x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Arab women in the minority at Davos

Countries in the Mena region sent fewer women delegates to the World Economic Forum's annual gathering in Davos.

Countries in the Mena region sent fewer women delegates to the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual gathering in Davos of the rich and powerful than most other nations.

Just 6 per cent of Mena participants making the trip from the region to the Swiss alpine retreat are women.

Of the 28 delegates from the UAE, only one is female. Globally, average female participation is more than 16 per cent.

"[The Mena figure] reflects low participation of females in the Arab world's labour market," said Soraya Salti, one of the few Arab women participants and the regional senior vice president of Injaz Al-Arab, a business mentoring initiative based in Jordan.

"Government is one of the main employers for women in our region yet the private sector is the main focus of WEF."

Criticism has emerged from some quarters internationally about the lack of female influence at the event.

Increasing the number of women participating at the annual WEF has been an important priority for organisers in recent years.

The Geneva-based not-for-profit organisation is keen to become more inclusive as it discusses some of the big challenges facing the global economy.

It has achieved some success. The proportion of women delegates has grown from about 9 per cent in 2001 to this year's figure of about 16 per cent.

Among the powerful women at Davos this year are the German chancellor Angela Merkel, the French finance minister Christine Lagarde, and Anne Lauvergeon, the chief executive of Areva.

From the region, Dr Muhadditha al Hashimi, the acting chief executive of Tatweer, a unit of Dubai Holding, is the only woman attending from the UAE.

Other attendees include Lubna Olayan, the deputy chairwoman and chief executive of Olayan Financing Company in Saudi Arabia, and Suzan Salman Kanoo, the president of the International Motor Trading Agency in Bahrain.

Most women who work in the Mena region opt for jobs in the public sector.

"This is a structural issue and needs to be rectified," Ms Salti said. "When women go into the private sector they face a lot of discrimination."

One of the ways the forum has tried to boost female uptake is by setting gender quotas for its strategic partners, which are mainly businesses.

Since last year, it has required them to select at least one female executive among the five delegates they send. As a result, over 80 per cent of the partners are bringing females, up from about a third last year.

Of the partners regionally, Dr al Hashimi is Dubai Holding's female representative.

But another regional WEF partner, Abraaj Capital, has no female representative at the forum.

The WEF's community of Young Global Leaders is closer to gender parity, with women accounting for 40 per cent of its delegates.

"Whatever conventional wisdom people may have about women in the region does not apply to female young global leaders," said Pawan Patil, a young global leader who is the chief economist at Silatech, a job creation enterprise based in Qatar.

"These women are more outspoken, smarter than and more capable than any of us men that are their peers in this community," Mr Patil said.