are you ready to say, ‘Enough is enough,’ as the highest authority responsible for the maintenance of peace and security?

“Israeli kills our people because it can. When will the world show them that it cannot?”

Mansour told council members that “defenseless Palestinian families need your support; not a nuclear power, not an occupying power,” as he asked council members “to drag the two parties to the peace process, today before tomorrow.”

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, accused PIJ members of taking their orders from Iranian puppet masters, adding: “Their hate knows no boundaries.”


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

He drew a parallel between the PIJ and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the organization to which recently killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri once belonged.

“EIJ and PIJ share more than a similar name,” Erdan said. “They share the same value of annihilating the free and modern world that we live in.”

While the world welcomed the killing of Al-Zawahiri in a US drone strike on July 31, Erdan said that “UN officials suddenly express deep concern when Israel does the same. It’s hard to understand such double standards.”

He added: “The only remedy for Gazans is for their leaders to stop trying to annihilate Israel and stop investing in terror infrastructure.”

Erdan urged the Security Council to unite behind the condemnation of the PIJ: “Holding a debate and not using the opportunity to fully condemn their war crimes will motivate them to keep (committing more such crimes).”

He also thanked Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for his efforts in helping to broker the ceasefire and “restoring stability in our region.”

Osama Abdel Khalek Mahmoud, Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, called on Israeli authorities to end all of their illegal practices and halt the settlement expansion in the West Bank, which he described as “the most flagrant violation of Palestinian basic human rights,” and to lift the blockade of Gaza and allow food and fuel to begin flowing back into the Strip.

He also called on Israel to respect the legal and historical status of the holy sites in Eastern Jerusalem, urged all parties to refrain from targeting civilians, and asked the international community to help revive the peace process.

Mohammed Abushahab, the UAE’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, expressed deep concern about the recent violence in Gaza and stressed the need for all parties to abide by their responsibilities under international law and international humanitarian law. He also condemned the Israeli incursion into Al-Aqsa Mosque as a provocative action.

“The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza cannot bear more shocks,” Abushahab said as he welcomed the truce and offered his country’s “sincere appreciation” to El-Sisi for his role in helping to restore calm.

Abushahab reiterated his country’s support for all regional and international efforts aimed at bringing peace to the Middle East, and renewed its support for a two-state solution.

Protests in Iraq over power cuts

Protests in Iraq over power cuts
Updated 09 August 2022

Protests in Iraq over power cuts

Protests in Iraq over power cuts

JEDDAH: Demonstrators in the southern Iraqi province of Basra blocked roads on Monday in protests over power cuts that left many without electricity in 50C heat.

People took to the streets and burned tires, blocking the main road to the provincial capital. Meanwhile followers of powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr continued a sit-in outside the Iraqi parliament building to demand early elections. Demonstrators in Basra said they supported Sadr’s protest and were tired of government corruption.

“It’s not the first time we protest and it won’t be the last,” said Ali Hussein, 35. “We support him, and we ask that he punish the corrupt.”

The protests began after the collapse of the electricity grid in six southern provinces due to excessive demand amid high temperatures. Basra Gov. Asaad Al-Eidani said the latest cuts were due to a fire at a power station.

In the holy city of Najaf, a weapons depot belonging to the Iran-backed Hashd Al-Shaabi network of paramilitary groups exploded in the heat.

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44
Updated 09 August 2022

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44

Battered Gaza counts the cost as three-day Israeli assault kills 44
  • Three-day Israeli assault kills 44, including 15 children * Power plant restarts as fragile truce takes hold

GAZA CITY: Gazans on Monday buried their dead, combed through the rubble of their homes and counted the cost of another violent Israeli onslaught.

At least 44 Palestinians, including four women and 15 children, were killed in the three-day bombardment, and more than 350 were injured. Eighteen homes were completely destroyed, 1,675 were damaged  and 71 were made uninhabitable.

The attack began on Friday when Israel launched an aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions, the biggest assault since Israel’s 11-day war on Gaza last year.

The violence finally ended late on Sunday with a ceasefire brokered by Egypt. “We received the news of the ceasefire with joy and happiness and we went back to our work,” said Gaza shopkeeper Hazem Douima. “We did not want more bloodshed.”
Bereaved families buried the victims. At one funeral joined by hundreds of mourners in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, a single family laid four children to rest.

Sobhi El-Wawy, 44, told Arab News: “We thank God that we are still alive. They were hard days. There was bombing everywhere, it was frightening for adults and children. This is not the first time this has happened, and I don’t think it will be the last.

“We want to live as the rest of the world’s population lives ... we do not want wars and we do not want escalation, we want peace.”

Rahma Al-Borai said: “We are almost back to normal life, but the lives of those who lost their children or loved ones will be much more difficult.

“We live in Gaza under a harsh life, there is a lot of poverty, and there is a lot of pain, and unfortunately no one looks at us with this view ... the world is unjust.

“Look how the world dealt with Ukraine, and how they deal with the Palestinians. We are under bombardment ... we are dying for no reason. What we want is only freedom.”

As the fragile truce took hold on Monday, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing to supply fuel for Gaza’s only power plant, generating eight hours of electricity a day. It also reopened the Erez crossing for hospitalpatients, some diplomats and foreigners.

Palestinians cannot yet cross the border to work, which Israel said was dependent on a period of calm, and a security assessment.

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case
Updated 08 August 2022

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

Former Israeli health minister sentenced over student abuse case

JERUSALEM: An Israeli court sentenced a former health minister to probation and a fine on Monday for obstructing justice in connection with the protracted extradition case against a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her students in Australia.

Yaakov Litzman, a former health minister and longtime ally of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, resigned from parliament earlier this year after striking a plea deal with prosecutors.

He was accused of pressuring ministry employees to alter psychiatric evaluations to make it appear that Malka Leifer was unfit to stand trial.

Leifer was extradited to Australia in January 2021 after a six-year legal battle that strained relations between the two countries and angered Australia’s Jewish community.

Leifer has pleaded not guilty to the charges and her trial is expected to start later this month.

Litzman was health minister during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic but resigned in April 2020 in the face of a public uproar over his handling of the crisis.  He was charged with fraud and breach of trust earlier this year, but pleaded guilty to the breach of trust charge in the Leifer case.

In Monday’s hearing, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court upheld the plea deal and sentenced Litzman to eight months of probation and a $900 fine.

He and Leifer are members of the country’s insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Last year, then-Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said Litzman had used his position “to advance the interests of private individuals.”

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors dropped charges that Litzman used his influence to prevent a friend’s deli from being shut down over health concerns.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said the court’s acceptance of the “lenient and shameful” plea deal erodes public trust and law enforcement’s ability to perform its duty.

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria
Updated 08 August 2022

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria

Six migrants die after boat sinks off Algeria
  • A search was ongoing for an unspecified number of missing people

ALGIERS: Six migrants were found dead at sea and others were missing after their boat sank on Monday off the coast of Algeria, local television reported, adding six survivors were rescued.

“Six bodies were retrieved and six injured people, including a pregnant woman, have been transferred to hospital at Bainem” west of the capital Algiers, private television channel Ennahar said.

The boat capsized around 4 a.m. local time, it added.

A search was ongoing for an unspecified number of missing people.

The boat’s occupants originated from various sub-Saharan African countries.  They were attempting to reach Europe.

More than 2,350 would-be migrants have been rescued or intercepted in the first seven months of this year off Algeria, according to data provided by national authorities.

Spain is a favored destination for migrants embarking from the North African nation. Tunisian coast guards “rescued” more than 250 migrants who were attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Italy, the North African country’s National Guard said on Sunday.

Maritime authorities “were able ... to rescue 255 would-be migrants, including 170 people of various African nationalities, with the remainder Tunisians,” the National Guard said in a statement on Facebook. The attempted crossings — 17 in total — took place on the night of Friday to Saturday from the east of Tunisia, according to National Guard spokesman Houcem Eddine Jebabli.

The statement did not indicate whether any vessels had got into difficulty or sunk, but did note that an unspecified sum of cash was seized during the operations.

In a separate statement later on Sunday, the Tunisian navy announced that 22 other would-be migrants, including nine children and three women, had been rescued on Saturday.

They were all Tunisian, the statement said, adding that they were rescued on a boat 80 km off the island of Kuriat near the eastern coastal city of Monastir.

The National Guard on Friday had carried out a “pre-emptive operation,” arresting five people who were “preparing to lead an illegal immigration bid departing from the coast of Sousse province in the east of the country,” spokesman Jebabli said.

The Tunisian coast guard announced in mid-July that 455 migrants had been “rescued” in several operations off the northern, eastern and southern coasts of the country. Attempts by migrants to reach Europe from the North African coastline tend to increase in spring and summer, due to the lower risk of stormy seas.

Tunisia and Libya are principal departure points and Italy a favored destination.