25 Oct 2009

Women in Leadership Forum

Good evening

It is a pleasure to be here this evening and a privilege to be among so many women who represent the many and varied achievers in the Arab world.

I applaud the concept behind the conference and I have no doubt that the discussions you undertake will inspire not only your individual work but the growth of women as political and business leaders, innovators and strategists throughout the Middle East.

Our collective responsibility, as women, is not only to encourage further growth throughout this region but to open the doors of opportunity to women everywhere and to work together to find ways to bring attention to the importance and value of women in all spheres.

The last 50 years have seen women evolve exponentially within the realms of socio-cultural trends, shifting from leaders of their families and homes to leaders of everything from small businesses to corporations and governments.

This evolution has been brought about by the determination of individuals and latterly by the realisation of governments and businesses themselves, of the strengths that women possess and the added value that women present in the workforce.

Today, in the 21st century, we see evidence of change and progression everywhere and you here in this room are the personification of that change.

With world-class education facilities on our doorsteps, as well as increased political representation, there is now greater understanding, acceptance and encouragement of the abilities of women in the Arab world, particularly here in the United Arab Emirates.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed has said that `women have their status; they make up half of a society, they are the soul of a society; they are everything.'

And that view is reflected in government policy.

Emirati women were the first in the Gulf to reach a parliamentary position. They make up 23% of the Federal National Council compared to 19% in the British parliament and 22% in the US Congress.

Currently, the UAE also has four women ministers, two ambassadors, a judge and a marriage registrar.

In business, the region's progress towards free market economies, coupled with mounting support for the empowerment of women, has encouraged women entrepreneurs in Arab economies and increased their influence in private sector business organisations.

This rise in the embryonic women's movement throughout the region is directly attributable to the amount invested in education since the 1970s.

There are many factors in creating a strong economy, but education unlocks the door to hope, creates free and enlightened thinkers and has empowered women to aspire to challenging positions in fields as diverse as trade, maintenance, financial markets, real estate and construction.

According to a report by the Arab Thought Foundation, the UAE scored highest in the level of female university education achieved. Female enrolment has reached 76% in the UAE, the highest across the region.

I believe these numbers speak volumes about the obligation regional governments have towards the development of one of their country's most precious resources...their women.

Although women's participation in the economy and women's initiatives serve as a significant drive in job creation in the Arab region there is still a gap between the two genders in the work place and developing the status and position of women across the globe, as well as here in the region, remains not just an ideology but a real, vital and immediate challenge.

Because by 2020, the region needs to create 100 million jobs.

With 100 million of the 300 million population of the region being between the ages of 12- 24 years, it has the highest level of youth unemployment in the world. Hence, the need to invest in ventures that create jobs and widen opportunities.

Clearly, more work needs to be done and we all have our part to play.

It is a widely accepted philosophy that promoting a culture of entreneurship encourages economic development.

And the concept of driving economic, political and social advancement through an enterprise culture is one which His Highness Sheikh Mohammed epitomises here in Dubai.

Producing the environment where entrepreneurship can flourish, whether in men or in women, is an important step but entrepreneurship it is a delicate equation of knowledge, creativity, opportunity and funding.

In developed regions, that equation is rarely managed beyond the educational stage,it is a matter of chance and individual determination because the instances of opportunity and the element of `luck' are far higher and therefore the number of entrepreneurs, greater.

But if countries are to develop their economies and women are to break out of their traditional roles, then the entrepreneurial space requires positive intervention and active management of the social and cultural factors that are inherent in becoming an entrepreneur.

Many societies position entrepreneurs as achievers whose creativity has generally amassed significant wealth for themselves as individuals.

In emerging markets the mindset must be different.

Entrepreneurs, particularly female entrepreneurs, should be sought, encouraged and promoted because awareness of their success creates a powerful tool for further development and that tool is hope.

Successful entrepreneurs are exceptional learners. It is this quality probably more than any other that creates long term success but with success comes responsibility.

I would advocatethat it is the responsibility of entrepreneurs in all regions to use their energy and the knowledge they have gained on their journey to bring their communities and leaders together to strive towards creative community based solutions that will impact not only business opportunities but on the full gamut of Millennium Development Goals.

And with the increase of the number of women in politics or in business, I urge the women of this region to retain their innate sense of humanity and their sense of social responsibility.

It is not the position or title that brings the reward but what you do for others whilst you are in that position or carrying that title.

Retain the values of compassion, cohesion and concord that will ensure that you inject wider social values into your actions.

Many leaders of both genders and in many nations have forgotten that it is vision, humility and a desire to put the welfare and happiness of their fellow man above all else that is the true achievement.

It is my belief that women should be the barometer of what achievement means because true success is not about individual popularity or personal reward it is about legacy.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you the delegates of this Women in Leadership Forum for sharing your commitment towards the development of Arab women in today's world.

Not only do you draw attention to the challenges that women leaders continue to face but perhaps more importantly, the value that we bring to any venture in business, government or the wider community.

Thank you.