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    Building bridges, building business


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3-4/2008 

    © AIWF Haifa Al Kaylani

    The Arab International Women's Forum is enhancing the leadership capacity of Arab women by promoting their role in the economy and public life.

    Haifa Al Kaylani is the founding chairman of the Arab International Women's Forum. In November 2008, she was awarded the 2008 TIAW World of Difference Lifetime Achievement Award. Presenting the award, TIAW President Stephanie MacKendrick recognized Ms Al Kaylani's ability to mobilize "not just powerful leaders and role models within the Arab community but an international community of women to work together to foster greater understanding between cultures".

    Despite the high education standards of Arab women, the female labour force participation is 32% lower than any other region in the world. The United Arab Emirates, for example, has the highest rate of females in higher education worldwide - a staggering 77% - yet 71% of unemployed people are women.

    The barriers for many Arab women are similar to those in other areas of the world: lack of self-confidence, work-family conflict, long working hours, stereotyping and a lack of investment funding for women.

    By fostering economic competitiveness, the Arab International Women's Forum (AIWF) supports sustainable human development and the empowerment of women. Founded in 2001 to serve as a voice for Arab women, the organization showcases their development, promotes cross-cultural diversity and creates greater public awareness of women's success and prospects.

    By building bridges of understanding and business opportunities between governments, corporations and civil society - both internationally and within the Arab world - AIWF helps to enhance the leadership capacity of Arab women in all aspects of society.

    "Engines of economic growth"

    The organization has worked to enhance competitiveness in the Middle East and North Africa region by focusing on the role of Arab women as "engines of economic growth in the Arab world" - the title of a programme launched in 2005. At its heart is the belief that "there is no economic, political or social development in any society, without women playing their rightful role in their economies and their societies at large". AIWF's report from this programme makes recommendations on education opportunities and training programmes, entrepreneurial capacity building, public policy, financial resources and economic reform, partnership and corporate involvement.

    By advocating for the political and economic inclusion of women in the Arab world, AIWF mobilizes action at the highest political levels and on the ground to advance the legislative rights and political participation of Arab women. With members and contacts in more than 45 countries, the organization has collaborated with such partners as the League of Arab States, the European Commission and European Parliament, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, women's business councils in the Arab states and the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth Office to help it achieve its aims.

    Direct legislation is not the only solution. Lobbying for attitude change and codes of practice, and getting the political and business stakeholders to open up opportunities in various ways, can be the initial key.

    Hala Bsaisu Lattouf, Minister for Social Development in Jordan, is proud of the fact that women are playing a role in shaping the future of their country and that women's representation has resulted in 16 Arab countries ratifying the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (see page 37).

    Economic advancement through women's empowerment

    The economic empowerment of women is at the heart of the forum's advocacy and programme strategies, which in 2007 examined the theme of globalization, trade and entrepreneurship. The programme saw the cities of London and Dubai collaborate, together with the wider financial community, to create a forum for the development of a multilateral corporate and public sector partnership. The programme culminated in a conference at the Dubai International Finance Centre, which examined the challenges of financing female business initiatives and explored the economic and financial context for private enterprise investment in the Arab world.

    Recommendations were made, including skills training, improved regulation, access to finance, international networking, finding mentors, career planning and engaging organizations and institutions on topics such as family needs, work-life balance, labour laws, cultural differences and gender stereotypes.

    AIWF has collaborated with leading universities in the Arab world, Europe and the United States to promote the education of women as an economic imperative. Recent research by Dr Lynda Moore of Zayed University College of Business Sciences in Abu Dhabi has shown that, on average, women comprise 65% of tertiary enrolments in Gulf Cooperation Council countries, although there is significant variation between countries.

    In June 2008, the forum, in partnership with the Hawkamah Institute for Corporate Governance and the Mudara Institute of Directors, presented its first regional seminar, entitled "Directorship, development and diversity: Challenges for women in governance", on corporate governance in Cairo.

    Another significant milestone in 2008 was the conference, "Partners for change: Realizing the potential of Arab women in the private and public sectors", hosted over two days at the World Bank in Washington DC. Through these events the organization has been able to widen its economic debate, encouraging an intercultural dialogue between Arab and international policy-makers to help remove the roadblocks that prevent women's gainful participation in all sectors of public life.

    In March 2009, the forum will hold a conference in Paris, in collaboration with the Greater Paris Investment Agency. Entitled "From partnership to prosperity: Women in the Arab world, France and the international community", this event represents the continuing cross-border business growth and intercultural exchange between Arab and European business communities.

    AIWF believes that Arab women can prove to be real engines of change and development, that they power progress and peace and that they can be the key to a better future for the region - a future marked by progress, development, prosperity and peace. It is up to us all, working together in partnership, as individuals, corporations, non-governmental organizations and governments, to ensure that this happens.