Omayma was paying for a crime she didn’t commit.
After taking out a loan to finance her sister’s trousseax, her father convinced Omayma to sign as a guarantor claiming it was “just a formality.” When he passed away, Omayma was left responsible to pay the price.
According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, only 14.3% of women in the country participate in the labor force. Lack of social and financial support and restrictions imposed on access and mobility serve as major obstacles for women who want to pursue fulfilling careers. In this landscape, Sabiha Ghani has been a game changer who has redefined the economic space for women in her community. She has fostered initiative and independence by founding the Women Development Foundation Pakistan (WDFP) which supports hundreds of women in starting their own business ventures.
“Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world – the numbers tell the story quite clearly,” says Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in her 2010 TEDx Talk. Sandberg’s advice to women in her New York Times bestseller, “Lean In,” is relevant across the globe: less than half of working-age women worldwide are employed, they are paid less on average than men for the same work, and the chances of rising to the top of a Fortune 500 company are not in a woman’s favor.
Every year, the World Economic Forum publishes its Global Gender Gap Report, tracking the world’s progress toward eliminating gender inequality. This year’s report, published in October, included some good news: in the nearly 140 countries counted, more than 90 percent of the divide in health and education has been closed. Still, there remains a huge gender gap in economic participation, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where men are 60 percent more economically empowered than women.
Before venturing into entrepreneurship, Maria Umar was a full-time teacher at a private school in Pakistan. After she got pregnant, however, she was refused maternity leave and fired. Discovering online work through sites such as Odesk and Elance, Umar began to take on micro online tasks ranging from content writing to social media management before outsourcing them to her nieces, friends and other women in Pakistan. In 2009, she founded her own all-women virtual firm – The Women’s Digital League.
Turkish Women’s International Network (TurkishWIN) seeks to inspire and connect female leaders in Turkey and abroad with stories that convey whole hearted stories and inspiration. The goal is simple: utilizing the power of video and the format of TED talks, it provides wings to women’s stories, unleashing the economic power of women by inspiring and connecting them across the homeland and in the Turkish diaspora.
The daily commute is considered a routine task by many people around the world – mundane, unchanging and more often than not, simple. In many parts of South Asia, however, this seemingly simply task of commuting to and from work is considered difficult and often dangerous for women. An issue brought to light by the horrific gang rape in Delhi, safe, harassment-free transportation is hard to come by for many working women in the region.
“Children should have the right to have their mother at home, not in the form of a maid, babysitter or grandmother,” says Nermin Saad. “At the same time, don’t these mothers have the right to use their degrees and qualifications flexibly whilst taking care of their children?
Investing in women creates a multiplier effect for society: better health and education outcomes, societal resilience, reinvestment in communities, and national prosperity. While progress has been made globally, women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) still face some of the most daunting barriers in asserting their economic rights.
“Women currently make up half of the world’s population, work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, produce half the world’s food, but only earn 10 percent of the income and own less than 2 percent of the world’s property,” according to Ashoka Fellow Ben Powell of Agora Partnerships. Moreover, the MENA region has one of the lowest rates of female labor participation in the world.