The first high-level Mashreq Conference on Women's Economic Empowerment opened this morning at the Grand Serail in Beirut, under the patronage of Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri.
The conference, organized by the World Bank Group and the Governments of Lebanon and Canada, on the eve of the Arab Summit for Economic and Social Development, gathered a large number of participants from governments, private sector, civil society, academia, international organizations, multilaterals, and donors.
In the opening session, Prime Minister Hariri said that "empowering women economically in our countries and activating their role in all fields is a sustainable process that requires close cooperation between the governments, the private sector and the civil society", and listed the steps recently taken in Lebanon towards this goal.
He announced "Lebanon's commitment to a national action program aimed at empowering Lebanese women economically, through which we aim to increase women's participation in the labor market by at least 5 percent in the next five years".
For his part, the World Bank Vice President for Middle East and North Africa Ferid Belhaj reiterated the Bank's "strong and unwavering support to Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan in implementing their Action Plans and its commitment to mobilizing its technical and financial resources to assist with this implementation".
In turn, the Chief Operating Officer of the International Finance Corporation, Stephanie Von Friedeburg, said that "IFC sees tremendous potential in Mashreq", and noted the importance of the "launch today of the World Bank Group's multi-donor Gender Mashreq Financing Facility, the first facility that we have launched in the MENA region dedicated to increasing women's participation in the workforce".
Canadian Ambassador Emanuelle Lamoureux said that "giving women and girls the opportunity to develop their full potential and use their talents and skills is not only good for women, it's simply good economics", adding that "these are some of the reasons why Canada has placed gender equality and women's economic empowerment at the centre of its international development efforts in this region".
For their parts, the Secretary General of the Iraqi Council of Ministers Dr.Mahdi Mohsen Al-Alak, and the Jordanian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Dr. Mary Kamel Kawar,
presented the steps taken by both countries to improve women's economic empowerment.
The Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmad Abu al-Ghaith explained the efforts exerted by the Arab League and said that the agenda of the Arab Summit for Economic and Social Development includes a number of issues related to the empowerment of women and the promotion of their social and economic rights.
Belhaj delivered the following speech:
"It is my great pleasure to open the First High-level Mashreq Conference on Women's Economic Empowerment and to welcome this distinguished audience. I am pleased to welcome our visitors from Iraq and Jordan, as well as from the region, Europe and the United States.
I would like to start by expressing my sincere appreciation to His Excellency Mr. Saad Hariri, not only for hosting this unique and timely event, but also for being a champion and leader for the cause of women's empowerment in Lebanon.
The achievements of your government in this domain, Your Excellency, is commendable and has inspired the World Bank Group to co-sponsor this event. I would also like to express my thanks to the Government of Canada, which has been a close partner and collaborator with us in the MENA region and globally on gender equality actions. I also thank the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation for supporting the conference.
It is not by coincidence that our event is taking place on the eve of the Arab Summit for Economic and Social Development. Women's empowerment is at the center of economic and social development. It is also at the very center of the World Bank agenda. We fervently believe that gender equality is smart economics, as it contributes to poverty reduction, strengthens resilience and boosts shared prosperity. Empowering women and girls has intrinsic value and is instrumental to achieve more inclusive institutions, sound policies, and effective development outcomes.
The Middle East and North Africa is a region that takes pride in one of its strongest constituents, which is the "power of youth". If current demographic trends persist, ceteris paribus, the MENA region will need to create north of 300 million jobs by the year 2050, or 10 million jobs per year, starting today. We view this abundance of youth energy as a remarkable dynamic capable of transforming economies and creating growth. Harnessing the potential of 300 million youth is not an easy task, and will require a "moonshot" approach that aims at liberating the digital futures of MENA's millions of technologically savvy youth. This approach will require the active engagement of both women and men equally, for together they hold the key to MENA's future.
However, in light of the persistent challenges that women in particular continue to face in the areas of economic opportunities, voice and agency, and the context-specific complications triggered by fragility and conflict in MENA, this only leaves women and girls with less than half a chance to engage in the region's economic cycle.
MENA registers the lowest Female Labor Force Participation of all regions, lower than expected by level of economic development; and with large gaps across all countries. Despite the elevated rate of female enrollment in education and their high academic achievements, compared to men, only 1 in 5 women is economically active in the Mashreq countries.
Evidence demonstrates low rates of women's financial inclusion, numerous constraints to women's voice and agency, and high prevalence of gender-based violence. Such indicators alert us that MENA loses significant amounts in regional income due to gender-based discrimination in laws, social norms and practices that constrain women's rights and opportunities.
In light of such findings, the World Bank launched a comprehensive MENA Gender Action Plan in 2017, aiming to address and enhance women's economic opportunities as fundamental elements towards achieving economic growth, sustainable development, and peace and stability in the region.
In addition, the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi), which was announced at the G20 Leaders' Summit in July 2017 and launched by the World Bank in October of the same year, aims at supporting women entrepreneurs by primarily providing access to financial products and services, and opportunities to link with domestic and global markets.
Through its recently launched Human Capital Project, the World Bank will seek to improve gaps in endowments, particularly in terms of access to health and education. It will also aim at designing operations to enhance women's- and men's- digital skills to enable them to meet labor market requirements and to build a thriving digital economy.
In the Mashreq countries, through this conference today, we are hoping to elevate the dialogue, and to support countries' commitments to enhance women's economic empowerment - commitments that you will hear about throughout the course of the day.
And as I look around the room, it is clear to me that the Mashreq countries are committed to closing their gender gaps. The Governments of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have developed evidence-based, progressive plans, which include 5-year ambitious targets to increase women's labor force participation in their respective countries.
Once again, the World Bank reiterates its strong and unwavering support to Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan in implementing their Action Plans. We are committed to mobilizing our technical and financial resources to assist with the implementation of the said action plans, in close collaboration with all our partners. The Mashreq Gender Facility, which will be officially launched before the closure of the day, is the first milestone towards providing the required tools and knowledge base for the three Governments to achieve their targets.
I am a strong believer that the private sector will play a key role as a catalyst for providing innovative, women-empowering business models that can overcome challenges that women face in accessing the work force, the entrepreneurship space, and in securing financial assets.
Moreover, for a transformative change in women's economic empowerment and participation, addressing social norms and gender stereotypes remains of utmost importance. In addition, lifting existing legal barriers, in all shapes and forms, will be a crucial element towards achieving this objective.
We look forward to learning about all of this, and more, from the different panels scheduled for the day. Today, the Mashreq is setting an example for all the MENA region, and we hope to expand these efforts to cover all countries of the region.
Economies will not grow to their full potential if half of the population is absented from economic activity on the basis of their gender. Societies will not prosper if legal systems and policies are only responsive to the needs of half of the population. Peace and stability will not prevail if women are not given equal chance to engage in economic life, to make their voices heard, to fulfill their aspirations, and to contribute to building their nations".
Von Friedburg delivered the following speech:
"It's an honor and pleasure to be here today to speak about the very important issue of women's economic participation in the Mashreq countries.
As you know, women's economic participation is not an option. It is a necessity for global economic growth.
According to recent studies, if women participated in the economy at the same rate as men, global GDP could rise by up to $28 trillion by 2025.
Women have the potential to drive growth around the world, but they simply do not receive the needed support.
Consider female entrepreneurs in this region. Fifty-five percent of women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises have no access to credit. Think of the lost opportunity, the jobs never created. In addition, legal and social limitations make it difficult for women to formalize their businesses. 104 economies still have laws preventing women from working in specific jobs.
The Middle East and North Africa region has taken large strides over the past four decades to bridge gender gaps, starting in education. Across MENA, the gap between boys and girls in secondary schooling has halved from 11% to 5% over the past four decades. But these achievements have not translated into greater economic participation, especially in the Mashreq region.
Across the Mashreq countries, female unemployment is twice as high as that of males. And, for women who do work, they earn, on average, less than their male counterparts, and are under-represented in C-level positions.
In the Middle East and North Africa, for every female entrepreneur, there are six women who want to start a business but cannot-- far below the world average.
Bridging this gender gap and benefitting from the full economic potential of the region will require an enabling environment and access to capital for women.
So, how do we make this happen?
It starts with countries changing laws that discourage women from entering the workforce or opening their own business. Here, we are just removing barriers to entry.
Childcare, safe transport to work, enhanced security, these are examples of services that must be in place to ensure women can fully participate in the labor force. And, access to capital is crucial. The estimated credit demand by women-owned SMEs in MENA is US$50 billion per year. Without that cash flow, most female-owned firms will never grow, thereby never having the chance to create much-needed jobs.
At IFC, we recognize that it is about changing the upstream regulatory and social environment, and mobilizing capital that will have the greatest development impact. This is at the heart of IFC's strategy of Creating Markets.
By changing the policies and the enabling environment, we will unlock female entrepreneurship that will demand more capital and create jobs.
Banks will play a significant role in meeting the new demand for capital. Lebanon has been a pioneer in this area.
BLC, an IFC client, was the first bank in the region to focus on addressing the gaps in women's access to finance.
We worked with BLC to develop a set of financial and non-financial products and services targeted toward women. New market opportunities for gender finance in the region were created drawing from lessons from BLC's experience. And if we get this right, we will see great success. We don't have to look to far to see this happening. Here in MENA, women lead in the tech/start up space.
Women entrepreneurs in MENA are 60% more likely than their male counterparts to offer innovative solutions. Think of the economic growth this could spur.
Let me close by underscoring that IFC sees tremendous potential in Mashreq.
This is why I am so excited about the launch today of the World Bank Group's multi-donor Gender Mashreq Financing Facility.
This is the first facility that we have launched in the Middle East and North Africa region dedicated to increasing women's participation in the workforce.
Through collaboration between the public and private sectors, civil society, and development partners, it builds on the success of the global Women Entrepreneurs Financing Initiative, WEFI, which we helped launch last year.
We believe these targeted initiatives, which take a holistic approach and harness the power of a wide range of sectors and players, are the best way to support gender participation and create new opportunities for women in this part of the world".
Ambassador Lamoureux started by thanking Prime Minister Hariri, Mr Abu Al-Ghaith, Mrs Kawar and Mr Al-Alak.
"As well, we are fortunate to have with us today a diverse group of stakeholders. I note particularly the presence of women's groups; your role in bringing about change in any society is crucial and your input is vital to today's proceedings.
For my part, I bring greetings and best wishes for a successful conference from Canada's Prime Minister Trudeau, who sends the following message: "Canada commends the leadership taken by Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq in coming together for this conference and preparing country action plans on women's economic empowerment. The empowerment of women and girls is critical to building peace, reducing poverty, growing our economies, and achieving sustainability. We are proud to be a partner with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation in organizing this conference and supporting Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq in eliminating barriers hindering women and girls from their full participation in society."
All of us today share one goal, and that is to help identify opportunities to advance the economic empowerment of women in the region.
All three governments have already taken important steps to improve the political, social and economic status of women in their countries. For example, Lebanon and Jordan have abolished laws that allowed rapists to avoid prison by marrying their victims. And, Iraq was the first country in the Middle East to adopt a National Action Plan under United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. But we know there are great strides that remain to be taken.
While women outnumber men in tertiary education in most Arab countries, they face higher levels of unemployment than male counterparts.
We know that when women are not treated as economic equals, a country wastes half of its total brainpower. International Labour Organisation research has found that closing the gender gap in labour participation rates by even one quarter could boost GDP by as much as 9 percent in Lebanon, 10 percent in Jordan and 11 percent in Iraq. So, giving women and girls the opportunity to develop their full potential and use their talents and skills is not only good for women, it's simply good economics.
These are some of the reasons why Canada has placed gender equality and women's economic empowerment at the centre of its international development efforts in this region.
In Jordan, for example, Canadian funded programming has supported more than 4,400 young people, including about 3,000 women to enter the workforce or start their own businesses after being trained in business skills development.
In Lebanon, Canadian-funded programming is helping improve women and girls' access to more gender responsive education, health and protection services. It is also providing them with livelihoods opportunities in agriculture and entrepreneurship, while supporting governmental institutions in mainstreaming gender considerations into policies and interventions.
And in Iraq, Canada is supporting civil society to build the capacity and confidence of women peace activists in provinces liberated from Daesh. Although these women come from diverse backgrounds, they have joined together to present a united vision for reconciliation for their country.
I look forward to hearing about the National Action Plans, which will be presented today. These will identify obstacles that prevent Lebanese, Jordanian and Iraqi women from taking their rightful place in economic decision-making, and more importantly, provide solutions to bring women into the economic mainstream.
Canada is committed to supporting the governments of the Mashreq in implementing their respective Action Plans. By harnessing the economic power of the women in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, and by giving them access to the education and financial tools they need to contribute fully to their communities, you will be doing your entire societies an enormous service and helping to develop the strong nations and economies we all hope to see thrive in this region".
Al-Alak delivered the following speech:
"I am pleased to represent the Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq, Mr. Adel Abdul Mahdi, and to convey to you his greetings and best wishes for this conference held under the auspices of the Prime Minister of Lebanon and the Lebanese Government, as well as the support of the World Bank, the Canadian Government and the Swiss Government. We also express our gratitude for the great efforts exerted to organize this conference.
Recent decades have seen great international interest in women's issues in general, and many international resolutions and commitments have been issued to ensure gender equality in the economic, political, social and developmental aspects of life.
This helped to draw attention at the national level in many of our countries to the plight of women and to the need to give attention to gender equality programs. Therefore, the plans for improving the levels of education, health, social welfare and others have witnessed a clear growth, with differences between countries and between one field and another
In Iraq, the Constitution of the Republic of Iraq in 2005 affirmed women's rights and their equality with men and supported the promulgation of laws that affirm women's competence in building the society and the state and provide them with equal opportunities in all fields. The constitution stipulated that women's participation in the Chamber of Deputies should not be less than 25%. Women have also not been restricted from reaching any position in the State.
The State was also keen to complete the social and institutional structures to ensure the follow-up and implementation of strategies, policies and programs to improve the status of Iraqi women.
There is no doubt that Iraq faced great challenges to complete this and the strongest was that Daesh occupied large areas of our country, and the heinous crimes that affected all segments of society.
However, Iraqi women faced, with patience, murder, displacement, rape and kidnapping. And there were dozens of women and girls who exposed the practices of terrorism and its crimes. This is evidenced by the great role played by the Iraqi Yazidi militant Nadia Murad, who drew the world's attention to these practices and was the first woman in the history of our region to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The importance of this conference lies in highlighting the most important challenge facing women in our region, which is economic empowerment. Studies in our countries have shown that the percentage of economic activities (as an indicator of women's desire to work) is very low, accompanied by low wages, weak vocational qualification and unwillingness to enter the labor market in the private sector due to weakness of the social insurance systems adopted in our countries in general.
The importance of this conference also lies in bringing out a plan of action and policies for women's economic
empowerment and the enhancement of their capacities to improve the economic and development situation in our countries, especially if combined with improving the educational and vocational qualifications. It is not enough for women to engage in the labor market in work conditions characterized by poverty, exploitation and low incomes.
In order to be realistic in addressing this challenge, we must explore ways to encourage women to enter the labor market in the private sector.
As the number of graduates from colleges and institutes increases, the development of curricula and vocational training should take new paths that respond to the needs of the labor market, on which do not have accurate studies in our countries.
Another important issue is the development and modernization of social security systems that should establish rules and regulations to a large extent for the benefits offered to private sector workers as compared to the public sector, and provide a favorable and encouraging working environment for women's entry into the labor market.
We in Iraq are looking forward to important results from this conference which will contribute to deepening the role of women economically and raising their levels of empowerment for the benefit of our societies".
Dr Kawar gave the following speech:
"First allow me to extend my thanks and gratitude to the Lebanese government and people for hosting this important conference on the economic empowerment of women in Mashreq, focusing on Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
I also want to thank the World Bank Group for sponsoring this qualitative event, which comes at a stage that requires all of us to join efforts to promote the status of women and empower them in all political, economic and social fields, stressing the importance of joint Arab action and the role played by the Arab League in this direction.
As we meet today on the eve of the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, we look forward to support the role of women in the decision-making process and the full partnership between the concerned institutions in the three countries to achieve the Sustainable development goals from a national and global perspective that takes into account national needs and priorities.
This conference takes place 40 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. This Convention, provided the international framework and standard for the elimination of discrimination against women.
As Arab States begin to prepare to report progress towards achieving the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (after 25 years + 25) next year, we must celebrate the progress achieved in increasing the political and economic participation of women and the achievements in the levels and quality of services provided in education, health, social affairs and others. However, we cannot say that gender equality has been achieved, not only in our own countries but on a global scale. We must continue to make further efforts to revitalize international commitments and strengthen the political will at the national, regional and international levels.
Here lies the importance of this event that enjoys political attention and high-quality participation, to reaffirm that it is time to mobilize more energies to accelerate the pace of equality between citizens, women and men.
The empowerment of women is an incentive to build more inclusive societies and a means to achieve sustainable growth rates. It is impossible to talk about a society's economic, political or social progress if women do not participate.
Jordan is still facing challenges. We cannot distance ourselves from its direct effects on the homeland and its citizens, women and men. They are the modest economic growth as a result of the continuing instability in the region, which led to delay the desired economic growth, a deficit in the budget, an increase in the ratio of public debt to the gross domestic product, a decline in the volume of exports, and a continued rise in energy prices. This led to an increase in the unemployment rate, especially among young men and women, and low per capita income and standard of living.
Since Jordan is aware of this, we launched "Jordan 2025" a ten-year national vision and strategy that sets a path for the future and sets an integrated framework that will govern the economic and social policies based on giving opportunities to everyone.
The government also launched its priorities for work for the years (2019-2020) as a first step for the national revival project, which aims at engaging the Jordanians and meeting their aspirations for a better future. The program aims to preserve the dignity and improve their quality of life of the Jordanians, within three tracks:
The first track: Implement the law on all, promote transparency and integrity, protect public funds and deepen citizenship and participation.
The second track: Use all energies to raise the standard of living of citizens, promote the principle of self-reliance, enhance economic growth and the role of the private sector.
Third track: Preserve the dignity of citizens and protect him from poverty by providing high quality public services.
Nevertheless, the success of this process depends on the principle of equality of rights and duties between all Jordanians and both sexes. We cannot succeed without being deeply aware of what prevent women from participating in the public and economic life. Some studies have shown that there are direct and indirect effects of the weak participation of women that is reflected in limiting the increase in GDP and the existence of lost opportunity due to the absence of exploiting the potential of women, despite the investment of the state in education. We are required to highlight these challenges and the main obstacles to the empowerment of women.
In this context, I would like to seize this opportunity to highlight some important aspects that enhance the economic participation of Jordanian women (which is still considered to be relatively low and have not grown significantly over the past years):
In terms of the legislative and legal environment, I inform you with great pride that the Jordanian Parliament approved, few days ago, amendments to the labor law. These amendments seek to remove obstacles to women's economic participation by introducing the concept of flexible work, approving paternity leave and guaranteeing the right of work for the children of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians, provide a family-friendly work environment through the establishment of nurseries in the workplace in the private sector, and introducing amendments to certain articles to ensure equal pay for equal work. This was the result of continuous efforts for seven years of active discussion and dialogue between the various civil society organizations, employers, workers, the government and parliament, in addition to the introduction of a flexible work system in the ministries and official institutions.
Jordan recently introduced several reforms to facilitate women's entry into the labor market to achieve a decent work environment. This led to the international recognition of Jordan's efforts through the national commission for equal pay. Jordan was invited in 2018 to join the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) in late 2017 by the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This affirms Jordan's commitment to work to close the wage gap between the sexes through bank transfers of wages in sectors dominated by women such as education and health as a first step.
Emphasizing the political will and government commitment to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women, a sectoral team has been formed within the government's executive program to merge social and gender equality to ensure gender mainstreaming in all sectors and the implementation of the fifth goal of the Sustainable development goals on gender equality.
A ministerial committee for the empowerment of women has been set up under the chairmanship of the minister of planning and international cooperation, the membership of the relevant ministers and the national committee for women affairs, which plays an important role in government coordination at the ministerial level to ensure the adoption and implementation of policies, plans and programs, and allocate resources to implement them with government budgets.
Those were examples of some of the developments in supporting the economic role of women, based on the active dialogue and partnership between civil society, government and the private sector towards institutionalizing and maximizing the role of women in the economic and social life. Although the road ahead is still long, there is a political commitment and awareness of the importance of translating legislation and laws into programs, projects and indicators of successes.
Women are partners in success. We need women's efforts in various political, social and economic spheres, and our states have passed important steps to promote women's rights. However, we still have a lot of work to do, hoping that the partnership, cooperation and exchange of experience between our countries, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, will be strengthened to adopt policies, strategies and programs that contribute to the economic empowerment of women in the Mashreq.
His Majesty the King of Jordan, Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein, stressed the importance of enhancing the role of women in educational, social and economic fields, so that her contribution would be effective and influential within the various institutions of society and to activate her participation in development and community building, thus allowing her to overcome challenges.
In conclusion, allow me once again to express my happiness to be with you and to extend my thanks to all the participants for their efforts in supporting and promoting women's issues, which will undoubtedly contribute to the achievement of the development goals they set up to improve the levels of balanced economic participation in the Arab region".
Mr Abu Al-Ghaith gave the following speech:
"I am pleased to be with you at the opening of the Mashreq Conference on Women's Economic Empowerment in Beirut, on the eve of the Fourth Session of the Arab Economic and Social Summit.
In this regard, I would like to point out that the agenda of the Summit includes a number of issues related to the empowerment of women and the promotion of their social and economic rights. This is part of the awareness of the diverse challenges faced by Arab women, whether related to historical circumstances and legacies that have become rooted in some societies, due to the absence of awareness, the spread of poverty, the lack of basic health services, the decline in education and other negative factors, or those arising from armed conflicts in the region over recent years, which negatively affected the status of women in Syria, Libya, Yemen, in addition to the historical suffering of Palestinian women in light of the violations and arbitrary practices of the Israeli occupation.
All these conditions constitute major preoccupations for the Arab League, and represent at the same time one of the main axes of the cooperation between the General Secretariat of the League and regional and international bodies in the field of economic empowerment.
The agenda of this important conference includes a number of important topics related to achieving social mobility and stimulating the role of the private sector as an essential engine for the empowerment of women and girls in societies, which is especially important in light of the growing practical need to integrate women into economic life and raise the awareness of society about the importance of women's participation in the labor market, both at the employee and employer levels.
The issue of women's economic empowerment is linked to other important issues, like the social protection of women, the eradication of poverty, access to health services and education issues which are at the heart of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda at the international and regional levels.
The rapid and successive developments in economic work are making it very important that the Arab League put the issue of economic empowerment of women among the main issues in the field of social and economic work. The efforts exerted by the General Secretariat and the Member States come as a confirmation of the values, principles and objectives contained in the regional and international conventions and charters on the rights of women in general and economic empowerment in particular, and consistent with the objectives of sustainable development listed in the context of UN Agenda 2030, to ensure the economic participation of women in public life.
I am pleased to note in this context the efforts exerted by the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States in the framework of the implementation of the Cairo Declaration and the Strategic Plan of Action for the Arab Women Development Plan 2030 adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States in its 28th Session held at the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in March 2017.
The strategic plan of action represents a summary of the views, positions and opinions developed by Arab experts, specialists and civil society and presented by the member states of the League. The Secretariat, in coordination with member states, is currently following up on the measures taken to implement this plan through the development of measuring indicators at the Arab level to monitor the progress made in the implementation of the strategic plan of action and to prepare progress reports to measure the development of women in the Arab region.
The Arab League works continuously, in cooperation with the various government mechanisms in member states and regional and international concerned organizations, to develop policies that deal with the issues of women in the Arab region to ensure effective and serious coordination between these mechanisms and programs in the framework of a coordinated system of work aimed at enhancing the status of women to achieve comprehensive sustainable development in its broadest sense.
One of the main targets of this system is to create a full social awareness about the pivotal role of women in the society, to consolidate the principle of equality of opportunity between men and women and to empower women politically, economically and socially.
In this context, I would like to mention that the Arab League launched the Arab network for women economic empowerment, in coordination with the European Union and United Nations regional office for women in the Arab countries, in September 2015, during the regional forum on enhancing the economic empowerment of women in the Arab region. This network is the first Arab initiative to create a platform for Arab economic empowerment.
This platform works to enhance the economic empowerment of women by ensuring a safer work environment for women, equal opportunities to reach leadership and decision making positions, capacity-building and the development of laws and legislations for the work women in the economy.
It is also a platform to exchange knowledge, support mechanisms for the empowerment of women in the economic life of the Arab region and to allow the participation of all sectors in promoting women's economic empowerment at the regional level.
In the end, I renew my thanks to Lebanon for the appreciated efforts it exerted for the advancement of Arab joint action. I also extend my thanks to the World Bank and the Canadian government for their support to organize this important conference, hoping it would be a success.
I reiterate the faith of the Arab League in the importance of enhancing the economic empowerment for women and girls and ensure job opportunities for them because they represent half of the society and an indispensable partner in achieving the advancement of societies and in ensuring a better future and a decent life for their children".
Prime Minister Hariri gave the following speech:
"Good morning to all, to the Lebanese woman, the Jordanian woman, the Iraqi woman, the Mashreq woman and the Arab woman, who is achieving every day a new accomplishment, new creativity and new successes that contribute to the development of our societies and their advancement.
Good morning and welcome to the Grand Serail, for the Mashreq Conference on Women's Economic Empowerment. I welcome in particular our dear guests from Iraq and Jordan, and from the various Arab and international organizations and institutions.
First, I would like to thank the World Bank Group, the Canadian Government and the Swiss Development Agency for this very important initiative in its content and timing.
Our conference is being held on the eve of the fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut, at a time where our region is undergoing many transformations. We hope the next period to be a period of reconstruction and advancement in all our countries, particularly the Mashreq countries that were directly or indirectly affected by the successive crises and conflicts.
I fully believe that we cannot look towards the future of the Mashreq countries and prepare for the next stage without the active participation of women in shaping this future.
A recent study by the World Bank indicates that women in our region constitute half of the society, with the highest levels of education, but their actual participation in the labor market remains slim despite all exerted efforts in this context.
The absence of women from the labor market is the absence of half of the society. This is a definite loss in the gross domestic product, in growth and in the renewal of human resources. It is also loss in productivity and competitiveness.
Based on this conviction, our efforts in Lebanon in the past years focused on the empowerment of women and activating their role in all political, economic and social fields, in line with United Nations sustainable development goals.
We took many steps in this context:
Our government's ministerial statement included a commitment to strengthen the role of women in public life, particularly leadership positions and a pledge to remove from the laws any discrimination against women. Also the Minister of State for Women's Affairs and the National Commission for Women's Affairs have been tasked with amending laws, building a culture of equality through media and education, empowering women and building their capacities.
We worked hard to appoint a number of women in high positions in public institutions, as presidents or members of public institutions boards, and in the diplomatic corps and the security forces.
The government also prepared a number of laws, most importantly those that aim to punish sexual harassment, grant paternity leave to the father, amend the social security law to guarantee equality in pay and in maternity leave, and adopt the principle the one third quota in the municipal councils.
This is on the national level. On the personal level, the equation is clear as more than half of my work team are women. I have full confidence in their potentials and I rely on them daily in all fields. I look forward to the time when a woman would assume the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in Lebanon because the Lebanese woman has wisdom, creativity, efficiency, energy and the ability to initiate and implement.
The World Bank Group launched today a mechanism to finance the implementation of policies aimed at achieving gender equality in the Mashreq region. This is a very important initiative that will help us all move from the policy-making phase to the implementation phase.
We in Lebanon welcome and highly appreciate this mechanism, and I would like to thank the Canadian Government for its valuable contribution to support and finance this mechanism, and I hope that other countries will follow suit.
I am also pleased to announce Lebanon's commitment to a national action program aimed at empowering Lebanese women economically, through which we aim to increase women's participation in the labor market by at least 5 percent in the next five years.
Empowering women economically in our countries and activating their role in all fields is a sustainable process that requires close cooperation between the governments, the private sector and the civil society.
Today, this priority is very important because this issue is directly related to the future of our children, our states and the revival that we will witness in the coming years.
I am confident that the future of our region is promising, and I am also confident that women in our countries will be the basis of the coming renaissance.
In the end, I thank everyone who participated in the preparation of this conference, and I welcome you again in Beirut, which will remain a forum for dialogue on vital issues, foremost the issues of Arab women".
Source: National News Agency