International Women's Day: Why we need more female leaders

Having women take commanding roles in politics and governance brings demonstrable benefits for societies as a whole

Women’s full participation in the economy is an important part of developing prosperous and stable societies. Pawan Singh / The National
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As the world marks International Women’s Day today, it is sobering to consider that, according to UN Women, only 13 countries have women leading 50 per cent or more of Cabinet ministries. At this rate, the organisation says, gender equality in political representation will not be reached for another 130 years.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this situation is that the involvement of women in politics and governance brings such demonstrable benefits for societies as a whole. A report by published last year by Women Political Leaders and the consultancy Oliver Wyman found that female representatives “work harder to represent their constituencies and play an important role in counteracting corruption”. Their research also found that women prioritise policy “that benefits the most vulnerable in society through healthcare, welfare and education. More women leaders seem to make for more equal and caring societies”.

Although the gender gap in female political leadership is a global phenomenon, the situation is particularly stark in the Middle East. According to data produced last year by Brigham Young University in the US, the percentage of women in government in some Middle Eastern countries was as low as 21 per cent in Egypt, 14 per cent in Jordan and 6.3 per cent in Lebanon. Only the UAE stands out in the region for meeting the 50 per cent mark, with nine female cabinet ministers and women comprising two thirds of the public sector workforce. Amid this inclusion in decision making, Emirati women have carved out consequential roles in politics, business, diplomacy and other fields.

The evidence shows that institutionalising a culture of recognising and utilising female talent through mechanisms such as quotas helps a great deal. The leading three countries for women in government in the region – Tunisia, Iraq and the UAE – all use them.

But representation is not an end in itself. This year’s International Women’s Day is themed around economic empowerment. Women’s full participation in the economy is an important part of developing prosperous and stable societies.

The World Bank has said that per capita gross domestic product would be almost 20 per cent higher if all gender employment gaps were to be closed. Writing in The National today, the International Monetary Fund’s Director for the Middle East and Central Asia, Jihad Azour, makes it clear that “embracing gender equality in economic activities is not only a choice – it is essential for prosperity in a highly competitive world fraught with challenges and shocks”.

But to help make sure that women are economically empowered, countries must have legislation and regulations to help make this happen. To develop such a legal framework, it is vital that women are there when political decisions are being made. In a world where many multinational organisations, from Nato to the Arab League, remain dominated by men, this requirement makes efforts to improve women’s participation in countries’ political processes more vital than ever.

Published: March 08, 2024, 3:00 AM