Theme

Role of women in peace and development

One Day International Conference
Wednesday, 10th January 2018 from 09:30 to 16:30 (BST)
Room (KD2.22) Dockland Campus, University of East London, London, United Kingdom

Aims and objectives

The main aim of this one day conference is to critically examine the current status of women in the Arab region. Clearly, women have an untapped potential as a primary mover of greater development within the region and their role in the region is very crucial for increased development, but challenges remain. And so, reforms in economic, social, and political institutions must be made to create an enabling environment for women participation and empowerment.

Status of women in MENA

Women’s welfare in the Arab region has steadily improved in the past few decades with gaps in education and health decreasing the gender disparity gap by 60%, Saudi Arabia for example was among those that improved its educational sub-index score by 11% points (WEF, 2016). Similarly, a report by Assad (El Swais, 2015) stated that girls in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region actually outperform boys especially in the maths and sciences. However, in spite of such progress, women in the region remain to be the most vulnerable to poverty because of unequal access to economic and other resources. For example, while 50% of the women in the world are actively employed or seeking jobs, only about half or 27% of women in the MENA are of the same status (World Bank, 2012 cited in OECD, 2014). Thus, it appears that investments in human development are not readily translated to better economic and political outcomes for women and that women’s potential and crucial role in development within the region is still impeded by social factors. Among the key constraints of women in the region for economic participation are: strong patriarchal society; strong public sector and a weak private sector; and lack of support and benefits for women in the employment sector (Assad cited in El Swais, 2015).

Potential of women in achieving sustainable development

In terms of economic and political development, a study in Jordan (IFC, 2015) revealed that companies with women in senior positions are three times more profitable than those singularly headed by men. It is also projected that if the number of women equalled men in the workforce within the region, this could raise GDP through USD 600 billion in economic gains annually until 2025 and household incomes would drastically improve by 25% (IFC, 2015; McKinsey, 2015). As the region attempts to strengthen and grow its private sector, women can play a vital role in growing businesses through better access to credit and eventually contributing to further economic development. On the other hand, political participation of women have also improved over the past 20 years, but is still very much behind the global average (25%) with only 19% of women participating in the parliament (WEF, 2016). Allowing higher women participation will enable better representation of women’s demands which in turn improve public services for further social development (OECD, 2014). Furthermore, women’s participation in the public life can be improved through the media. While there had been an increase of women in the communications sector (UN, 2002) women still have to control the narrative of women’s role in development through increased participation in decision-making. This was very evident during the period of the post-Arab Spring media where women are no longer passive victims, but rather active citizen portrayed in media, including social media (Eltantawy, 2013). Thus, by clearly representing themselves in the political sphere or in media platforms, the latter is no longer just a representation of society, but one channel of influencing social priorities and interests that should include women’s needs.

Role of women in peace and security

Women’s participation is also very important in advancing peace, unity and combating terrorism, which is a most serious threat to development within the MENA region. Since 2010, conflict and insecurity in the region has been increasing, in the Syrian crisis alone, approximately 75% of the 2.3 million individuals displaced are women and children and there is a rising incidence of gender-based violence against women and girls (UNCHR, 2015 cited in OXFAM, 2016). It has also been recognized that women have been largely excluded from the processes of conflict management and prevention and that their role is important in the achievement of lasting peace and security (UNSCR 2242) (UN, 2015). With this, there is a need to increase women’s participation in peace processes since out of 31 global peace processes from 1992 to 2011, only 4% of key stakeholder representatives were women (UN WOMEN, 2011 cited in OXFAM, 2016). Women in peacekeeping missions are also crucial given their broad set of skills that helps in improving trust in communities as a whole (OXFAM, 2016). In general, women’s participation helps in accelerating resolution and countering terrorism while ensuring that women’s rights are protected.

Arab Region

Many consider the MENA region as one of the most important emerging parts of the world economy in the 21st century. The MENA region is strategically vital as it produces the majority of the world’s oil. However, despite the region’s oil, most Arab countries score lower on Human Development Index (HDI) world ranking, with GDP, productivity and investment rates well below the global average. Despite abundant financial and human capital, most Arab countries still lack adequate scientific and technological infrastructure to absorb, apply and create knowledge and disseminate information. At present, almost all knowledge and technology used in almost all MENA countries is produced outside the MENA region reflecting high dependency of MENA countries on outside knowledge and technology. A widening knowledge gap augurs poorly for future development of MENA societies stymied by an inability to create knowledge economies that gain benefits from the opportunities offered by globalization. It is, therefore, becoming widely accepted that the dominant economic model of the region – based on the public sector, oil incomes and workers’ remittances – is not up to the challenges of modern globalisation and the needs of advanced knowledge-based societies.