by: Mehrunisa Qayyum
According to Arabian Business.Com, the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women List includes those in both public and private sector. Moreover, the increasing role of the “Third Sector” (Non Governmental Organizations) includes women who have transformed their business entrepreneurial skills into social entrepreneurship, like Leila El Solh. Leila works with the Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation, based in Lebanon, to address humanitarian and social needs.
The list reflects a global trend that women are more represented in industries related to the social sciences and humanities. Likewise, Arab women are less represented in the industries of research, science and technology. The specific categories include, in order of most represented:
• Culture/Society – 31
• Media – 21
• Banking & Finance – 15
• Construction/Industry – 13
• Retail -8
• Government – 5
• Science & Technology – 4
• Logistics – 1
• Telecommunications- 1
• Sport – 1
For 2011, the number one ranked woman is the United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Trade, HE Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi. She represents the first female to hold a ministerial post in the UAE when she was appointed to the UAE’s Minister of Economics & Planning. Before entering government service, Sheikha founded Tejari, (which means ‘commerce’ in Arabic) a business to business private venture for online purchasing. As a result of Tejari, “70 percent of the Dubai’s government purchases are made online.” However, only four other Arab women in government comprise the top 100. Tunisia’s current Minister of Women’s Affairs, Laila Labid, is ranked #84. Although only 5 percent of the top 100 represent women in the public sector, optimists may argue that this small number hold ministerial positions. I still see a mismatch: I expected more public sector representation in the top 100 since most—if not all—the Arab nations employ women more than any other sector.
The category with the highest mode is ‘Culture & Society’, with about one-third of Arab women representing power and influence in their industry. The subgrouping reflects the diverse influential interests of the Arab world: from #68, famous Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram to #95, Fatima Shawqi. Fatima is a Bahraini educator and activist teaching children about the importance of environmentalism. Also, this category represents an interesting mix of social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs range from #22, Haifa Fahoum Al-Kaylani, who established the Arab Women’s International Forum, to Salma Hayek, a Mexican-Lebanese actress and philanthropist.
In 2001, Al-Kaylani founded the Arab Women’s International Forum (AWIF) to function as an umbrella organisation. Specifically, AWIF convenes 1,500 associations, individuals, corporation and partnerships based in 45 nations and six continents of the world.
Geographically, the Arab nations of the Gulf (Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen) represent over half of the top 100 women—55 to be exact. Gulf nations lead in the most representative category of ‘Culture & Society’ as well. Saudi Arabia leads with 7 women influencers, yet, most of them live abroad or hold dual citizenship. When it comes to influencing culture and society within their respective countries—or simply innovating social entrepreneurship—change usually is most effectual and effective when operating from the home base because it takes more than financial capital to cultivate influence, and later derive influence.
In summary, the leading three categories of female influence are 1) ‘Culture & Society’, 2) ‘Media’, and 3) ‘Banking & Finance’; the bottom three categories are: 1) ‘Science & Technology’, 2) ‘Telecommunications’, and 3) ‘Sport.’ On the one hand, it is exciting and inspiring to see that the top 100 Arab Women list boasts a strong ‘Culture & Society’ presence. On the other hand, the same category lacks female representatives from Jordan, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, and Oman. (Note: Prominent architect and design-firm founder, Zaha Hadid is of Iraqi descent but falls within the ‘Construction’ category.) Hopefully, social entrepreneurial influences will traverse the Arab borders as envisioned by the Arab Women’s International Forum.