UN Women Explores Private Sector Engagement in the GCC for International Women’s Day 2023


Author: Reem Akl

(Cairo) – The private sector in the Arab region has experienced a paradigm shift towards greater diversity and inclusivity, with an increasing number of women breaking through the glass ceiling and carving out a place for themselves in traditionally male-dominated industries, such as banking and finance. This trend is not only conducive to advancing gender equality, but also to the sector's bottom line, as diverse perspectives lead to better decision-making, enhanced creativity and heightened innovation, in addition to significant positive implications on the overall economy of nation-states and the entire region.  

The UN Women Regional Office for Arab States works to broaden, deepen and strengthen the engagement with the private sector and to help shift behaviors for a gender-responsive business conduct. This year, the UN Women Regional Office for the Arab States (ROAS) participated in a Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs) Regional Tour in the GCC, attending three private sector events in Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The three events highlighted the upcoming strategic work on the private sector by UN Women, aiming to promote the private sector as an attractive employer that provide safe and decent working opportunities; support women’s leadership; promote women's economic empowerment and remove discriminatory social norms.

GCC for International Women’s Day 2023
Group picture of high-level representatives from ADX, FAB and UN Women ROAS. Photo courtesy of ADX. 

At the nexus of company and investor interaction, stock exchanges are uniquely positioned to host influential conversations on gender equality and private sector engagement. The Arab States has over 500 WEPs signatories as of March 2023. Interest from the private sector to sign and implement the WEPs has grown significantly since the first Arab region’s Ring the Bell for Gender Equality commemoration in 2019 and a 114 per cent increase in number of WEPs signatories since 2020. 

In Abu Dhabi, Janneke van der Graaff - Kukler, Deputy Regional Director of UN Women in the Arab States joined forces with Ms. Hana Al-Rostamani who is this year’s named #1 in Forbes Middle East’s list of the region’s most powerful businesswomen for 2023 and CEO of the First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) - to ring the bell at the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange. The regional event included speeches from UN Women and Al-Rostamani on the importance on gender equality in the private sector and the role of Arab women in the financial sector at large.

“UN Women recognizes the need to mobilize private capital markets to finance gender equality. Applying a gender lens enables finance to be transformative for women and girls around the world. Increasinglyinvestors and Private Sector partners are looking to us for ways to provide concrete, measurable impact through their investments. One such avenue is UN Women’s regional approach to surge women’s labour force participation in the Arab States by 5% by 2030,” highlighted Janneke van der Graaff - Kukler during her speech.

UN Women’s Tailored Tool of Women’s Empowerment Highlighted in Kuwait

In Kuwait, the Kuwait Women's Economic Empowerment Platform (WEEP) event, took place on 7 March 2023. The event was organized by the Supreme Council for Planning and Development and the Women's Research and Studies Center at Kuwait University, in collaboration with the United Nations in Kuwait, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Women, and was attended by the Kuwait Stock Exchange. The WEEP Kuwait comes together to advance women’s leadership and participation in Kuwait’s private sector by sharing good practices, collaborating on the WEPs implementation, and supporting women-owned and led businesses and start-ups. The event aimed to promote the role of the WEPs, and to share and celebrate achievements and initiatives undertaken by the private sector, UNDP and UN Women in promoting Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5.

Strong Commitment from the Bahrain Bourse and Listed Companies Witnessed

Lastly, in Bahrain, UN Women ROAS was invited to attend Bahrain Bourse’s fifth Ring the Bell event. Since the event, Bahrain Bourse announced their endorsement of the WEPs, alongside over 7,766 global signatories, whom have voluntarily expressed their commitment towards promoting the advancement of gender equality within the workplace and marketplace. The event was attended by the Supreme Council for Women (SCW), Minister of Industry and Commerce and Minister in Charge of Bahrain Bourse, CEOs of private sector companies, along with representatives of Central Bank of Bahrain, prominent executive females in leadership positions from various listed companies, as well as other key stakeholders. This event marked the first step towards planned WEPs work in Bahrain in 2023. 

Janneke van der Graaff - Kukler’s participation in all three events promoted dialogue and cooperation between governments, private sector entities and civil society organizations to ensure a more inclusive and equitable future for all. The events also provided an opportunity for networking and learning about best practices in promoting gender equality in the workplace.

While this tour is part of UN Women ROAS's upcoming strategic work on the private sector, it also positions UN Women as a committed UN agency to work with all women in the financial sector, including entrepreneurs, women in finance, and women on boards, to promote gender equality and empower women in the workplace.

“With this series of regional events for International Women’s Day, we wanted to bring a regional spotlight to our commitment to working towards a gender responsive private sector, and highlight Arab women's successes and challenges across the financial sector. UN Women ROAS continues to engage the private sector by offering technical expertise and guidance to our WEPs signatories across the Arab Region,” said Heba Hesham, Private Sector Development Analyst at UN Women ROAS. 

Heba Hesham contributed to this article.