Highlights

Women in business: Sharjah summit highlights challenges, but also sets pledges by global firms aimed at improving empowerment

Yasmine Saleh,ZAWYA--
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The first Women's Economic Empowerment Global Summit (WEEGS), held in conjunction with the United Nations (UN), has just concluded in Sharjah.

The event held on Monday and Tuesday alongside United Nations (UN) Women - a United Nations’ organisation responsible for promoting gender equality and female empowerment - saw a group of Arab and international businesswomen discussing the challenges faced by women in business across a range of different sectors.

“For women to excel in the economy, we know that they need access to productive assets, to resources, (and) to technology,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, said in her opening speech. “Support for changing the discriminating social norms and stereotypes that segregate women into jobs with lower pay and limited opportunity for advancement also needs to be given attention,” she added.

Panel discussions were held on the challenges facing women in fields such as technology, science, media, marketing, transport, travel, energy and environment.

The conference also hosted an important discussion on corporates’ efforts to achieve gender-responsive procurement that was attended by officials from several multinational companies, including Procter and Gamble (P&G) and banking group Citi.

One of the participants, Emirati entrepreneur, Shayma Nawaf Fawwaz, CEO and founder of Gossip, an event management company based in the United Arab Emirates, said a key challenge specifically faced by women-owned businesses in the region is access to finance.

She said that most global institutes classify women-owned businesses as one in which females have ownership of at least 51 percent, a rule she does not abide by. “In my definition,” Fawwaz said. “As long as a woman owns a share in this business, in my perspective, it (the company) should be considered a woman-owned company and should be given the same kind of benefits towards women procurement in (the) supply chain to any company.”

P&G announced in a press release on Monday its commitment to sourcing $100 million from female-owned businesses in developing countries. (Masdar Institute, a UAE science and technology institute, gave some insightful remarks during a discussion about women in science and technology-related fields. 

“Women have a lot of potential,” Al Yousuf said.

“They have the power to make decisions, they have the power of purchase and they are the drivers behind the economic development of any society,” she added.

However, according to Al Yousuf, there is a “big gap” in female employment that requires policy change.

“The reason we want more women in those areas are not because (of a) quota. It is because of the thinking process that the women bring to the table compared to their counterparts,” Al Yousuf, said.

“Women always think holistically. They always think of others and then themselves and that enhances the decision making, whether it is a policy or societal civil decision making because thinking collectively and thinking holistically is better for the entire nation,” she added.