Often when we think about the Arab countries we think that all the news regarding women is negative. I disagree with this trend of thinking. There is a lot going on in the Arab world that is positive regarding women’s advancement and achievements. I would like to highlight some of these achievements.
In Jordan, for example, the well established non governmental organization, INJAZ which is led by Jordanian women and which has as a mission to inspire and prepare youth to become productive members within their society and accelerate the development of the national economy, has successfully reached 700,000 beneficiaries across Jordan. INJAZ accomplished this result with the help of its network of dedicated volunteers and partners from the private and public sectors, and in full coordination with the Ministry of Education and King Abdullah II Fund for Development.
In Lebanon, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) a member of the World Bank is working with the BLC Bank in Lebanon to improve access to finance and support the growth of women-owned businesses in Lebanon. With IFC support, BLC Bank launched the Women’s Empowerment Initiative, offering a range of services tailored to women-owned businesses. This initiative makes it easier for these businesses to access the capital they need to expand, creating jobs and spurring economic development in Lebanon. Maurice Sehnaoui, the chairman and general manager of BLC bank said: “Initiatives like these are key to changing attitudes about the role of women in society. At the same time, we are also demonstrating that there is a considerable commercial advantage in providing women with concrete means to access financing for their businesses.” In addition to new financial services, the BLC bank launched the Women’s Empowerment Initiative that provides non-financial services critical to supporting the growth of women-owned businesses. In this context, BLC also launched a website dedicated to female entrepreneurs that allows them to exchange ideas and combine forces to tackle professional challenges.
In Saudi Arabia, a country where women make up a small percentage of the workforce, a female engineer is showing her male colleagues a thing or two. Wearing a headscarf and science goggles, Jumana Almuzel is a rare sight on the shop floor of Saudi Arabia’s GE gas turbine facility, and is an example of the new change that is taking place. As a matter of fact, she is the only female to work alongside her male counterparts at the energy large Eastern Province plant. “When I came to the shop floor I was working with the men side-by-side, and they were asking me some questions,” said Almuzel, an American-educated mechanical engineer. “We are helping each other, and they can see that I’m capable of understanding the mechanics behind the components that we are working on.” It’s a radical change for a country where gender segregation is the norm, and just one in five women work.
Change is happening in the Saudi Kingdom, and it’s being driven from the very top by King Abdullah himself and the leadership of many ministries. The leaders of Saudi Arabia recognize that there might be an over reliance on the around 8 million expatriate workers in the country, and their new thinking is leading them to possibly educate and facilitate the entrance of Saudi women in the workforce in order to diminish the reliance on foreign employees.
In Bahrain, more women are setting up their own businesses than ever before. According to the latest statistics. Almost 24,000 women now have commercial registrations (CRs) with the Industry and Commerce Ministry, this represents 41% of the total number of CRs registered. These figures were announced during the month of October by INJAZ Bahrain executive director Shaikha Hessa bint Khalifa Al Khalifa.
Despite the extremists in the region and the conflicts they create, initiatives like the ones above is what keeps progress happening, and hope alive.