Not only are women the world's most powerful consumers and purchase decision makers at home, but they also make up a significant part of the workforce. Keeping in mind the current global financial conditions, there is a pressing need to grow economies quickly now more than ever, which is why female participation in the workforce is greatly encouraged across the world.
If you really think about it, in the present day and age, no healthy economy exists without the involvement of women. Leading the GCC in terms of women empowerment, the UAE is responsible for numerous women holding senior ministerial and managerial positions. Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 focuses on diversifying the economy by encouraging more and more women to join the workforce, which gives them a productive outlet to help the country in realising its vision. In Nigeria, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of any economy, and are often run by women.
As women are part of the solution to a much bigger problem, educating and preparing them to help balance the existing labour force will not only boost growth potential in the near future, but also raise living standards for the country's population. In the UAE, this has already been prioritised and resulted in a 30 per cent growth of Emirati women's labour participation in three decades, according to Statistics Centre - Abu Dhabi.
This increase in such a short span of time can be credited to the government's active efforts to promote female participation across different sectors, as well as the support provided to women in terms of literacy and education where the UAE continues to lead in the Arab world, according to the Gender Gap Report issued by the World Economic Forum.
Moreover, the country's leaders have pushed for equal opportunities, placing their faith in the hands of both genders, and not just women, to push boundaries and achieve the impossible. In fact, it is this very thinking that has resulted in women in the country holding posts such as speaker of the UAE parliament today, and men offering their undivided support to uplift and empower women.
From a global perspective, recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add an additional $240 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United Kingdom, $1,201 billion to that of the United States, while China could see a $2.5 trillion GDP increase by 2020.
In spite of these successes, countries in the Middle East and Africa have a long way to go to compete with global standards of female work participation. While ECOWAS Vision 2020 seeks to increase investment in the development of the region's human capital, particularly as it pertains to women and young people, necessary steps will need to be taken to ensure sustained growth and healthy performance of the economy.
With women contributing to nearly half of the UAE's SME sector, these women should be recognised for their contribution, supported and empowered to continue leading this sector. The UAE government has made considerable efforts by setting up specialised organisations such as the Dubai SME and the Dubai Business Women Council to help provide knowledge for young entrepreneurs and regular assistance through mentorship programmes and workshops to give them direction.
So, what lies ahead for women in the region who are essential for the growth of the economy? For starters, the UAE's economy minister is aiming to attract $75 billion by 2025 into the country's new industrial manufacturing sector which is expected to contribute 25 per cent to the country's GDP by 2025. Women should be made a part of the progression from the beginning by educating them about their responsibilities and involving them in all initiatives to accelerate the growth of the economy.
To conclude, undoubtedly, women in the region contribute a great deal to the economy and hold senior management positions or run investments worth $15 billion, but their potential is still not completely explored. However, initiatives such as the mandatory 20 per cent female presence in corporate boardrooms by 2020 for listed companies and other similar steps are expected to put the spotlight on the role of women to support the growth of the local economy. Boosting female participation in the labour force is only the first of many steps to empower women in the region, particularly since the Arab world is making that extra effort to support women.
The writer is senior executive officer/head of DIFC branch at The Access Bank UK. Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.
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