Arab Forum for Sustainable Development discusses the role of the media to promote women’s economic empowerment


Recording of the special session “The role of media and advertising to promote women’s economic empowerment in the Arab States” at the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development 2022. Video: Courtesy of UNESCWA.

During the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development 2022, UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States, in collaboration with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), organised a session on “The role of media and advertising to promote women’s economic empowerment in the Arab States.”

The session brought together four panellists from the media and advertising industries, civil society and the private sector. With the guidance of moderator Rasha Qandeel, renowned Egyptian journalist and TV presenter, the speakers shed light on the role of media to tackle the issue of persistent and discriminatory power structures and gendered stereotypes that prevail in the Arab States region and that represent an obstacle to women’s economic empowerment.

Ms. Qandeel introduced the session by presenting some striking data: only 20% of women in the Arab region participate in the economy, while women spend 4.7 times as long as men performing unpaid care work. As a result,  the Arab States region ranks last globally in terms of gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum.

However, there are reasons for optimism as the private sector in the region is becoming more aware of the social and economic threats of gender inequality. For instance, ITP Media Group collaborates closely with UN Women to promote the Women’s Empowerment Principles in the Arab States region, a platform that equips private sector, media and advertising entities with the tools to create a gender-responsive workplace and marketplace that better attracts the talent of women. Speaking at the event, Carla Sertin, Group Editor of Energy and Construction at ITP Media Group, said “as a media entity, we have a responsibility to reflect the society around us, and to promote gender equity and equitable representations of different genders.”

Women face various obstacles when it comes to engaging in non-traditional sectors, but building back better from the economic impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic requires gender equality to be institutionalised. Some of these obstacles were witnessed by the Managing Director of Serviceplan Middle East, Natalie Shardan, and Senior Arabic Copywriter, Rana Ahmad, in their experiences in the field of advertising. They shared that “jobs have no gender so why should job advertisements address only half of the population? With our latest campaign, we want to highlight that inclusiveness should be promoted in the workplace from the recruitment phase”.

Collaboration among all and diverse stakeholders is essential to spur social norms change that contribute to more inclusive and effective economic development. In this regard, Valentina Bollenback, Asia Regional Manager of Magenta Consulting, said that “there are multiple strategies that organizations can put into action in order to tackle deeply-rooted social norms around gender equality and equity; one of which is through talent acquisition, particularly by creating a pipeline of female talent in the initial phases of recruitment.”

In summarising the issues raised by the speakers and audience members, Ms. Qandeel highlighted the role of media to tackle gendered stereotypes and to promote women’s economic empowerment in the region. Platforms such as UN Women’s Media Compact and the Women’s Empowerment Principles remain instrumental to support media entities in making progress towards gender-inclusive workplaces.