Positive Voices ring out from Cordoba for women in the Arab world
4 April, 2014
Participants at a Wilton Park forum for women in the private sector in the MENA region, held in Cordoba, Spain, have resolved to make a positive difference in regional women’s welfare and economic empowerment.
Women in the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa
Monday 24 – Thursday 27 March 2014 (WP1321)
Our conference, Women in the private sector in the Middle East and North Africa heralded the establishment of the Positive Voices Network (PVN), a not-for-profit, non-political group of MENA men and women with a mission to promote solidarity and cooperation among members of the network to advance women’s full economic empowerment and broader welfare. Positive Voices’ first action has been to draw international attention to the situation of Syrian women and girls in Zaatari refugee camp, and others in Jordan, and will progress to other issues following the publication of PVN’s Cordoba declaration (a website is currently construction).
The conference was organised by Wilton Park in partnership with the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, and was hosted by the Casa Árabe in Cordoba. The meeting, also supported by the OECD and UNESCO’s Chair for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cordoba, took place between the 25 and 26 March 2014. It brought together women and men from across the region, in particular Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and the UAE, together with representatives of international organisations such as the International Labour Organisation, UN Development Programme, the League of Arab States and OECD MENA Business Women’s Forum.
Lively discussions covered subjects ranging across economic challenges and opportunities for women in the MENA region, the patterns of economic exclusion and barriers to women in the workplace, legal frameworks, Islam and women’s role in the economy, education and skills development and promoting a constructive environment for self-employment and entrepreneurship.
Recommendations from the meeting focused on forward looking pathways to economic independence for women, including ways to best promote equal access to finance for entrepreneurs, how technology can facilitate growth, and what needs to be done to encourage cooperation between civil society, private and public sectors.
Other recommendations for future action included the creation of a fund dedicated to women’s entrepreneurship to cover the entire MENA region, along with development of particular products which would facilitate women led enterprise, and development of e-learning facilities for financial and general education. Our conference report is available for download.
Enablement of women was a common factor; greater telecommunications investment in deprived areas hindered connectivity, along with a lack of Arabic content on the internet and less available translation support. Supportive infrastructure to reconcile work and family need to be provided.
Building capacity provides more opportunities for women, not solely in the private sector, and cooperation among all sectors of society, and is key to women’s advancement. Issues examined included legislative reform, raising awareness of the benefits of women’s employment, education about gender discrimination, as well as to promote critical and creative thinking, and changing mind-sets of both men and women. The importance of building an enabling environment for women starts in the family
Both micro and macro perspectives need to be considered, ensuring equal access for women to opportunity through education whilst promoting inclusive, unrestrictive, gender-responsive development of the private sector.
Issues discussed at this conference had been highlighted in the Cairo Declaration, adopted on 23 February 2014, during the ‘High Level Meeting for Implementing the Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls, Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women in the Arab Region’ held at the League of Arab States in Cairo. The commitments in the Cairo Declaration were felt to be an excellent reference for advocacy and concrete action. Rights are never granted – they are taken. The emphasis needs to be on implementation, and the members of the Positive Voices Network, in their various capacities, will come together to act and achieve impact.