Abu Dhabi: Online connectivity and social media access are today valuable means to increase women’s participation in economic and political spheres, with many women able to express their opinions or start up their own enterprises.

This is crucial in the Middle East and North Africa region, where a veritable gender gap still persists, a panel of delegates heard at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit 2014 today (November 19).

Although 60 per cent of university graduates in the region are women, only about 10 per cent of these female graduates go on to be employed, said Zainab Salbi, a panellist and Iraqi-American humanitarian, female rights activist and entrepreneur.

Moreover, only about one per cent of corporate boards in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries include women, compared to 17 per cent in Europe, added Saudi Princess Ameerah Al Taweel, founder and chief executive officer at media firm, Time Entertainment.

“The gender gap is a global issue. But with the penetration of social media, we can finally push women to insist on positive change. We can use it to discover trends, find out what people want and cater to their needs,” Al Taweel said.

Salbi added that social media forums could be used to share inspirational success stories, thus inspiring a modification in mindset.

Greater connectivity also means that women can learn many skills from online resources, and now have the flexibility to work from home while also catering to the family’s needs.

“All over the world, this means that women can use seemingly simple skills, such as a knack for fashion or baking, to start their own businesses. And because women can work from home, employers also have a bigger pool of talent to choose from,” said Summer Nasief, a health care and life sciences executive based at IBM, Saudi Arabia.

The panellists lauded the UAE’s empowerment of women, particularly in the political and economic arena, and recommended that women in the region push further for these kinds of positive measures using the opportunities provided by social media.

The panel was one of numerous sessions organised on the second day of the summit, which concludes tomorrow. In addition to delving into the transformative effect of social media on the lives of women, speakers also discussed the issues of content piracy and content localisation.