Women's role in Mena's green economy


Women's role in Mena's green economy

Petra Jeffery, Assistant Professor at the School of Social Sciences, Heriot-Watt University Dubai

Amidst the stark realities of gender disparities in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, a remarkable shift is underway. In the region where environmental challenges loom large, women are emerging as key drivers of the Green Revolution. Despite facing formidable barriers, these women entrepreneurs and leaders are defying stereotypes and reshaping the sustainability landscape. In this article, Petra Jeffery explores the reasons driving this transformation, the challenges that persist, and how the surge of women into leadership roles within the environmental sector heralds a beacon of change.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), merely 19 per cent of women in Arab nations participate in the labour force, marking the lowest rate globally and substantially lower than the worldwide average of 48 per cent. Moreover, this disparity is even more pronounced in green employment sectors. ILO forecasts indicate that out of the 400,000 potential jobs for Arab youth stemming from green policy initiatives, fewer than 10 per cent are projected to be held by women. This stark statistic underscores the enduring gender inequalities impeding progress in the region. 

According to the MDPI report, female entrepreneurship in the Mena region ranks among the lowest globally, with an average of only 8 per cent of women involved in entrepreneurial pursuits. Many established women entrepreneurs in the region need more confidence in their abilities, which poses a significant barrier to the growth of their ventures, ultimately hindering their success. 

However, research has indicated that women who engage in entrepreneurship exhibit higher self-confidence levels than their male counterparts. Self-confidence has been identified as one of the primary motivators for women entrepreneurs, alongside factors such as independence and achievement. A recent research study indicates that companies led by women tend to achieve higher scores in environmental, social, and governance metrics compared to other businesses. Moreover, women-owned enterprises demonstrate a greater inclination towards implementing energy efficiency practices. 

As per a study conducted by Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP), despite emerging efforts to engage women in leadership roles and positions driving the green transition, it is estimated that around $575 billion is lost annually due to legal and social obstacles hindering female participation in influential government and corporate dialogues concerning climate policies and decarbonisation initiatives. Hence, there is a pressing need for greater inclusion of women and girls in the Mena region in climate change policymaking and other pertinent policy domains. 

Shattering Stereotypes, Building Green Empires

Women entrepreneurs in the Mena region are reshaping the economic landscape by integrating sustainable practices into their ventures, spanning from startups dedicated to renewable energy to those focused on sustainable agriculture. Breaking away from conventional norms, these entrepreneurs are pioneering unique initiatives in the green sector. For instance, Salma Bougarrani, the co-founder and CEO of GREEN WATECH in Morocco, specialises in employing energy-efficient methods to purify wastewater, addressing water scarcity exacerbated by worsening droughts. Similarly, Rana El Kaliouby from Lebanon established Affectiva, leveraging AI to enrich customer interactions and advocate for conscientious consumption. 

Furthermore, organisations such as BEEAH demonstrate that gender is not a barrier to ambition and dedication, aligning with the National Strategy for Empowerment of Emirati Women. Women affiliated with BEEAH embody the varied and dynamic nature of female entrepreneurs in the Mena region, engaging in diverse ventures encompassing renewable energy, sustainable fashion, ecotourism, and organic agriculture.

Beyond Entrepreneurship: Steering the Corporate Wheel

Outside of entrepreneurship, women are taking on leadership positions in established firms, propelling sustainability efforts, and shaping corporate policies. In the UAE, Dr. Nawal Al Hosany, serving as the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), advocates for a global shift towards renewable energy. Similarly, Lubna Olayan, Chairwoman of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, promotes environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles to foster responsible growth. Farah Naz, an acclaimed climate change strategist and author of "The NetZero City Book," leads sustainable city initiatives at AECOM. Nahla Nabil, a sustainability expert at Etihad Rail, spearheads various projects, including the region's inaugural carbon-accredited endeavour. Engineer Aya Nafi, a Qatari architect and urban planner, draws inspiration from Zaha Hadid to integrate sustainability into her designs and encourages aspiring female architects to pursue their aspirations. 

These women demonstrate that gender diversity in leadership fosters sustainable business practices and better environmental outcomes. 

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite progress, challenges persist, including limited access to finance, gender bias, and networking barriers. Addressing these challenges requires targeted funding mechanisms, mentorship programs, skills development initiatives, and combating gender bias. However, there are also significant opportunities for growth and advancement.

Drivers of Change: Fueling the Trend

Numerous factors contribute to the rise of women in leadership roles within the environmental sector in the Mena region. Increased awareness surrounding environmental issues serves as a catalyst, propelling women to actively seek solutions and establish sustainable enterprises. Additionally, government backing through initiatives such as Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 and the UAE's Green Agenda provides fertile ground for women entrepreneurs to thrive. UAE's Women in Sustainability, Environment, and Renewable Energy (WiSER) stands as a global advocate, emphasising women's pivotal role in driving sustainable transformations. Moreover, technological advancements empower women to devise innovative environmental solutions, while evolving cultural norms foster greater acceptance of women in leadership positions. Furthermore, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has initiated various programs to advance gender equality and women's empowerment within the environmental sector. 

Moreover, the rise of social entrepreneurship and impact investing has created new avenues for women to access funding and support for their green initiatives. By leveraging these opportunities, women entrepreneurs in the Mena region can overcome barriers and continue to drive positive change in their communities.

A Sustainable Future with Women at the Forefront

The rise of women in Mena's green leadership marks a crucial turning point. By empowering and supporting these women, we unlock their potential to drive innovation, create jobs, and build a more sustainable future for the region and beyond. Empowering women in the green space is not just a social imperative but an economic and environmental necessity. 

In conclusion, women in Mena are playing a pivotal role in driving the green revolution, turning challenges into opportunities, and forging a path towards a more sustainable future. Their leadership is essential for achieving sustainable development goals and ensuring a prosperous and resilient Mena region for future generations.

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