Mashael Al Qahtani

Mashael Al Qahtani

Journalist

Can Arab women drive regional transformation?

For the first time, the fourth edition of the Arab Women Forum was held this in Saudi Arabia, at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Economic City. The Kingdom’s hosting of the event further reinforces the context in which Saudi Arabia is carrying its reform plans, said the forum’s organizers, and addresses the urgency of women empowerment for their central socioeconomic role in the future of the country.

The two-day forum sessions centered on Arab women’s power to drive change in the region, in light of transformative developments unfolding across markets – and most notably, in Saudi Arabia.

The first day of the forum saw the attendance of a number of C-suite executives, decisionmakers, and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and women empowerment. Sessions tackled a number of issues in this space, from the economic revolution, to entrepreneurship, to society-based new economies.

Discussing the new age economic revolution, panelists and attendees engaged in open debates around the macro ripple effect of scaling women’s workforce contribution in Arab countries – from incremental regional GDP to unemployment gaps.  

Another session on entrepreneurship addressed routes and solutions for backing women-led ventures as a means for their empowerment. In this regard, panelists agreed that the gap in financing opportunities remained a key barrier for female entrepreneurs in the Arab world.

In another panel session, a discussion on society-based new economies examined the role of technologies and knowledge-based economies in paving the way for women as active economic contributors; key to which are the build an design of an inclusive framework for women, the improvement of women’s representation in the boardroom, and the utilization of technology for their fast-paced empowerment.

Driving change

Julien Hawari, co-CEO at regional media house Mediaquest Corporation, and a key backer behind the forum, stressed on the opportune momentum for working women in the Arab region; one that the forum is building on to enforce and support their evolving roles in the Middle East, particularly when it came socioeconomic developmental contribution.

The forum’s key mission, Hawari affirmed, is to enable women as regional change agents and catalysts,  and to build up their capabilities and skill sets toward well-deserved high-level roles.

Faisal Abbas, also a key backer of the forum, and editor-in-chief at Arab News, pointed to that Saudi Arabia’s ongoing reforms and developments highlighted a clear need and momentum for women to play a central role in Saudi society – but equally, many challenges in the horizon for Saudi society.

In this context, Abbas stressed on the forum’s goal to bring about dialogue at the service of women’s workforce in Saudi Arabia, and in the region at large.

Saudi women, panelists agreed, hold potential to lead the way in the region’s next transformative period, in light of the many developments unfolding in the Kingdom around their rights and roles. Chief among these developments were the lift of an enduring driving ban, and the decision allowing women to conduct commercial transactions without the consent of a guardian – a radical move for their employment and financial situation.

In tandem, Saudi women had been climbing up both private and public sector ranks, with many now speculating – and demanding – that Saudi Arabia will soon see its first female minister.

Tamader Al Rammah, the first Saudi woman to be appointed as deputy minister in February 2018 – whereby she took on the role for the ministry of labor and social development – leads this wave of change. She is joined by Sarah Al-Suhaimi, who was the first Saudi woman to head Tadawul, the Saudi Arabian stock exchange and the largest in the Middle East, sitting at the backbone of the Saudi economy.

Prior to the forum, Prince Mohammed bin Salman had expressly supported Saudi women and their empowerment by all means, and the reinstatement of their Islam-given rights. In a press interview, he affirmed that the Kingdom’s recent reformative decisions were part of a larger, and longer-term course of action for the country’s future.

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