By Madeleine White, educationalist, writer and Head of Strategic Partnerships, Whizz Education.
Apologies for not writing my usual monthly update. I do have a good reason though, I was involved with an inspiring conference at the end of June in London and have been working to respond to the passion, ideas and concepts shared ever since.
The members of the Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition (DP) met with business women from the Arab World, G8 and other nations on 25-26 June 2013 to strengthen opportunities for women in employment and trade following the calls of women during the uprisings of 2011-13.
The topic was Women’s Role in Arab Countries, the issue was how to create the environment and support the need of business women in the Middle East to thrive, and thus contribute to the economies of ‘countries in transition’.
Figures released by the World Bank Group show that closing the gap between male and female employment rates would have huge implications for the global economy, boosting American gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 9 percent, Eurozone GDP by 13 percent and Japanese GDP by 16 percent. Globally, women represent 49.6 percent of the total population, but only 40.8 percent of the total workforce in the formal sector. In the Middle East OECD figures are much starker. Only 27% of women join the labour force compared with 78% of men. In a region already deemed as sluggish in terms of entrepreneurial activity, again women lag considerably behind men,11% compared to 22%.
In Iraq the picture is even starker. A summary provided by the UN states that:
“ Armed conflicts have led to deterioration in the lives of women in Iraq and an associated loss to the country since women are marginalized and unable to contribute economically, socially, and politically. Iraqi women today suffer from a lack of educational opportunities, a lack of health care and limited access to the labour market as well as high levels of violence and inequality. These conditions are often exacerbated by misconceptions of traditions, cultural and social values, false perceptions, and a lack of awareness of women’s rights and potential, as well as institutional and legal barriers.”
Iraq was represented within an extraordinary line up of delegates from across the MENA region and the G8. The voices that spoke were strong and clear, from Charifa Beja an agricultural worker who demanded the right for fairer working practices to Tunisia’s Minister Badi, who reminded us that women in the MENA region needed a 'yes' from everyone, powering support and inclusion across the world and thus giving them the drive and support to reach their potential.
Ordinary businesswomen and delegates, as well as Ministers of State from the UK and across the region, economists from World Bank and the OECD made it absolutely clear that there was specific data and research available, able to demonstrate that the economic and social empowerment of women is fundamental to the economic development of the MENA region. It was also clear that there was a need and a hunger for immediate action.
So what is this action, and what are the implications for Iraq and indeed Kurdistan in terms of capacity building around gender equity?
It is clear that women have equal potential to men in terms of potential contribution to the economy yet face disproportionate challenges in many areas. However, this is a blog focused on building education and skills within a human capacity pipeline, so let’s start there…
Education and training were highlighted as a driving factor for creating an empowered female population, able to contribute to nation building. Indeed, the level of female education has been shown to have an impact on economic growth, both positive and negative, according to a recent Goldman Sachs study. Their finding show that effects of gender inequality in education may have reduced potential annual per capita income growth by 0.5 ppt to 0.9 ppt in much of South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa.
With these hard financial facts in mind in mind, one should consider the major school building programme, state-owned but also private sector driven, coming online in Iraq and Kurdistan over the next year. The concept of gender equity in terms of access, security, curriculum and finally the pipeline to employability should be considered in this light.
As the IFC points out: Financing girls’ education may well be the world’s highest return investment, it is also a business opportunity.
Some interesting links to funding, ideas and opportunities:
- Kiva Microfinance launch - How to create opportunity for women business owners in Iraq
- Wafa’s story. Wafa is a graduate of International charity Women for Women international, showing how investing in Iraqi women can change lives.
- e4e a joint IFC and Islamic Bank initiative, launched in 2011 over five years, with the aim of bridging the gap between existing knowledge and skills with those needed for employment. There is specific emphasis on dealing with the world’s highest female youth unemployment. Ideas and suggestions are welcomed.
- And finally, following the conference, a £4 million Arab Women in Business Challenge Fund has been announced that ‘’ will improve the competitiveness of women entrepreneurs in the Arab world, helping them to take advantage of new opportunities and markets. This will also provide their UK and G8 equivalents with potential new contacts, networks, suppliers and markets. You can contribute and participate at the newly formed Arab Business Women's Forum and the linked education, skills and training sub group.