The role of women in the economy is “macro-critical”, and no longer lip-service, according to Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation.
Minister Al-Mashat’s remarks came during her participation in the Gender Equality Conclave in Partnership with the Goal 17 Partners. The meeting took place to address initiatives to mobilise the private sector in achieving gender equality, as part of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) 4th Edition Program Multi-hub Conference.
Goal 17 Partners is a non-profit organisation that collaborates with the private sector to establish effective partnerships in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The conclave brought together a network of leading executives and entrepreneurs integrating the UN’s SDGs into business models and practices. Attendees included: Sara Moss, Vice Chair of Estée Lauder; Ann Cairns, Executive Vice Chairperson at Mastercard; Dr Laura Linda Sabbadini, W20 Chair for Italy’s G20; David Schwimmer, CEO of the London Stock Exchange Group; Dana Barksy, COO of Sustainability, Strategy, Advisory and Finance at Credit Suisse; Sharon Thome, Global Chair at Deloitte; and Anne Finucane, Vice Chair at Bank of America, amongst others.
According to a 2018 UNDP report on Africa, if women entered the workforce at the same rate as men, the economic output would increase to $962bn. In Egypt, 48.4% of the population is female, accounting for 48 million women. Of this number, a total of 23 million are supporting families, with 3.3 million families headed by women.
According to the UNDP Human Development Indices (HDIs), Egypt has surpassed the average scores of Arab countries in all indices, as well as the global average score of the Gender Inequality Index.
Minister Al-Mashat said that the Egyptian Government has taken a leap forward by adopting policies and carrying out reforms, related to Gender Parity.
In 2018, the country’s National Council of Women (NCW) issued the National Strategy for the Empowerment of Egyptian Women 2030, with the aim of driving change. With the rise of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, policy makers have been pushed to accelerate reforms, in order to build back better through nurturing inclusivity and diversity.
Egypt was the first country to provide a women-specific response during COVID-19, launched by the NCW. The country also ranked first in the Middle East and West Asia regions relating to 21 policy measures according to the UNDP COVID-19 Global Gender Response Tracker.
Minister Al-Mashat said that, during the pandemic, women have been under pressure to work what has been termed a “double-double shift”, which has seen them work both at home and for their home.
This concept further proves the resilience and power that women hold. Emerging from the pandemic, the value and importance of the role women play in the economy is evident.
In July 2020, the Ministry of International Cooperation, together with the World Economic Forum and the NCW, launched the “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator”. The initiative is the first of its kind public-private collaboration model in Africa, as well as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
It aims to help governments and businesses take decisive action to close economic gender gaps, and increase women’s participation in the labour force. It also looks to close gender gaps, whilst advancing women into leadership positions and hardwiring gender parity in the future of work.
Being able to create safe spaces for women to work and learn also goes hand-in-hand with Egypt’s gender agenda. A safe environment in the streets, homes or workplaces is integral to helping women achieve their full potential.
In the summer of 2020, Egypt won two Sustainability Awards granted by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), for its development in “Sustainable Energy” and “Gender and Inclusion”. One of those awards went to the Egyptian National Railways (ENR) for contributing to safe transport for women’s economic inclusion and providing access to education.
Education reform in Egypt also encompasses inclusivity. An exemplar initiative would be the establishment of the 12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) High School for boys and girls. The project, established in 2011 and financed through the USAID with the Ministry of International Cooperation; taps on the pool of talented women, encouraging them to lead in research and technology.
Overall, around 34 projects, worth $3.3 billion, are being executed to achieve the targets of gender equality, with the top targeted sectors including Health (20%), Education (14%), and Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) (15%). The Ministry of International Cooperation’s current portfolio of projects that exclusively target SDG 5 include 13 projects amounting to $82 million. This is in addition to the other projects in the portfolio that achieve the same goal as a collateral effect to their development. In 2020, the Ministry secured additional development financing dedicated to SDG 5, with a total of $7 million through bilateral cooperation with Spain and Canada.
In the past 6 years, Egypt has witnessed notable positive progress on the women empowerment and gender equality agenda. Al-Mashat further explained that 25% of the Egyptian Parliament seats are allocated to women, with 8 crucial ministries led by women in the cabinet. Through its political will, 20 constitutional provisions that guarantee the rights of women were approved in 2014.