Women Empowerment? ...Hello from the Other Side!

Opinion15.12.2019Hend Shaheen
Women Empowerment

Recently, the news surrounding the freshly elected Finnish Prime Minister has been dominating the media. As the topic of women empowerment is one of my personal and professional topics of interest, I have eagerly followed the comments of friends from different countries on this particular development. Most of the feedback on this subject has been positive, with wishes to reach greater gender equality in the Arab world as well. It comes as no surprise that such results would be achieved in Finland or other Nordic countries, which have routinely been topping the world ranks for the measures they take to work towards gender equality. Today Finland has a government with the world's youngest (female) Prime Minister supported by a cabinet of 18 ministers, of which 12 are female.

All of the above have raised some big questions in my mind, like how did Finland reach this level of equality? What is holding back women in the Arab world from fair representation? And how can we as young females contribute to a change in the current situation?

Before digging deeper into this subject, let's breakdown the above questions into smaller and easier ones to answer:

Where do Arab countries stand in reducing the gender gap?

According to the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Report 2018, the Middle East and North Africa region continues its progress from the previous year. However, MENA continues to rank last globally on the overall index. The index covers 149 countries, where the highest populated Arab countries covered by the index, including Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, rank 135th, 137th, 141st, and 147th, respectively. 

The current cabinet in Egypt has eight female ministers out of 34. Morocco has four out of 24, Saudi Arabia has no female ministers, as does Iraq in a very unstable and incomplete cabinet. To me, these figures indicate that we still have a long way to go in order to bridge the gender gap.

Is women empowerment limited to political representation?

My answer is no. I think that fair gender representation in government is a means to an end, not an end to a means. In other words, it is an indicator, rather than a goal in itself. The more women are empowered by having equal access to economic and political participation, the more they will be represented in leadership positions. 

How can young Arab women contribute to better inclusion in all sectors?

All of the above mentioned countries (and others) are taking steps to reduce the gender gap toward achieving gender equality. Though some maintain that these endeavors are not enough. The Arab culture has grown for decades to marginalize the roles of women and to limit these… so here comes our opportunity, as young females, to empower each other and raise a new generation in society that has normalized gender equality.

We can only achieve equality as long as we believe in our own capabilities and use these for the benefit of our societies, for defending our rights, and for empowering others to acknowledge their rights.

At the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, we empower males and females alike with equal access to civic education as a prerequisite for political participation. We also work on empowering the youth with leadership skills. And on this basis, more programs designed for especially young females are in the making; for which we invite you to follow our website and social media activity to learn more.