Thirteen of the 15 countries with the lowest rates of women participating in their labor force are in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), according to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report (2015). Yemen has the lowest rate of working women of all, followed by Syria, Jordan, Iran, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon, Egypt, Oman, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Turkey.

Globally, women are paid less than men. Women in most countries earn on average only 60 to 75 per cent of men’s wages. Contributing factors include the fact that women are more likely to be wage workers and unpaid family workers; that women are more likely to engage in low-productivity activities and to work in the informal sector, with less mobility to the formal sector than men; the view of women as economic dependents; and the likelihood that women are in unorganized sectors or not represented in unions.

Source: World Bank & UN Women

Speakers: How to increase the economic women participation from a personal perspective?

Rami Al-Karmi

Rami Al-Karmi is the founder of a venture capital and advisory firm that focuses on restoring the economic ecosystem within Jordan. He spoke about his experiences of women in business and the challenges they faced.

Rami Al-Karmi, the founder of F03 Venture Partners

“Hi My name is Rami, I found a company called F03 Venture Partners and I do lots of stuff. Just to give you a quick idea of what we do, we are a hybrid of an innovation and advisory firm and investment focus firm. We do F03 as the name comes from the three pillars we feel represent the ecosystem that basically business grows on which is founders, funders, and facilitators,” he said.

“So if you need to grow the ecosystem, one of the challenges that I see is they put a lot of focus on founders out there while other programs don’t really look at the investment section, if you look out there there’s less than a handful of investors, so one of the things that we’re doing is under the funders pillar, we created a boot camp that is focused on teaching people, how to become angle investors and the first round we did here in Jordan was a women only addition.

“So we had around 42 women which pledge around $5000 before they went into the program, it was a 6 months program and towards the end, in mid-October, they decided to invest into women-led startups. So they put the money together and invested it as one shot and we’re looking to replicate this. The third pillar is facilitators and gatekeepers who are government, corporates, or NGOs that work with the ecosystem and can scale it to make it better — be it removing red tape or producing access to more customers.

“So among our customers, we have partnered up in terms of telecom; Zain for example, was my first customer, we have done the Business Innovation Centre Zinc and there’s a few more. I’ve done a program called the Digital Beyond program, Fast Forward is another program in Ramallah. One of the officials within the boot camp that I did with investors is that they wanted to fund outsourced women-led startups through their pitches to this group and we found lots of challenges in this space.

“So most of the people we sourced into the program into the pitching sessions had issues on how would they pitch, how confident are they that their business is ready for investment, and other speculations in terms of understanding what an investor is. So I decided to launch a different program to compliment this program.

“We started with women led meet-ups, so we did three of them where by it’s just a free-flowing event where each event attracted around 70 to 100 female founders and the meetings were set on certain content that I wanted to present but we didn’t have time to go through it because a networking alone took up most of the agenda with female founders trying to help other female founders just right after the introduction.

“The theory I have is that there are lot’s of challenges that founders will face at large however female founders go through special challenges on top of that. Now let’s assume theoretically that if you want to go about it scientifically, there are 10 challenges out there — there are a lot a lot more but let’s assume that there are 10, if I talk to you and you tell me that I’ve figured out one out of 10 and I talk to you and you tell me you’ve figured challenge number two. If ideally, I put the two together than there are two challenges that have been solved. The issue is no one is talking about how they were able to solve those challenges. So our focus was to put people together — female founders — and have them talk about their challenges and if any of them have solutions towards them and this is how we do it.

Rami felt it was very important for people to support women who want to start their own careers

“Be the challenges are about opening a bank account, advice, who are their mentors, how do they go about it, etc. That was interesting however two things happened, summer time came, when we did it in the winter times mostly there were issues with how would they come and attend those events. Ideally, people had a house and a family and had to look after their kids and that created less interest for them to attend.

“So I created another program, it’s basically a fellowship program — a female founders fellowship program — we attracted 116 women who joined the program, the program happens online. So we connect every two weeks for 30 minutes through a large online meeting room. So we all connect online and I delivered certain content and through this session, we had certain forms that we created and certain assignments we had to accomplish.

“Now why designed it as an accelerator program, not a fellowship or an incubator? Because the focus is the women themselves, the founder, not the startup that they do. So you basically join the program, set expectations in what you’re trying to achieve and the program helps them and you go through a certain learning curb for your skills set.

“There was an assignment that we took to support the USAID program. Through this program, it shocked me to found out from the data of the World Economic forum which state Jordan as one of the lowest in terms of women economic participation. Out of o142 countries, Jordan ranked 140. We ranked only better than Syria and Afghanistan so it was very bad.

“The typical approach we would be to go out to conferences and blame the government, so I had a different model. So what we did was if we really want success for what we do, we need to measure why we got 140. It’s not about us failing or doing anything bad about what we used to do, but the other countries performed better in terms of ratio. So we performed worse because everybody was performing better and we didn’t give enough attention to women economic participation.

“So we designed a model where the conference is not the outcome but we designed a number of initiatives we completed before the conference and we used those innitiatves to be models that people can adopt and scale. We also invited other success stories especially from neighboring countries we can use into our programs and governance. So we brought policy makers and we pitch to them what we feel should be brought into the program. And then we focused on the labour market entry. If you leave schools and not get a job within the next two years, then you probably won’t get a job so how can you improve internship programs and vocational programs to get better results. 

“Re-entry, ‘I’m a mom I decided to leave the labor market for three years’ its’s most likely impossible to come to the labour market and if ‘I’m an architect and ran my own firm and the decide to leave the job force for two years, most likely I’ll come back as a secretary.’ So figuring out how we can improve that.”

Rami stated the importance of creating a good support system for women in the workforce

Rawan Ababneh

Rawan Abaneh is a gender expert with over 20 years of experiences in a number of issues — such as gender issues, human rights policies, grants-based programs, community empowerment, human resources development and more. She also talked about her experiences within this field — especialy as a working women who had also gone through some challenges.

Rawan Ababneh is a gender expert that has over 20 years experience in the field of human rights, gender policies, development and training, and more

“My name is Rawan Ababneh, supposedly I’m a gender expert, but I do so much more than that. I work with GIZ on different issues, whether gender or mapping and evaluation project, also with UNICEF and other international entities and local entities. I’m also those regional trainers and consultant, and with UNDP I’m a regional leadership trainer,” she said

“In terms of gender, I did many consultancies and missions but one of them is enhancing corporates for a gender program called Gender Diversity management. It helps to generate and promote women participation in the economic sector. All my work always pushed people to participate in political, economical sectors, or socially for themselves.

“In Jordan, 41% of women are enrolled in universities and colleges but the issue is only 28% are participating in the economy. Most women are participating in administration, education, and health, and 13% of companies are owned by women — who are usually registered because they have men who are managers from their relatives. In 2015, it was only 13.6% in the labour force working in Jordan. I will try to conclude this challenge in three points.

“Women are all enrolled in education but no one asks you what you want to be and women or girls are not even by the community being encouraged to take what they’re going to be in the future, this is what makes children think about why they are taking education.

“Sometimes you find women are more than men, they have 60% graduates, but they’re not working, they always say “whatever, just give me a job.” We tend to want to improve the women participation because we want them to get more money and make better decisions for themselves, but that shouldn’t be the case.

“Women should be given more choices.”

“A study shows that even if women are making a lot of money they can’t make any decisions because of their husbands and this makes it very challenging to women. We have two communities and issues that are so clear. Most working women face many problems because women can’t work after three or something. Those cultural issues provide a serious problem and there’s no real change to it.

“In Jamaica, you’d be surprised at how women are stronger in their countries. In studies, within every eight women, there’s probably only one guy studying with them. Their prime minister is also a woman who had been elected twice. Women are always CEO more than men in the private sectors — you’d be impressed how different it is.

“In the Arab countries — not only Jordan — people have 25% labour force but it always depends on the education, experience, which sectors, etc. Tunisia, they have a stronger women’s rights, but if you look at their participation there are only 40% of young women that are economically active and only 10% of leadership roles are held by women.

“In Egypt, only there are only 31% of participation in the economy which is so strange because Egypt is very poor so say if you go to Cairo you see a lot of women working but then again that’s  only in Cairo not all the country, only 90 million. Only 11% of women are politically active there.

“The whole idea I try to look at the issues we really need to work on. We need to work on three areas, the first recruitment. We need to make sure women are active in the school level to raise awareness and show other areas because they know nursing and health but we need to raise ideas about diverse issues.

“The second is the retention of female employees by flexible work hours, family care programs, leave programs, work programs, harassment policies, etc.

“And the third one is the advancement of work programs through targeting these women and building the capacity of these women and build high positions. And maybe we need to work with the government to adopt these strategies, also civil society, education sectors, the private sectors — we need to all work together.

“Raising awareness about women’s participation needs to be conducted at different levels, the first one is family and then schooling. In education to help these women think about their careers. And in the national level to start strategising with the private sector in how they can give more opportunities to women.”

Rawan mentioned the importance of taking examples of good case studies in giving women more opportunities

Check out Rawan’s full presentation at the following link.

Floor Discussion: how did this become an issue?

Q1: Why do you think there is such a huge gap within women in leadership — whether politics, business, etc?

A1: It’s stupid but cultural, if you look at the mass it is what it ends up to — which is sad. I also don’t think that we need a quota in the parliament. A quota is an approach around an inefficient system, I might agree that it’s a temporary solution just to show that we do have women parliaments but for the next time we don’t need a quota — so now if we go through an election, there needs to be a chair for women only so it ensures a seat for women there.

If I want to go about the lack of females in the government we need to increase awareness about this and not just make a quota. I personally don’t believe in efficiencies in our government and politicians, so I think women are better off without it. But if we look at board seats and CEOs there needs to be more awareness that takes place. I know for a fact that if you read the Lean In book some of the challenges come from women. Some of the amazing capable women CEO I’ve met, some of the biggest challenges is with women employees. So it’s not always a cultural thing, sometimes women aren’t working in a sisterhood model.

A2: I do believe if women are always expected to live in our rules, she’s dependant, she’s not a decision maker, she’s always a follower. 11% and 10% would be the ones who either challenge the norm or were born as leaders — weren’t really leaders because they worked for it or wanted to challenge the norm, or even because if this wasta thing. The personal and social connections, not even work connections, so only 11% are the women who work hard and try to break the norm. From my experience, the women that I’ve met and made it from Jordan or the Arab region, they used to work three times more than men and when we would meet those top-notch CEO you would find women are more innovative and committed as if they need to prove themselves more, men don’t. Also women usually don’t participate in public light, men can do whatever they want. Women have curfews, even my parents used to tell me “you always go out,” I finish at 5pm, I go to the gym and I come back at 7pm, this is easier for men. Women need to be given more opportunities in decision making.

Q2: Everybody mentioned that it’s a cultural thing that women have a harder time, what do you think is a good way to overcome this without destroying culture?

A1: One step at a time and gradually, we should expose more things like this in the media and take it one step at a time.

A2: Education, people need to be more educated and also religion. I think we really need to separate religion from everything honestly. Religion is intervened in everything, from what we’ve been saying about the culture thing, but Arabs will never separate this, so I think this is the true thing we should do.

A3: I think Jordan is headed towards a bad outcome if we don’t separate it from culture. I disagree that we need to separate religion because for me, I feel like Islam is not a religion it’s more like a lifestyle. I can’t just separate it. I think another solution would be to show more exposure, more religion, more culture; maybe be more open to more expats and internationals. I think Jordan has one of the highest number of NGOs so this will attract a huge number of internationals. So I think once Jordan starts doing that and being more exposed to different cultures, you will start seeing things from a different perspective.

A4: I have an engineer friend, she’s amazing, she came from Saudi and move out here in Jordan and got a job and there’s this organisation that help spread and encourage women to find jobs and entrepreneurship, so she takes part in this and when I asked her what she thought is the solution for dealing with women’s rights in this field, she said it’s getting married to a foreigner or an Arab person who had more exposure to a western culture. So I think people need to be more exposed to different cultures.

A5: And I think by exposure, media is a great tool to use to show different cultures. Media is the tool to support that, I think people should be using media for this.

A6: I think culture/religion is an excuse. We have this thing where we have people that are just trying to throw down people who succeed and culture and religion is the easiest excuse. So if a young woman comes up to you and creates this business, people will start judging her and commenting on her, but when she succeeds, people will want to start to follow her and not get left behind; so what I’m implying is role models. Maybe looking out and trying to support any woman who wants to start a company or the challenges that they face in the workforce, because if a woman becomes CEO or a team leader they will face a hiccup along the way, but once they succeed, people will follow. So it’s all about supporting and helping women to get to this position.

A7: President Obama was not a great president but he was an African-American, so he broke that stereotype, so I do agree that more women need to see more powerful women.

Q3: Do you think there are jobs that are traditionally women’s jobs and men’s jobs? And why is this?

A1: There are ton’s of women inventors out there, women do these things. Back in the 17th century lawyers and doctors are barely women but now women doctors and lawyers are everywhere. So time just made things become better.

A2: I do agree that time does affect the way things are, but I also think that it’s mostly education just because everybody was brought up with a certain way they were raised. I feel it’s just the way people were raised. Some jobs just feel like they need a more motherly instinct like being a nurse or a teacher and I feel that’s just the jobs people feel women should be doing compared to jobs males should be doing. There are characteristics people feel women fit more, but again it just comes down to the way people are raised and education they were given.

A3: Just on that point this pressure put as a women — you always need to look nice — and if you’re a mechanic or something, you won’t look like nice, which is why some jobs were thought of not fitting for women. Also, I think it’s men’s ego too, because some men don’t like being managed by women. But sometimes women sabotage themselves. And it’s true, there is a proverb that says women are their own worst enemies, so it depends on the situation and different factors as well.

A4: I agree with what everyone said, jobs like taxi drivers maybe it’s also because people are more scared that there might be harrassments if a women took it and for teachers maybe they think it’s more suitable because they have children and a women would be more suitable and this is because of the environment and I think women should change this and not only men because we need to support each other.

A5: I’ve heard a saying that says “why don’t you women appreciate what you have and men appreciate what you have?” Men and women are created differently, it’s not that they have to be equal in everything, it’s not a bad thing, the point in this though is that women are not being appreciated enough for what they have. For example, people don’t think that men are not manly if they’re too emotional, so men aren’t appreciated for being emotional, so it’s not fair for a man and a women. People need to improve this community in the way they perceive these things.

A6: Sometimes, I feel women shouldn’t undermine themselves, I think women can do more than man can. My mom raised me single-handedly, she did a great job than what my dad could ever do. So I think women can do more than men if they don’t undermine themselves.

A7: I think a lot of people judge what a woman do worse than what a man do. It’s not really about whether the women needs to be what the man does, it’s just how women are judged more.

A8: I don’t think it’s not about whether a woman or man needs to be more emotional or not, it’s more about how they were raised and their environment, so if a man was raised to be emotional, then they’ll be more emotional. So I think we should just stop talking about things from a gender perspective and just treat everybody like human beings.

A9: Maybe with modernisation, women were framed to be a certain way — like a mom or to be emotional — but if you look at ancient times, in Greek mythology, goddesses were more powerful than the gods and women were seem as tough then. If you look at these issues, globalisation is helping to frame women to be beautiful but in certain cultures women are empowered. In instances of cultural preassures, people were made to think that the way they’re thinking are wrong.

If we just exposed certain men and women in certain sectors that they are not generally exposed to and show the beauty of it.

Brainstorm: our path to systemic change

Team 1

“We like and believe in the idea of increasing the exposure of a positive role model. We think if we can do it through media to spread these kinds of stories to inspire to make people understand that it’s possible and set them apart from the cliches, for instances to support independent movie makers and Youtubers,”

“The other one is independent initiatives, which would implement the educational system with the use of role models. We think that going through the government might be tough so we were thinking of approaching NGOs — to challenge the way kids are taught through the scholar system and show them a different way of thinking. Eg. the Queen Rania Initiative for Excellence, it will be faster than approaching the government.

“Create more work for professionals, have professionals educate and sharing their knowledge, especially women.

“Job fairs, once people finish their studies or leave the job market it’s hard for them to come back, so we were thinking of a job fair where it will be gender-oriented with gender consciousness.

“Transportation — especially in Jordan — which is also a prominent reason, especially here, of not getting a job.

“To target the parents through social media — especially in Jordan — to target them and make them more aware. As marketers, we know what people are interested in and we can target parent on how they can actually improve their children through targeted marketing. So it will help the way people think as the one that educates the children and spends their time with.”  

Team 2

“We focused on two different areas, the first education; just making sure that everybody is getting the same options throughout the schools. In the level of the classrooms, there are a lot of standards being made in terms of avoiding labeling and what job options may be possible for certain genders and other options that aren’t available for other genders,”

“Then we talked about creating classes that will prepare you for the workforce, so they have a sense of what to expect after high school.

“Also confidence-building for female students. Things like women in science, any initiatives that give the idea they are worthy to enter these fields or different role models that give them the possibility that they can succeed.

“Spread the ideas of gender equality throughout Jordan. So like in Sudan in the 70s what brought people to come there was they had a universal education in university — for everyone in the country for men and women. So people from all of the region of Sudan had access to education that is close to their homes, so it was easy for them to get. In each region, they would have two universities — in the technical field and the other one would be scientific and literature — so what happened the generations of the 70s are experts in these fields, they were exposed to this education and there were many opportunities for scholarships. The new generation is not like the old one because nobody is giving them any opportunities for education and the work level. It makes people more comfortable to talk more about gender because they were exposed to it.

“Apart from that within the business realm, we talked about how businesses that employ women at an equal rate with men are at an advantage because it creates a good image for their companies and shows that they care.

“We also talked a little about the quota system for men and women, there’s a lot to talk about here, though.

“We also talked about establishing workshops for men in businesses to have a better sense and awareness for men to protect and not discriminate women.

“And different policies that could be adopted, like opportunities for daycare or allowing parents to take time off to take care of the children. These are policies that are good for everyone that will help women work at the same rate as men while taking care of their responsibilities at home.”

The Hybris Media discussion is a monthly discussion series aiming to create awareness about certain issues we feel need some spotlight. Our aim is to try and create systemic change and a sustainable solution to the problem. If you have further comments or questions about what had been discussed and published, feel free to leave a comment to keep the talk going.

Liked it? Take a second to support Hybris Media on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!