Mohammed opens Arab Women Forum

19 Nov 2012

Leading international speakers are set to discuss several key issues related to women at the two-day Arab Women Leadership forum which began in Dubai under the theme “Board Leadership & the Case for Diversity.”

The forum is a flagship event organized by Dubai Women Establishment (DWE) and this year it explores issues related to women’s participation in high-ranking corporate positions and ways and means to bring about a proportionate representation of women through providing them a work-life balance, proper training and developmental opportunities, and fostering a culture of greater respect and acceptance of women in the boardroom.

The event was inaugurated by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

Also present at the opening were Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai; Princess Ameerah Al Taweel, Vice Chairwoman and General Secretary of the Al Waleed bin Talal Foundation; and Dr Mohammad Ahmed Al Murr, Speaker of the UAE Federal National Council.

The third edition of forum was held under the patronage of Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the president of the DWE and wife of Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.

Prior to the inauguration, Sheikh Mohammed toured an art exhibition on the theme of women’s empowerment featuring eight Emirati women artists, which he himself named “Woman Seeking Her Rightful Place”.

Speaking at the launch, Al Murr said the Emirati women have recorded an annual growth rate of 25 per cent in their participation in the country’s workforce over the last several years. "The state is keen on training more women for leadership roles and is aiming to spend Dh12.4 billion in this regard. The country has more than 12,000 businesswomen and women are participating on an equal footing with men in the FNC, some even heading higher committees."

This is a testament to the government’s efforts at encouraging women to embrace positions of responsibility, he added.

Princess Ameerah Al Taweel began her address with the story of Hanaan, a woman who walked out of an abusive marriageand went back to her father’s home with her children where she faced negative comments for being a burden.

Hanaan, she said, trained herself by studying English and becoming computer literate and now trains other women in similar circumstances. Princess Ameera said Hanaan told her “it is time for me to do something for other women”.

“We all face real difficulties in the path of empowering women but empowerment is not lip service or rhetoric - it is an important process and having us all here at this forum is testament to our will to follow this path,” she said.

“We want to send a message that Arab women are capable of contributing economically, politically, educationally, and in all other fields. Empowering women is also one of the ideals of Islam,” remarked Ameera.

Delivering Sheikha Manal’s speech in her absence, Mona Al Marri, the chairperson of the DWE Board, said, “Our goal in this forum is not simply to improve our image but to actually have some tangible takeaway in the empowerment of women. Sheikh Mohammed believes women are the pride of this country and we will prove him right.”

Earlier, in a highly interactive opening session, moderated by Maali Qasem, the CEO and founder of Schema, Amman, a panel of speakers delved into the theme of “Women’s Leadership in Sustaining Economic Development”, putting forward the case for including more women in both the public and private sectors and the benefits thereof.

The panel comprised global corporate and thought leaders such as Sara Akbar, the CEO of Kuwait Energy, Kuwait; Noura Al Kaabi, the member of the UAE Federal National Council and CEO of twofour54; NaderehChamlou, the senior advisor in Office of Chief Economist, Mena region, The World Bank; and Tae Shin Kwon, vice chairman of Presidential Council on National Competitiveness, Korea.

Speaking about the benefits of gender diversity in the boardroom and of the ways and means to enable women to claim their rightful places at the top of the corporate hierarchy, Qasem said society needs to respect and admire women for their achievements rather than criticize them.

Noura Al Kaabi said the UAE’s founding president, the late Sheikh Zayed was a great supporter of Emirati women. “Nothing made him happier than to see women achieve their potential,” she said.

"Ever since, support from the UAE leadership in appointing women to higher governmental positions has enabled Emirati women to have a say in the political arena, where they have reached ministerial positions as well. Women have a role in all sectors, she added, including the military, where there were already two women jet fighter pilots and several paratroopers," she stated.

Speaking about her own field, Al Kaabi, the head of Abu Dhabi’s media enterprise twofour54,said that the UAE has women in diverse sectors in media – writing stories, behind and in front of the camera, as well as in production.

In an engaging speech, Sara Akbar shared her experience in her journey towards forming Kuwait Energy, the company that she heads. She spoke of her beginnings in the state-run Kuwaiti oil sector, where adequate field training was initially denied to her as she was a woman. She said she had to fight from day one in her profession to get what was rightfully hers.

She also shared her experience of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when she worked for 7 months to put out the fires in the oil fields. Her long battle led her to the top echelons of management, she said, and finally gave her the experience, knowledge and, most importantly, the confidence to venture out on her own with some investors to form Kuwait Energy.

“Ask for what is yours,” she told the assembled women, “Have perseverance, work hard and know that it pays to be crazy from time to time. It’s not a fair playing field for women, so legislation is required, as well,” she added.

Tae Shin Kwon presented the experiences of his country, South Korea, in its on-going journey towards women’s empowerment. "The need of the hour was to tap into women’s talent and include them in the labour force to mitigate the shortage of talent," he added.

“A woman’s edge lies in collaboration and harmonization,” Tae said.

“In South Korea the last bastions of male dominance – such as politics and law - have now fallen and there is a women presidential candidate as well as a previous woman prime minister. The launch of the Ministry of Gender Equality has been a landmark step and it has taken many steps to provide equal opportunities to women,” he added.

NaderehChamiou, who has worked for the last ten years in the region in the field of women’s empowerment, said only one in three women who are able to work are actually working. "Women need to be empowered at the leadership level, she added, as they also tend to hire more women."

She pointed out that the women are still caught up with their family responsibilities and that was the main challenge to unleash the potential of women.

"There were five broad groupings of women: younger, past their child bearing age, college educated women, those without higher education but with rich life experiences, and those already in the public and private sectors- all of whom have their own skills sets that can be harnessed for overall social benefit," she added.-TradeArabia News Service

More News