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More women needed in government leadership worldwide, Dubai forum hears

Leading women have gathered in Dubai (above) to assess how government and society can place women at the heart of major policy discussions, warning that ‘battles have to be won almost immediately’ to secure greater equality for all. (Supplied)
Leading women have gathered in Dubai (above) to assess how government and society can place women at the heart of major policy discussions, warning that ‘battles have to be won almost immediately’ to secure greater equality for all. (Supplied)
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30 Mar 2022 12:03:37 GMT9
30 Mar 2022 12:03:37 GMT9
  • World Government Summit taking place at Expo 2020 Dubai during the final days of the prestigious event
  • Role of women in government and ties with Iran were among the issues addressed in the first two days

Nadia Al Faour

DUBAI: Empowerment of women in leadership positions worldwide continues to lag, with too few governments taking steps to encourage female leaders, a senior UAE minister believes.

Ohoud Al-Roumi, the UAE’s government development minister, made the claim during a session titled “Women in Government: Shaping a Better Future for the World” at the World Government Summit in Dubai on Monday.

In her address, Al-Roumi appealed for greater female representation in leadership and for more women to have a central role in discussions on global issues.

“We cannot simply have a conversation about our world without placing women at the center of the conversation,” she said, citing numbers that show women account for only 26.1 percent of parliamentary seats and 22.6 percent of ministerial positions worldwide.

“We need more women in government leadership all over the world. The current pace of progress is simply not enough.”

Al-Roumi said that amplifying the impact of women was essential. She used her own journey from the private sector to government as a lesson in how fears held by women — and also men — can be overcome.

“I enrolled in a program of leadership and was mentored by men and women, which allowed me to blossom into my current position,” she said.

“Support is needed to shape the future and next generation of leaders. Nurture 10 young women, empower them.”

The World Government Summit is taking place at Expo 2020 Dubai, coinciding with the final days of the global event.

Established almost a decade ago, the conference helps to identify opportunities and set the agenda for future governments. It attracts high-level government officials, senior representatives of international organizations, private sector leaders, thinkers, opinion makers, futurists and experts.

Speakers typically discuss the most pressing global challenges, suggesting ways to improve government performance and prepare for, as well as deal with, sudden changes. This year, the summit has created 15 global forums to tackle threats emerging from volatile financial markets and new virtual worlds.

“The launch of these global forums is part of the goal to identify and highlight the most important global trends in vital sectors, and to inform policies, strategies, and plans that advance the preparedness and adaptability of governments for the next stage of development,” said Mohammad bin Abdullah Al-Gergawi, UAE minister of Cabinet affairs and chairman of the World Government Summit Foundation.

Among female leaders from around the world attending on Monday was Gordana Comic, minister of human and minority rights in Serbia, who told the “Women in Government” session that the time has come to acknowledge that “women are half of everything.”

She said: “My modern role as a woman should be harmonized and not confronted by the past and traditions. We are educated and we are still educating. We are always told to take care of others; men are taught to enable someone to take care of others. Let’s educate men to take care of others as well: Humans, climate and the world.”

Patricia Francourt, minister of employment and social affairs of the Seychelles, described how she learnt to become resilient living in the UK. “Passion and resilience are traits you want to share, something as women we should do,” she said.

Seeking to share what she had gained from living in the wider world, Francourt said that she had built “cabinets of resources” and launched workshops when she returned to Seychelles.

Workshops targeted women in leadership who felt they needed to go the extra mile.

Francourt, a psychotherapist before entering government, said that she did not separate her knowledge from her experience, noting that good mental health is needed to thrive. She advised women not to give up, even if they are in a minority, and to keep pushing and challenging.

Hessa Buhumaid, UAE minister of community development, said that women have other roles in a community — “a mother, daughter, aunt, you name it” — besides working or being involved in government.

“Women have lots of responsibilities, but their focus on family is very important. It is essential that the roles are balanced better than they have been,” she said.

Discussing the role of women in shaping resilient economies, Hala El-Saeed, Egypt’s minister of planning, monitoring and administrative reform, underscored the need for political will, institutional framework and decrees that support the role of women in leadership. “We need qualified women. We need to invest in women,” she said.

Nadia Fettah Alaoui, Morocco’s finance minister, said that women need to be empowered in both the public and private sectors.

“Women having high positions can offer different ways to tackle problems and set priorities,” she said. “Rural women, in particular, must be educated and included.”

In a separate special address, Huda Al-Hashimi, UAE deputy minister of cabinet affairs for strategic affairs, discussed women’s role in “bringing global moral strategic leadership to the table.”

Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, defined the concept as doing the right thing, picking the right battles and working as one on the big issues.

“Time is not on our side; battles have to be won almost immediately,” Mottley said.

“All people have a role to play, not just governments, to make the world a better place. Technology is an amplifier, due to access to information. Technology can democratize, but, if not used right, can make way for oppression.”

She added: “One must do things appropriately. Building trust and partnership are the things that will ultimately be remembered.

“As human beings, we have so much more in common than what separates us. Progress doesn’t always happen in a straight line. The capacity to stay focused, rooted and humble is what matters.”

‘Are we ready for a new world order?’

Coexistence with Iran was among several issues discussed at a plenary session on Tuesday titled “Are We Ready for a New World Order?”

Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, said that with the world having gone through a difficult decade, the UAE is reaching out to all sides in an attempt to lower tensions in the Middle East.

Acknowledging that the UAE’s objective is to find a way to work with Iran, he said: “We are reaching out to friends and also adversaries, and rebuilding bridges.

“We are not going to agree with everything they want to do. The Middle East is not only about Iran and Israel.”

Gargash said that the region needs to turn the page and reach out to everybody. “Our whole intention is to find a way to functionally work with Iran and to make sure there is an agenda for stability and prosperity in the region including Iran and others,” he said.

The adviser argued that questions of democracy and authoritarianism are not binary, given the way the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted varying approaches to governance.

“Every democratic attempt in the Arab world has turned ideological or tribal, so I’m not sure it is something we can work out successfully. But we do need governance, and that needs a lot of components. This is perhaps in the middle of the two.”

Gargash’s opinion was echoed by Frederick Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, who described legitimacy in governments accepted by citizens as the most effective way to build societies.

“The issue is having an effective government and whether people consider it legitimate,” he said.

“Democracy is one way to achieve it, but there are other ways. Legitimacy is gained by governments that can deliver the goods and effectiveness to their people.”

Arguing that “people want freedom, human rights and governments to ensure order, safety and healthcare,” Kempe said: “This new era of technological change is getting faster all the time, and they can be used to enlighten and deliver better government services.” 

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