Beyond the Arab uprisings: creating economic opportunities for women

By EBRD  Press Office

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Creating economic opportunities for women in North Africa and exploring the various factors impacting female employment in the private sector were topics highlighted today at a joint conference organised by the EBRD and Women for Women International (WfWI). 

Held at the EBRD’s Headquarters, the conference brought together government officials, representatives of international financial institutions, experts in gender and equality issues, researchers and members of civil society.

Participants discussed the impact of the Arab uprisings on creating a more enabling environment to enhance economic opportunities for women and the different factors that affect female employment in the private sector, such as labour legislation and employment policies. 

Ways to facilitate the access to finance for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and capacity building for women in business were among the topics debated at the conference. WfWI shared its experience of how its market-tailored vocational training is helping women to set up their own businesses or to get into formal employment.

Conference panellists included Erik Berglof, EBRD Chief Economist; Rania Al-Mashat, Deputy Governor of the Egyptian central bank; and Manuela Ferro, Director for the MENA region in charge of the economic, poverty reduction and gender agenda at the World Bank.

“At the EBRD we view gender as one of the factors that can impact upon people's economic opportunity, but which should not. In addition to fostering transition to market economies, through its work the EBRD contributes to the advancement of social reforms and creating equal economic opportunities among individuals. As the Bank expands its activities in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region, we will be capitalising on the lessons learned so far, while taking into account the specifics of the new region”, said EBRD Chief Economist Erik Berglof.

Zainab Salbi, Founder of Women for Women International, added: “The Arab Spring has been an awakening and brings to light the livelihoods of women. There is a direct correlation between the full engagement of women and economic growth of a country. For growth and sustainability it is crucial this proportion of society is part of the economic process. Otherwise ignoring the 'revolution' will impact on the economic development and freedom of all society.”

“Upheaval creates suffering and challenges, but also windows of opportunity for change, personally, socially and economically and through our work we seek to support women in difficult environments and help create positive change. We are here to identify the key challenges and solutions, opportunities and ideas to create greater equality between men and women and in access to money and opportunities globally,” said Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Director for Policy and Development at Women for Women International.

In May, the EBRD’s shareholders agreed to the creation of a €1 billion special fund to start investments in emerging Arab democracies in response to the wave of political change in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Currently the Bank is providing technical assistance support in the region and is expecting to begin its operations with funding from the special fund in the coming months. The EBRD expects to be able to eventually invest up to €2.5 billion a year in the new region, with the majority of investment envisaged in private sector projects.

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