RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has praised the exceptional role played by women during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a speech delivered at the end of the W20, the G20 women’s engagement group, on Wednesday, King Salman said: “I would like to express my gratitude to the Women 20 Engagement Group for their remarkable efforts and commitment to deliver their agenda during these unprecedented times caused by the COVID -19 pandemic.”
The Saudi king described women as the source of evolution for any society and said that without empowered women it is difficult to reform societies.
“Women are the main source of development for any society. Hence, without empowered women, it is almost impossible to implement any societal reforms given that women form half of the societies and they are the ones who raise up generations. Women has proven through history their remarkable role in leading change and in decision making.”
The king noted that Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 has dedicated special attention to discussing policies related to women across different ministerial and working group meetings.
The Middle East and North Africa region is often categorized as a place where women have few opportunities, but we are breaking those stereotypes, starting at home. Our region has made huge progress in driving the economic empowerment of women, many of whom are leaders in the private and government sectors, as well as in their entrepreneurial ventures. But, as with the rest of the world, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to reach true equality.
The World Bank’s report “Women, Business and the Law 2020” ranked Saudi Arabia as the world’s top reformer in advancing women’s economic participation for 2019. This is recognition of the legislative policies the country established to boost female participation in the workforce, which it aims to increase from an average of just under 20 percent to more than 40 percent as part of Vision 2030. This also includes support to female entrepreneurs as they realize the dream of being business owners. Further, we have 35,000 Saudi women currently studying in 60 foreign countries on government scholarships, fulfilling the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 targets based on the roles of women and youth.
There has been remarkable progress so far and I am confident that this is just the beginning of our journey. However, as we work toward our goals, we also need to understand, and collaborate on remedying, the inequality issues many women still face.
The latest global research continues to paint an alarming picture of the gender gap in the workplace. A study commissioned by UN Women found that women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, while the World Economic Forum found that only 55 percent of women (aged 15 to 64) are engaged in the labor market, as opposed to 78 percent of men. This picture only becomes more depressing when we look at the number of women in leadership or entrepreneurial roles. This year, there were only 37 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies list.
Making up 70 percent of front-line health care and service workers, women are currently demonstrating their critical role in addressing one of the largest crises in recent history. However, the coronavirus disease pandemic and subsequent recovery is expected to widen the gender pay gap even further.
But there is cause for optimism, as some countries, governments and businesses across the world are not only recognizing the need for equality, but are also seeing its very real and tangible rewards. New analysis by the Boston Consulting Group shows that, if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, the global gross domestic product could rise by between 3 and 6 percent, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion. Given the economic crisis the entire world is currently facing, we cannot afford to ignore the benefits gender equality can offer.
As we work toward our goals, we need to understand, and collaborate on remedying, the inequality issues many women still face.
During this year’s G20 Presidency of Saudi Arabia, the B20 established the inaugural Women in Business (WIB) Action Council and it has been my honor to serve as chair. This role has refueled my optimism, as leveling the playing field for women in the workforce has been central to all our work across the B20.
The B20’s role, as the business voice of the G20, is to identify the most pressing priorities impacting all business — large and small — in the developed and developing worlds. It is important to note that the WIB Action Council is the first initiative of its kind in the history of the G20 and B20. And we have broken records too, with women constituting 33 percent of the overall task force and action council membership, and 43 percent of the chairs.
Over the past year, the B20 has engaged with more than 650 business leaders across the G20 and beyond through its six task forces and WIB Action Council in an effort to ensure an inclusive and action-oriented process. Together, we have developed 25 recommendations to make to the G20 that we believe will help restore and reinvigorate the global economy. These recommendations have now been submitted and will be considered at the G20 summit next month.
The WIB Action Council recommendations call on the G20 to take the necessary action to unlock the advancement and full leadership potential of women by driving reforms, fostering an inclusive environment, ensuring fair and equal pay and encouraging new methods of flexible working.
We also recommended promoting female business ownership by creating an enabling environment for female-founded startups and eliminating barriers to expertise and finance. We also asked for a comprehensive “Women in STEM” road map to be implemented to increase the number of women in high-skilled jobs.
Finally, we are calling for a diverse cross-section of women to be included in all stages of policy design, with national policies on equality to be evaluated and amended to ensure they protect the rights and equal opportunities of women, and the implementation of policies for employers that set goals and transparent disclosure requirements to increase women in leadership positions.
As Saudi women, we have made history and will undoubtedly leave a legacy for future B20s. To advance, we must collectively encourage and support the G20 to make these recommendations a reality and ensure we leave a lasting legacy for future generations of women, and men, across the world.
• Rania Nashar is Chair of the Women in Business Action Council at B20 Saudi Arabia, the voice of the private sector to the G20
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view
“We’re living in an extremely exciting time in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Rashid said. (Supplied)
Prominent Saudi social worker relishes the opportunity to bring together diverse voices from across the globe for a common goal
The first ever virtual Women 20 Summit will bring together experts and leaders from a variety of disciplines over Oct. 20-21
RIYADH: Salma Al-Rashid has represented Saudi Arabia at the Women 20 (W20) — the official G20 engagement group on women — since 2018, first in Argentina then last year in Japan. Now, as Riyadh prepares to host the 2020 summit in November, Al-Rashid is delighted to have been named this year’s “sherpa” tasked with undertaking preparatory work for the conference.
Since Oct. 2019, Al-Rashid has been the chief advocacy officer of the Alnahda Philanthropic Society for Women, a Saudi charity that champions female empowerment and participation. At the helm of the W20 Riyadh edition, Alnahda will help facilitate discussions among a network of delegates representing non-governmental women’s organizations, female entrepreneurs and think tanks from across the G20 member states.
The aim is to ensure gender considerations are placed firmly on the table and are included in the G20 Leaders’ Declaration as policies and commitments that foster gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.
“I take the task of head of delegation and sherpa very seriously,” Al-Rashid told Arab News in the run-up to the summit. “I have the responsibility to bring forward the voice of Saudi Arabian women in all their shapes, forms and experiences. I serve as the mechanism to project the voices of women of Saudi Arabia in this global forum.”
Recalling her long association with Alnahda, Al-Rashid said she had always been passionate about social and development issues. “Throughout my career, I have firmly believed that by building a global and an inclusive culture, where all voices are heard, regardless of age, sex, race, religious beliefs and political affiliation, we can make the world more just and equitable for all,” she said.
Alnahda, which means “the awakening,” was founded in 1962 to help empower Saudi women economically and socially through targeted development projects.
As a sherpa, Al-Rashid is responsible for the operational management of this year’s W20, its advocacy and communications, and for providing overall support to the W20’s Saudi chair, Dr. Thoraya Obaid. She relishes the opportunity to bring together diverse voices from around the globe for a common goal.
“The W20 this year allowed us to create a bridge between global and local conversations that is meaningful, and at times challenging, with the different perspectives of various sectors of the community on what matters most to women and how we can ensure women’s economic empowerment,” Al-Rashid said.
“The W20 has provided us with an opportunity to contribute to the local advancement of Saudi women.”
Al-Rashid started out with Alnahda as a volunteer. She went on to found a volunteer service program and later shifted to managing academic guidance and career-development programs to give young girls from underprivileged backgrounds a leg up on the competition as well as access further education.
“After that, I co-managed a nationwide campaign to enhance civic education among Saudi men and women during the municipal elections of 2015, when women were allowed to run and vote. So that was an exciting point in my career,” she said.
Al-Rashid’s interest in the development and social issues started at an early age thanks to her mother, who has been an Alnahda member for over 25 years.
“I’ve had the privilege and experience of listening to the realities and experiences of Saudi women,” she said. “So, I would sit with my mom and just listen to conversations with social workers, beneficiaries, and the leaders and employees of Alnahda.
“I grew up listening to the various experiences, struggles, challenges and obstacles that women face, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. I think that’s most probably what sparked my passion.”
With such an impressive background in women’s advocacy work, Al-Rashid seemed like the obvious candidate for the sherpa role, appointed to it in December last year. She is excited to see all the months of planning and discussion come together for the upcoming summit.
“Jointly with our delegates across the G20, we formulate concrete, actionable policy recommendations to further advance gender equality within the G20 negotiations,” she said.
“One thing we did this year as W20 Saudi Arabia was an in-house analysis, before January. We wanted to understand how effective the W20 has been in the past five years and how efforts have been reflected at the G20 level, through additionally consulting with international organizations and experts who we call our knowledge partners,” she said.
Based on this analysis, the delegates have settled on this year’s framework. “W20 delegates have agreed that we have three main areas of focus: Women’s financial inclusion, labor inclusion and digital inclusion. And every year a presidency introduces a fourth focus area. We wanted to continue the legacy of past presidencies, and build on their work.”
This year’s presidency proposal was to promote inclusive decision-making, a position jointly agreed by the summit’s 20 delegates. “We need to ensure that women are represented at every level of the decision-making process,” Al-Rashid said.
“If we look across the G20, we have only one female leader among the G20 leaders. We don’t see many women in leadership positions, but W20 goes beyond that. It’s not just women on boards and as CEOs. We recognize that the decision-making process is very complex and there are different stages. We need to ensure that at every stage there is representation of women and that representation is diverse.”
An ongoing challenge the W20 delegation wants to see the G20 address is the lack of women being hired to leadership positions.
“We only recently celebrated the appointment of the first woman CEO at Citigroup. And we know that Wall Street suffers from not having enough women. So, it is a challenge across the globe,” Al-Rashid said.
This is a challenge that Saudi Arabia has risen to meet in recent years, with a raft of new reforms designed to bolster women’s participation and empowerment.
“We’re living in an extremely exciting time in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Rashid said. “We see a lot of reforms and advancement to push for women’s participation in the economic development of Saudi Arabia. One of the goals of Vision 2030 is to accelerate women’s representation in the labor market and in leadership positions.
“We’ve celebrated the appointment of the first Saudi ambassador to the US, Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar, and we’ve celebrated a number of appointments of women in both the private and public sector.
“Are we there yet? Are we even close to where we hope to see ourselves? Not yet. It’s a very long journey, but we are on the right track.”
As a result of the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the G20 Summit and all engagement groups are being held remotely. Al-Rashid says the virus and its consequences have laid bare the economic vulnerabilities of women and the vital role of the W20.
“Despite the difficulties and challenges that we were faced with this year, we are privileged and honored to be able to respond to the question of what we can and have done this year,” she said.
“We did not stay quiet. We did not ignore this pandemic that hit women the hardest. We look at it as an opportunity to build back better.”
Al-Rashid sees an opportunity for world leaders to take concrete action in further advancing women’s economic participation. She puts it this way: “Only through empowering women, and through addressing the impact of COVID-19 on women, will we be able to further advance and sustainably recover from this pandemic.”
Dr. Fatima Al-Hamlan is chair of the global health working group of the Civil Society 20 (C20).
She is a scientist in the Infection and Immunity Department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, as well as an assistant professor at the College of Medicine at Alfaisal University in Riyadh.
Al-Hamlan joined the center as a post-doctorate fellow and global clinical scholar in June 2013, and remained in that position until March 2016. She became a research scientist and head of the Scientific Information Office in April that year.
Al-Hamlan’s focus is on conducting research into women’s health and promoting the health and well-being of Saudi females.
She was a founding member of the Riyadh-based Rofaida Women’s Health Organization in 2016 and is its vice president.
In 2007, Al-Hamlan received a master’s degree in population genetics from Washington State University. Five years later, she obtained a Ph.D. in microbiology, molecular biology and biochemistry from the University of Idaho. She also completed executive education courses at Harvard Business School and Harvard Medical School’s Leadership Program to further develop cross-functional skills, lead organizational change and inspire high-performing teams.
She has received awards for her scientific contributions in her field, including the Princess Nourah University’s Women Pioneers in Health Sciences Research Award in 2018.
Al-Hamlan is currently developing a network to advance women’s health, women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine), and CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) within Saudi Arabia and globally.
The board of directors of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) announced, on Thursday, the appointment of Ms. Joumana Rashed Al-Rashed as the new chief executive officer of the group. (Supplied)
Ms. Joumana Al-Rashed holds a Master’s degree in International Journalism from City University in London
RIYADH: The board of directors of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (SRMG) announced, on Thursday, the appointment of Ms. Joumana Rashed Al-Rashed as the new chief executive officer of the group, replacing Mr. Saleh Bin Hussain Al-Dowais.
Ms. Joumana Al-Rashed holds a Master’s degree in International Journalism from City University in London in 2013.
She graduated from SOAS University in London in 2011 with a Bachelor of Political Science.
She previously served as media advisor and media communications director.
Princess Nouf bint Mohammed is the chair of the Civil Society 20 (C20), one of the eight independent engagement groups of the G20. According to the C20 website, the group “provides a platform of Civil Society Organizations around the world to bring forth a nongovernment and nonbusiness voice” and “provides a space through which CSOs can contribute in a structured and sustained manner to the G20.”
Recently, the C20 virtual summit convened amid calls for world leaders to make bold reforms and commit to health, education and social protection investments, while taking ambitious steps toward climate action and biodiversity protection. More than 4,000 civil society leaders, representing 109 countries, discussed their concerns and demands ahead of the G20 Summit next month.
Princess Nouf has been the CEO of the King Khalid Foundation (KKF) since 2019 and is the chairperson of the Saudi ADHD Society and a member of the Al-Nahda Society for Women. She is a committed philanthropist and a strong supporter of Saudi civil society. She graduated from the University of Phoenix with a degree in business management. She has represented the KKF and the Saudi ADHD Society in several international civil society meetings. The Saudi ADHD Society is a nonprofit organization that supports and provides services to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Over her 24 years with the KKF, Princess Nouf has played an essential role in shaping the foundation’s finances, activities, and its strategic direction, “focusing on creating equal opportunities and prosperity in Saudi Arabia as well as the Foundation’s engagements and support for the nonprofit sector,” according to the C20 site.
Dr. Heidi Alaskary is the lead co-chair for the T20 Task Force 6 on economy, employment and education in the digital age.
She is US-educated and a trained speech-language pathologist based in Riyadh.
Alaskary is currently the CEO of the Special Olympics Saudi Arabia. Prior to this position she was acting deputy of planning and development at the General Sports Authority. As a director at the Human Resources Development Fund she used her experience to directly impact the lives of people with disabilities by working on legislation and programs that led to suitable and sustainable employment.
She has been director of research affairs at the King Salman Center for Disability Research (KSCDR), where she was an educator, researcher, and advocate for people with disabilities. The position gave her an opportunity to develop her leadership, administrative, and networking skills.
Before joining the center Alaskary was a speech-language pathologist with the Jeddah Institute for Speech and Hearing. She was a lecturer at King Saud University while working part time at the Disabled Children’s Association in Riyadh before becoming an assistant professor in speech-language pathology following the completion of her doctorate.
At KSCDR she was initially coordinator for the National Communication Disorders Program, then associate executive director for research and development before assuming the directorship. She maintains professional certifications and affiliations to support her participation in important projects that impact the lives of people with disabilities.
On Tuesday Alaskary spoke at a T20 Task Force 6 webinar about the economy, employment and education in the digital age.
“The beauty of the topics we’re talking about is that it is not something reserved for politicians, governments, or researchers,” she said. “Many of the topics you’re going to hear touch each and every one of us. Whether we’re children, people with disabilities, women, men, older, younger, or even parents learning to be teachers, trying to teach our children and keeping them safe.
“My call to action for everyone listening is that this isn’t just about policies, this is about the issues impacting you as an individual. What is your role in contributing to the voices that come together that help shape policy? Your voice matters, your thoughts matter. We look forward to hearing them.”
Alobaidy is a Harvard alumnus and a UK graduate with a Ph.D. in business management and health care administration
Dr. May Alobaidy is the first Saudi woman to be appointed an adviser to a minister. Over the years, she has worked as a senior adviser to three ministers in addition to her role as CEO of the Strategic and International Partnerships and Initiatives Center, which she established at the Ministry of Higher Education.
Alobaidy is a highly regarded expert with a plethora of international and local experience in strategies, management and leadership. Throughout her career, she worked in various leadership strategic roles and executive positions in many ministries and nongovernment organizations. She was appointed as adviser to vice ministers and governors where she provided consultations on many pivotal issues and projects.
Alobaidy is a co-founder of the Education and Training Evaluation Commission (ETEC) in the Kingdom, where she was appointed vice governor of planning and development.
She also served as the deputy governor for external relations and international cooperation and deputy governor for research and development, where she established both sectors, besides her role as the executive director of the female sector at ETEC.
Over the years, she collaborated and worked on several high-level projects and initiatives with various international organizations and universities such as the UNESCO, WHO, UNDP, UNICEF, World Bank, the OECD, and Harvard University.
Alobaidy is a Harvard alumnus and a UK graduate with a Ph.D. in business management and health care administration. She received a master’s degree from the US and obtained a second master’s degree from France in management and strategic planning.
Dr. Alobaidy is an expert strategist with a professional history in strategic planning, policies, research and development, education, and health care management. She served at many advisory boards and is a member of many committees including the G20. Her Twitter handle is @mayalobaidy.
Rania Biltagi is the head of communication and partnerships at the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture (Ithra).
Biltagi has over two decades of experience in corporate communications and marketing. Over the span of Biltagi’s career with Saudi Aramco, she has held multiple positions from heading corporate brand management and advertising to initiating and leading the development of Aramco’s corporate brand strategy and brand refresh that was launched in 2015.
In her tenure at Ithra, Biltagi has overseen communications for several key initiatives that include the royal inauguration of Ithra in 2018, the 29th Arab League Summit, the Tanween Creativity Season, the Eastern Province Season (2019), the 5th Saudi Film Festival and the FIKR17 conference.
Prior to her work with Ithra, Biltagi spent 17 years working in Aramco’s public relations department. Her titles during that time included brand strategist, project manager, art director and brand manager.
In honor of this year’s Saudi National Day, Biltagi also asked Saudi youth to consider what being Saudi meant to them, and spoke about how Ithra’s multicultural outlook could help Saudi youth work out what their identities meant to them.
“Our mandate involves igniting cultural curiosity, exploring knowledge and inspiring creativity, and it’s a task we don’t take lightly. ‘Saudi at heart, multicultural by nature’ has been our motto from the start, and the manifestation of this ideal means we’re continually looking inward even as we look outwards,” she said.
Biltagi holds a BA in communications studies from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, and an MA in marketing communications from the University of Westminster.
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