UAE good model for Arab women’s empowerment, Christine Lagarde

IMF boss Christine Lagarde and Queen Rania of Jordan speak at the Middle East’s first Global Women’s Forum, an event on how to boost women’s influence and promote diversity in all sectors of the economy

The UAE has a good “story to be told” about female empowerment and it can be a role model for other countries in the Arab region, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said Tuesday.

Progress for Emirati women in the political, economic and social life of the UAE is partly thanks to top-down drives and government leadership to promote women, she said during the keynote of the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai.

“[The UAE] can set standards for governments elsewhere in the world,” said Lagarde. “Those countries where I’ve seen much progress for women’s empowerment are those where, at the top, somebody takes the view that everyone can succeed – not just the few.”

Lagarde was speaking at the Middle East’s first Global Women’s Forum, a two-day event on how to boost women’s influence and promote diversity in all sectors of the economy. Boosting women’s participation would have far-reaching benefits for all: achieving gender parity alone would boost the economy of the Middle East by some $600bn by 2025, according to a McKinsey Global Institute study. Yet, just one in four women in the region are employed or looking for work – or half the global rate, according to the World Bank.

Lagarde urged governments globally to invest in equal education for girls and boys and increase access to financing for female would-be entrepreneurs. She also criticised legal obstacles; 90 per cent of 143 countries studied by the IMF have laws that discriminate against women, she noted. “Those rules need to be changed,” said Lagarde.

Queen Rania of Jordan also took aim at the Arab world’s need to support women. During the event’s opening plenary she called for “leaps in progress” on education and women’s rights to counter the threats posed by conflict and extremism.

“We need to actively fight [extremist ideological] currents that are trying to throw us centuries behind,” said Queen Rania. “[In the Arab region] we are beginning to see the spread of illiteracy in communities that once saw women graduate as pioneers and scientists.”

Queen Rania urged the use of technology and digital tools to give women a louder voice, boost their participation in society, transform education and create jobs. Innovation helps break the cultural moulds that restrict women’s talents and prevent them from realising their potential, she added.

“A society’s expectations of women directly reflects its confidence in its own abilities,” said Queen Rania.

Also speaking at the forum was Dr Amal Al Qubaisi, President of the UAE’s Federal National Council. As the first woman in the Arab Gulf region to head a national assembly, women’s involvement in the UAE’s political life is a result of government policies and mindset, she said. Some 27 per cent of ministerial positions in the UAE are held by women and females account for 46 per cent of the country’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates.

The Global Women’s Forum aims to break down stereotypes of women in the Arab world and find innovative ways to accelerate women’s contribution to business and society in the Middle East.

“I hope this event will enhance the role of women and show our support and eagerness as men to [support] you,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.