The Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) has joined forces with the American University in Cairo (AUC), to hold this year’s AIWF conference, under the theme “Women as Engines of Economic Growth”, last week.
The conference focused on empowering women innovators, entrepreneurs, executives, and educators to fulfil the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Daily News Egypt interviewed AIWF Founder and Chairperson, Haifa Al-Kaylani, to discuss the status of women economic empowerment in Egypt, what is new in this edition of the AIWF conference, and its impact on women empowerment.
Al-Kaylani was appointed as a commissioner in the International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Commission on the Future of Work in August 2017.
The AIWF has been established 18 years ago in London. I was an economist who wanted to advocate for the need of developing women to achieve development in the Arab world, working together as women and men. When we started the AIWF, there were a lot of stereotypes about women, but the international community wanted to break them. Hence, this forum showcases women’s success stories. Our motto is “Building Bridges, Building Business” to establish knowledge and understanding that affect change. Accordingly, we hold conferences in Arab and foreign capitals.
Economy is at the heart of what the AIWF believes in. We believe the prosperity and stability of the Arab region occurs if we activate our economies, and the only way we see for activating our economies is employing a half of the society (women).
What was new in this edition?
This edition was extremely important because it focused not only on women in business or on director boards, but it also focused on women in small and medium sized enterprises, and the agricultural sector. We also tackled the role of policy makers, and the future of women and youth employment in light of the high technological development.
How would this forum empower women or impact the society?
Every conference of the AIWF produces recommendations based on the outcomes of its sessions. Afterwards, we send the reports to Arab and foreign governments, policymakers in the World Bank, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the United Nations. We also work closely with the media to get reports published about the conference’s recommendations.
How can you evaluate the status of women’s economic empowerment in Egypt?
We truly believe that women in Egypt and in the wider Arab region, have been empowered by the excellent education, and by the government’s investments in primary, secondary and tertiary education. Women are truly entering the economy, and setting up small businesses. Women’s role in Egypt is extremely important, they are already playing a huge role as engines of economic growth, yet we still face challenges in the Arab region.
Women usually face different challenges than those faced by men when they start a business, including access to legal advice, technical knowledge, and financial resources. Acquiring these elements would help women who have good ideas, to create jobs and become financially independent.
In order to fully empower women in Egypt, do you think we need to change the people’s mindsets, change related laws, or have clear directions from the political leadership?
We need all of them. We need first of all to ensure women’s rights to set up a business. We need the law to support women’s financial rights, not only human rights. By financial rights I mean she should have the right to spend her salary in whatever she wishes. We need a good ecosystem and financial inclusion for women.
In your opinion, what are the reasons behind the great participation of women in the informal sector?
I think it is easier to enter the informal sector, as it’s less complicated. This is why we are saying if we make the rest of the economy less bureaucratic, it will become easier to do business, and accordingly have more female participation.
In your opinion, what are the promising sectors for women in Egypt?
I think every sector is promising for women. I am not going to specify certain sectors. I want to stress that Egyptian women have the required qualifications and skills to work in any sector.