Mona AlMarri
Mona AlMarri, Vice President of UAE Gender Balance Council and Kersti Kaljulaid, Former President, Government of the Republic of Estonia during the session "Women in Government: Powering the Future by Her" on the second day of World Government Summit. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Women leaders from across the world convened at the Women in Government Forum of the World Government Summit (WGS 2023) in Dubai on Tuesday stressed on the need to advance women inclusion and enablement in government.

In her opening remarks, Ohood Al Roumi, UAE Minister of State for Government Development and the Future and Vice Chair, World Government Summit, said the summit is a “space that brings champions together, women and men who are driving change by advancing women inclusion and enablement in government”.

“It is here that we come together to share our stories and experiences to gain insight and to find inspiration and strengthen our network of support, because we still have more work to do. So let us discuss how we can catalyse our efforts to inspire women in government. How can we amplify our voices and how can we scale our impact?”

Noting that Emirati women today are not only fulfilling their ambitions, but surpassing them both in the UAE and globally, Al Roumi cited the example of Razan Al Mubarak, elected president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the second woman to lead the organisation in its 75-year history.

Inspirational leader

Speaking at a session on “Women in Government: Powering the Future by Her,” Mona Al Marri, Vice President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, urged women to find their role models in leadership.

Leadership in the Arab world summarised in one name is His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said Al Marri.

“Technically, I’ve been working for the past 21 years, but with him closely, maybe for the past 15-16 years. And I’ve been observing him and his leadership style with its human-centric and result-oriented approach is inspiring, not only to us here in the UAE, but also on a regional level, and globally, to many leaders.”

“His Highness shares his vision with his people, he empowers people. His passion and teamwork…That’s something that I admire…So when you find a personality that inspires you, you follow that school of leadership, and I’m proud to follow the same school of leadership of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, and as so many of us here too.”

Another speaker at the same session, Kersti Kaljulaid, former President of Estonia, said she finds inspiring leadership among the presidents of her region “with whom we always assure that our leadership style is fact-based, science and data-based. And this is very important for us being leaders because we have to prove all, every day, that our decisions are not based on emotions and this is something which makes us probably dig more into data... So this is my management style.”

Al Marri said women need not waste time and energy changing perceptions, but focus on making reforms and policies and engagements with international organisations.

“And we should not forget the efforts that have been made here in the UAE on that level, the engagements with the international organisations that the UAE has achieved on a global level.”

“Negative perception (about women) in the Arab world is unfortunate, but I am sure and confident that this will change because of the efforts that we see today in terms of promoting gender equality and empowering women. We see a huge difference and impact, not only in government but also in the private sector,” she added.

Women leaders under pressure

Kaljulaid said pioneering women leaders are always under pressure. “Everywhere, there is pressure on the first generation of women reaching (top) jobs to perform better than men. Because otherwise, if they average, they will be told okay, it was because she was a woman.”

She said she was optimistic about the future of women in leadership as more young men are now ready to take up a supportive role at home. “If a woman is working overtime at work, then somebody has to take care of the children and I’m proud to announce to every journalist who asks me this question - who makes pancakes for your children on Sunday morning?- my husband.”

Demand for doubling efforts

Najla Bouden Romdhane, the first female prime minister both in Tunisia and the Arab world, spoke about the importance of having women in government for the community’s prosperity. “I’m leading a government with more than a quarter of which are skilled women, heading various sectors.”

Romdhane said countries should have national strategies that meet the challenges in promoting women in economic activities. “Tunisian legislations (in this regard) are role models regionally.”

As many as 55 per cent of academic researchers in Tunisia are women, a first in the African and Arab world, said Romdhane.

Challenges such as high unemployment rates and less participation of women in business demand doubling our efforts to unleash the energies of women to be the leaders of democracy and economic development of the society, added the Prime Minister of Tunisia.

Changing mindsets

In conversation with Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, UAE, Jessica Alupo, Vice President of Uganda, said she overcame her challenges by performing her duties diligently.

She said that women still have a long way to go, “because society expects that we move twice as fast…But we are up to the task and we want to show you men our capacity, but we would also like to work with you,” Alupo said to loud round of applause from the audience. “When women are empowered economically, then it is possible and it is easy for women to raise other women at the crossroads.”

Though Uganda, like in many parts of Africa, has a patriarchal society, Alupo said

from 1986, the Ugandan government dealt with the issues of “mindset change.”

“The government dealt with the issues of eradicating some negative aspects of cultural beliefs, and also cultural practices.”

The speakers who shared their thoughts about women empowerment and leadership at the Forum included Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania, Dr Yasmin Fouad, Minister of Environment, Egypt, Khadeeja Naseem, Minister of State for Environment, Climate Change and Technology, Maldives and Razan Al Mubarak who is also the UN Climate Change High-Level Champion, COP 28.