International Women's Day: The world’s most powerful women on the future of equality

Jordan's Queen Rania and the UAE's Reem Al Hashimy speak on hope and realism on International Women’s Day

Queen Rania of Jordan has advocated for greater access to education and training opportunities for women in the region. Photo: Royal Hashemite Court
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Today, more women are breaking glass ceilings and taking on powerful roles.

With women being elected as presidents, ministers and other high-ranking officials in countries around the world, their representation in positions of power has been steadily increasing in recent years.

But, as the world celebrates the International Women's Day, there is still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in global and corporate leadership.

As of January 1, there were 31 countries where 34 women serve as Heads of State or Government, according to the UN Women.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said achieving full gender parity will take 300 years, with “women’s sexual and reproductive rights … being rolled back".

The World Economic Forum revealed that the world will not be able to achieve gender equality by 2030 as 85 per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs are men.

Yet studies predict that if women launched and expanded their firms at the same rate as men, the global economy would benefit by $5–6 trillion.

Women who have reached the top of governments or some of the world’s biggest companies have shared important insights on how the world can fast-forward gender equality.

'Lift up one woman and she’ll lift up others, who lift up more' — Queen Rania

Queen Rania of Jordan has discussed the difficulties Arab women encounter, particularly in moments of unrest and conflict.

Women "fall off national agendas, widening the gap between hardship and hope" when there is substantial unrest she previously said in a speech she gave at a meeting hosted by the UN Women.

Through the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development, she has advocated for greater access to education and training opportunities for women in the region, recognising that education is key to unlocking opportunities and empowering women to achieve their full potential.

“Empowerment is contagious – I see it lighting up the faces of our youngest girls,” Queen Rania said.

'Humanity thrives when women thrive' — Reem Al Hashimy

Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Co-operation, said gender equality needs collective action as the world enters a post-pandemic period.

Ms Al Hashimy has played a crucial role in serving as a pillar and exemplar for enhancing the participation of women in leadership roles within the UAE.

Taking the stage at the 77th UN General Assembly, she became the first woman to deliver a speech for the country. She was also responsible for leading the successful bid to host the first World Expo in the Middle East, Expo 2020, and was subsequently appointed its managing director.

"The road to these achievements was not easy, but with the support of the country’s leadership, Emirati women have managed to overcome their challenges, excel in all areas of work and reach the highest positions,” she said during her leadership in the victorious effort to secure Dubai Expo 2020.

Reem Ebrahim Al Hashimy, the UAE's Minister of State for International Co-operation. Reuters

Women in the UAE now occupy more than half of the workforce in the government sector, more than half in all stages of education, and they make up more than a third of the cabinet, said Sheikha Fatima, Mother of the Nation.

“Half of the members of the Federal National Council are women,” she said.

She praised the contribution of Emirati women and the progress of the UAE, which she stated was achieved in record time.

“From inception, there was a firm conviction of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, may God rest his soul in peace, in the role of women in society,” she said.

'Having a female prime minister does not mean that you’ve achieved equality' — Jacinda Ardern

Jacinda Ardern, the former New Zealand prime minister, who at the time of her election was New Zealand's youngest, has pushed back against the symbolism of one or two women breaking through barriers meaning the problem of gender equality is solved.

Ms Ardern recently stepped down from her role as prime minister. Her decision to take maternity leave while in office sent a powerful message about the importance of work-life balance and the need for greater support for working mothers.

During Jacinda Ardern's tenure, the government took several steps to support women.

These included initiatives to address the gender pay gap, the extension of paid parental leave to 26 weeks and after her labour party won the elections in 2020, she appointed the most diverse government and parliament in New Zealand’s history with indigenous Maori ministers making up a quarter of its 20-strong members and women taking eight posts.

Her leadership style, characterised by empathy, compassion, and inclusivity, resonated with many.

'We have millions of talented, motivated women eager to contribute' — Princess Reema bint Bandar

Princess Reema bint Bandar is a prominent female leader in the Mena region who has been a vocal advocate for women's empowerment and gender equality.

As Saudi Arabia's first female ambassador to the US, she has been a trailblazer for women in the country, working to promote greater gender equality and women's rights.

She has been a strong supporter of women's entrepreneurship and has advocated for greater access to education and training for women in the region.

As the former head of the Saudi General Sports Authority, she worked to increase women's participation in sports and improve access to sports facilities.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Saudi ambassador to the United States Princess Reema Bint Bandar wait for a photo with other women leaders before holding a roundtable coffee with Saudi Women Leaders at Princess Reema’s Palace in Riyadh  on February 20, 2020. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / POOL / AFP)

Among the first achievements under Reema's mandate, is the inclusion of physical education for girls in schools.

Princess Reema also founded Alf Khair, a social enterprise aimed at promoting the professional development of Saudi women, in 2013.

One of the organisation's main initiatives was 10KSA, which aimed to raise awareness about holistic health and promote a healthier community in Saudi Arabia.

The campaign lasted for a year and included a World's Largest Human Awareness Ribbon event, which was recognised by the Guinness World Records.

“As a business leader in the kingdom, when the doors to women were just starting to open, I realised that opening the doors wasn’t enough. Women had to be prepared to take advantage of those open doors, and we have to equip them with the skills,” she said.

'Excuses for excluding women are no longer acceptable and we must all hold ourselves to the same standards' — Noura Al Kaabi

Despite global advances towards gender equality, women and girls are often still excluded from decision-making, UAE Minister of State Noura Al Kaabi told the UN Security Council.

Taking the centre stage to speak at a ministerial debate on women, peace and security, she said: “The message is clear: Globally, with every one step forward for women and girls, we take two steps back.”

Ms Al Kaabi, who was named one of the 100 most powerful women in the Arab world by Arabian Business several times and Forbes Middle East’s 30 Most Influential Women in Government, has been a vocal advocate for women's rights and empowerment in the UAE and the wider region.

Under her leadership as the Minister of Culture and Youth, she recently said: “We are very proud to have received the honour of being the Best Federal Entity Supporting Gender Balance among the various UAE ministries”.

“We are steadily moving towards strengthening the partnership between men and women in the service of the nation.”

Updated: March 08, 2023, 10:32 AM