How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation

How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation
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Increased female participation in professional and technical jobs could turbo-charge economic growth in the Middle East. (Getty Images)
How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation
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More women in the Arab world are entering the workforce thanks to new legislation designed to protect them from discrimination and harassment. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2022

How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation

How digitalization is boosting Arab female labor force participation
  • Pandemic restrictions accelerated the move towards remote and hybrid forms of working
  • Women trying to balancing their careers and homelife benefited most from the transition

DUBAI: At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, companies were forced to take a more flexible approach to work, allowing their staff to carry out tasks remotely, splitting their time between home and the office and to define their own working hours.

The phenomenon has not only accelerated an existing trend toward the digitalization of work processes, but it has also made workplaces far more flexible and, as a byproduct, much more inclusive for women.

This has taken place at a time when many more women in the Arab world are entering the workforce thanks to new legislation designed to protect them from discrimination and harassment, and also due to burgeoning growth in new sectors of the economy.

Regional experts have welcomed this new environment of hybrid working and greater inclusivity. “We see quite a few companies adopting the flexible working model,” Marketa Simkova, partner of People and Change at KPMG, told Arab News.

“It could be more flexible working hours and also the off-site/on-site model. Women require the flexibility to juggle their private life, their family and work environment.”

Simkova, who is taking part in a panel discussion, “A new beginning: Work 2.0,” at the Arab Women Forum in Dubai on May 17, said several of her female clients appreciate such flexibility and view it as one of the deciding factors when they look for new opportunities.

“They prefer companies that could offer that,” she said.




Marketa Simkova, partner of People and Change at KPMG, says regional firms are still divided on the issue women’s equity. (Supplied)

In fact, advancing the role of women in society and the economy is considered a key driver of change in the Middle East.

According to the management consulting company McKinsey, increased female participation in professional and technical jobs could turbo-charge economic growth in a region that will be significantly impacted by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

McKinsey researchers estimate that the share of women in professional and technical jobs is set to more than double by 2030 as a result of the move toward digitalization, online platforms and entrepreneurship.

“Capturing this opportunity would put women in the Middle East at parity with global peers,” the firm said. “Women in the Middle East can go further and aim to achieve parity with the region’s men in professional and technical jobs.”

However, according to Simkova, regional firms are still divided on the issue, with many demanding their employees come back to the office after the lifting of pandemic restrictions as they feel productivity would otherwise drop.

Others simply do not have the flexibility because of the nature of their work.

“Most offer a hybrid model, which is a mix of working from home two or three days a week and the office,” Simkova said. “Very few select companies are completely flexible.”

Today, technology allows for this flexibility, with the expansion of tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom offering virtual meetings and the secure transfer of large files, while allowing home-based workers a better work-life balance.

“I see on the ground that this is an advantage,” Simkova said. “The benefits are that the flexibility suits more women than men, and the fact that they get this flexibility thanks to digitalization can then combine their family life and career, hence this whole situation is promoting diversity.”

According to McKinsey, digital inclusion is critical to boosting female participation in professional and technical jobs in the region, offering more advanced job opportunities with greater flexibility.

For Samia El-Kadiri, adviser and head of research in governance and compliance at Hawkamah, who is also taking part in the Arab Women Forum panel, diversity is a fundamental element to innovation and creativity.

“It is generally understood that companies with a diverse workforce are more likely to have a better understanding of their consumers,” she told Arab News. “So this (pandemic) crisis should be an encouragement for a new future that is more flexible, more diverse and more well-being oriented.”

Boards of directors are nowadays under the microscope as never before, measured on their racial, cultural and gender diversity criteria under the umbrella of environmental, social and corporate governance.




Samia El-Kadiri, adviser and head of research in governance and compliance at Hawkamah, says diversity is a fundamental element to innovation and creativity. (Zubiya Shaikh/AN)

As a result, practices are changing, and El-Kadiri foresees that they will remain in place well into the future.

“Company leaders are also realizing that as well. So leaders can now focus on blending a culture that can provide for employees to work from anywhere they want. Some companies are already practicing those policies.”

As a result, digitalization has helped women during the pandemic to balance their work life with their responsibilities as mothers and caregivers.

“Especially in our region, women are under the pressure of stereotypes to give more time to home responsibilities or to their husbands,” El-Kadiri said.

“Today, they can do both. They can be successful and (fulfill) their responsibilities, not only in our region, but also globally.”

Despite many of the clear benefits, Simkova has a word of caution for companies and employees embracing remote and hybrid work.

“This digitalization trend will continue,” Simkova said. “But it remains to be seen how it will impact things such as employee engagement, productivity and employee learning in the long term.”

Indeed, there can be downsides to working from home. For instance, those employees who come into the office regularly tend to have greater visibility with management.

“We need to be a bit careful because we are starting to notice that it’s a disadvantage for a new starter,” Simkova said. “People don’t typically come to the office, so it’s more difficult for them to be integrated and make connections.”

Equally, newer employees working remotely tend to miss out on the chance to learn from others through observation and networking. “People are also social creatures,” Simkova said.

“If they don’t have the opportunity to meet frequently, create relationships and spend time together then, in the long term, it might impact their bond with the company, its culture and their engagement.”

 


Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks
Updated 04 July 2022

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks

Egyptian envoy, Fatah official hold talks
  • The issues discussed included Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, incursions into Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, and settler violence

CAIRO: Tarek Tayel, head of Egypt’s mission in Ramallah, met with Jibril Rajoub, secretary of Fatah’s central committee, and discussed the latest political developments regarding Palestine.

The issues discussed included Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, incursions into Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, and settler violence.

After the meeting, Tayel affirmed the continuation of Egyptian support for the Palestinian people at all levels, including peace efforts that guarantee the restoration of their rights, intra-Palestinian reconciliation, and reconstruction in the Gaza Strip.

He praised the efforts of Rajoub’s team to pay attention to youth activities and events, in light of his presidency of the Palestinian Olympic Committee.


UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya
Updated 04 July 2022

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya

UN rights mission finds ‘probable’ mass graves in Libya
  • Militia run by seven brothers executed and imprisoned hundreds of people between 2016-2020
  • Surviving leaders of the Kaniyat are mostly believed to have fled to areas of eastern Libya

GENEVA: A UN-appointed mission to Libya said on Monday there are “probable mass graves” yet to be investigated, possibly as many as 100, in a town where hundreds of bodies have already been found and it urged Tripoli to continue searching.
The report to be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council this week details how a militia run by seven brothers executed and imprisoned hundreds of people between 2016-2020, sometimes keeping them in tiny oven-like structures called “the boxes” which were set alight during interrogations.
The evidence of kidnappings, murder and torture in Tarhouna by the independent Fact-Finding Mission represents one of the most egregious examples of human rights abuses in the turbulent period since long-ruling Muammar Qaddafi’s ousting in 2011.
Among the victims were the disabled as well as women and children, the 51-page report said.
Based on the testimonies of residents and two site visits, the mission found “reasonable grounds” that the Kaniyat militia committed crimes against humanity. It identified four commanders who participated directly in them.
Already, Libyan authorities have recovered 247 bodies in mass and individual grave sites in the Tarhouna area in Western Libya. Many were still handcuffed and blindfolded.
The mission used satellite imagery showing signs of soil disturbances among other evidence to identify three new likely sites. But there could be many more, it said, citing an existing grave known as ‘The Landfill’ where just a tiny fraction of the site has been investigated.
“According to insider knowledge, there might still be up to 100 as of yet undiscovered mass graves,” the report said.
It is not immediately clear how the findings will reflect on Libyan authorities. Libya’s diplomatic mission in Geneva did not respond for a request for comment.
At one stage, the Kaniyat was aligned with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord but later with the eastern Libyan National Army led by commander Khalifa Haftar that tried, unsuccessfully, to overthrow the National Accord administration. The militia no longer holds authority in Tarhouna. The surviving leaders of the Kaniyat are mostly believed to have fled to areas of eastern Libya under Haftar’s control.
In its conclusions, the FFM calls on Libyan authorities to continue searching for the graves. It also urges them to establish a special tribunal to prosecute international crimes.
However, the report refers to difficulties with cooperation in the past. Diplomats and UN sources told Reuters that Libya had in the past expressed reservations about continuing the mission, which expires this month.
A resolution is currently before the Geneva-based council to keep investigations going for another nine months, which is less than some had hoped for. A decision is expected this week.


Yemeni troops launch campaign against Al-Qaeda

Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2022

Yemeni troops launch campaign against Al-Qaeda

Yemeni troops managed to push Al-qaeda from key cities. (AFP)
  • Offensive in Abyan governorate aimed at preventing resurgence by terror group

AL-MUKALLA: Yemeni special forces have launched an offensive against Al-Qaeda in the southern governorate of Abyan, amid reports that the terrorist group is attempting a comeback.
Elite counterterrorism troops have been deployed in mountains and valleys in Abyan to prevent Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its branch in Yemen, from turning those areas into safe havens or launch pads for strikes against government troops in the south.
Abdul Rahman Al-Shonini, commander of counterterrorism forces in Abyan, said the campaign was launched after receiving information that AQAP was gathering in remote valleys and mountains to launch attacks against government troops in the south. He vowed to thwart its attempts to resurge in Abyan.

SPEEDREAD

• Elite counterterrorism troops have been deployed in mountains and valleys in Abyan to prevent Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, its branch in Yemen, from turning those areas into safe havens or launch pads for strikes against government troops in the south.

• Last month, local media and residents said masked AQAP terrorists appeared in some valleys and areas in Abyan, ambushing troops and kidnapping residents.

His forces have not encountered any resistance as AQAP terrorists have reportedly fled to their hideouts in mountains between Abyan and Al-Bayda governorate.
Last month, local media and residents said masked AQAP terrorists appeared in some valleys and areas in Abyan, ambushing troops and kidnapping residents.
Local security officials accuse AQAP of orchestrating a string of attacks that killed at least 10 soldiers in Abyan and Shabwa governorate last month.
In 2015, AQAP exploited instability stemming from the war in Yemen to seize large swaths of land in southern governorates, including Hadramout, Abyan and Lahj.
Thanks to military support from the Arab coalition, Yemeni troops managed to push AQAP from key cities, killing and capturing hundreds of terrorists.
Last month, various armed forces in Abyan, including government troops and the pro-independence Southern Transitional Council — which had fought each other in 2019 and 2020 — agreed to form a joint command room to confront AQAP.

 


Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute returns to the fore

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
Updated 03 July 2022

Lebanon-Israel maritime border dispute returns to the fore

An Israeli navy vessel is pictured off the coast of rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon
  • US mediator Amos Hochstein sent a proposal to Lebanon in March on the demarcation starting from Line 23, which was drawn in a zigzag form

BEIRUT: A maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel has returned to the fore following a security development on Saturday night.

Israel’s army spokesman Avichay Adraee said warplanes and an Israeli missile ship had intercepted three drones that approached from Lebanon’s side toward the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

Hezbollah’s military wing, the Islamic Resistance, confirmed the incident in a statement: “A group affiliated with martyrs Jamil Skaff and Mahdi Yaghi launched three drones of different sizes toward the disputed area, over the Karish gas field, to carry out reconnaissance missions. The mission was accomplished and the message was conveyed.”

Lebanon mostly stayed silent on the development, although caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said there was a possibility of reaching an agreement on the border issue in September and that information from the US and UN showed there was progress in the negotiations.

FASTFACT

Israel’s army spokesman Avichay Adraee said warplanes and an Israeli missile ship had intercepted three drones that approached from Lebanon’s side toward the airspace over Israel’s economic waters.

US mediator Amos Hochstein sent a proposal to Lebanon in March on the demarcation starting from Line 23, which was drawn in a zigzag form.

Lebanon handed him an oral response, which he did not reveal, pending the Israeli response.

Lebanon has been unable to confirm that Line 29 — which includes the Karish gas field — is the maritime border of Lebanon due to the failure of President Michel Aoun to sign a draft amendment to Decree 6433.

It was issued in 2011 and specified that Line 23 was the point for negotiations with Israel to demarcate the maritime borders. However, Aoun considers Line 29 to be the point for negotiations.

Line 29 gives Lebanon an additional area estimated at 1,430 square km while, according to the decree deposited with the UN, Lebanon only gets 860 square km of the disputed area.

Mohammed Yazbeck, Ayatollah Khamenei’s legal representative in Lebanon, said on Sunday: “Lebanon’s preservation of its wealth can only be achieved by informing the enemy that we are strong. The message was delivered by drones. This message is not only for the Israeli enemy but also for the American mediator, to understand that Lebanon’s rights cannot be underestimated or ridiculed.”

Former MP Fares Souaid said: “Hezbollah’s drones over Karish are aimed at reminding all parties that Iran is present in the ongoing negotiations between Lebanon and Israel over border demarcation under American auspices and at the expense of the Lebanese interest.

“The incident confirmed by Hezbollah may take place once again, and more serious incidents may occur. Therefore, we call on the nation’s representatives to raise the issue of Iran’s occupation within Parliament.”

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that Hezbollah constituted an “obstacle” to an agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

“The party continues to walk the path of terrorism and undermines Lebanon’s ability to reach an agreement on the maritime borders.”

He said Israel would continue to protect itself, its citizens, and its interests.

Israel’s army said Hezbollah was trying to undermine the country’s sovereignty on the ground, in the air, and at sea. “The economic waters are part of Israel and are not a conflict zone. No discussion is necessary,” it added.

Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the drones were flown near the Karish gas field. One was downed by a fighter jet, and the other two were taken out by Barak 8 missiles launched from a missile ship.

It said Hezbollah had sent out different types of drones that flew at low altitudes. They were monitored and intercepted through coordination between the naval and air forces.

The newspaper quoted the Israeli army as saying: “Initial assessments indicated that the drones were not armed and did not pose any threat. This is an attempt to undermine negotiations with Lebanon regarding the maritime border, and Hezbollah wants to destroy Lebanon.”

The report said Hezbollah had previously sent out drones to Israeli territory, but Saturday night’s development was the first time that such an operation had been carried out on the floating gas platform in Karish, where no gas had yet been extracted.

“The incident is a message to Israel that Hezbollah can carry out the threats made by its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in recent weeks. By launching these drones, Hezbollah acted against the Lebanese interest, despite the progress made in the file of demarcating the maritime borders through the efforts of American mediator Amos Hochstein," it said. "What happened not only violates the negotiations but also indicates that Hezbollah violated its position regarding not taking any action without a Lebanese national agreement or consensus.”


Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces
Updated 04 July 2022

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces

Hundreds of anti-coup protesters in Sudan defy security forces
  • Protesters are demanding a restoration of civilian rule that was launched after the 2019 which the coup derailed

KHARTOUM: Hundreds of Sudanese protesters demanding an end to military rule took to the streets of the capital Khartoum and its suburbs for a fourth straight day Sunday, witnesses said.
A violent crackdown by security forces during mass rallies on Thursday killed nine people, according to medics, the deadliest day for several months in the long-running protests against a coup last October led by army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
Recent protests have seen crowds burn tires and barricade roads with bricks, while security forces have used live bullets, fired barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed powerful water cannons, according to medics and the United Nations.
Demonstrators are demanding a restoration of the transition to civilian rule that was launched after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir and which the coup derailed.
“We will continue this sit-in until the coup is overturned, and we have a fully civilian government,” demonstrator Muayyad Mohamed told AFP in central Khartoum.
The death toll from protest-related violence has reached 114 since last year’s coup. The latest fatality came on Saturday when a demonstrator died from wounds sustained at a June 16 rally, according to pro-democracy medics.

“We will not compromise until the goals of our revolution are realized,” said Soha, 25, another protester, who only gave her first name.
“We are here in the street demanding freedom, peace, justice, a civil state and the return of the military to the barracks.”
Last year’s coup plunged Sudan further into political and economic turmoil that has sent consumer prices spiralling and resulted in life-threatening food shortages.
On Sunday, witnesses reported a heavy deployment of security forces on the streets of Khartoum, including army vehicles and those of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a feared paramilitary unit commanded by Burhan’s deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
The RSF incorporated members of the Janjaweed militia, which was accused by rights groups of atrocities during the conflict that erupted in 2003 in the western region of Darfur.
More recently, the RSF has been accused of taking part in crackdowns on protesters marching against military rule.
The international community has condemned the recent bloodshed, with the UN rights chief urging an independent probe into Thursday’s violence.

The UN, African Union and regional bloc IGAD have tried to facilitate dialogue between the generals and civilians, but the main civilian factions have boycotted.
On Friday, the three bodies jointly condemned the violence and “the use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.”
Yasser Arman from Sudan’s main civilian bloc the Forces for Freedom and Change on Sunday again expressed opposition to a return to negotiations with the military and its allies.
“The bullets that have cut down protesters have cut down the political process,” he told a press conference, adding, “It’s not us who broke it off.”
In the restive Darfur region, which has seen a recent resurgence in violence, General Daglo — known as Hemeti — on Sunday called “on all political forces, especially the youth,” to come to the table.
“Dialogue is the only way to guarantee stability in our country,” he said at a ceremony where 2,000 ex-rebels completed their training to join Sudanese security forces.
The integration of former fighters into the Sudanese army and police was part of a 2020 peace deal with rebel groups involved in decades of civil conflict, including in Darfur.
The first of its kind, the cohort “will confront the chaos in Darfur,” Daglo said.
Hundreds have been killed in recent months in Darfur, in a renewed spike of violence triggered by disputes mainly over land, livestock and access to water and grazing.