Towards women’s inclusion in the Arab region for a sustainable future

March 8, 2024
Photo: UNDP Lebanon

Women's empowerment and gender equality are vital to achieving the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.  

The situation for women in Arab countries has been changing over time and, thanks to legal reforms in a number of areas and progress in health and education indicators, Arab women have been able to enhance their capabilities and skills, enter in new fields of the economy and take up more leadership positions.  

Today marks International Women's Day. This year’s theme is 'Invest in women: Accelerate progress”.

UNDP is committed to working closely across the United Nations system and with partners to support countries to achieve sustainable development and to accelerate gender equality and women’s empowerment.  

Let’s take a tour to learn about countries in the Arab region that have been working on empowering women through different projects and initiatives.   

Inclusion of Marginalized communities in Egypt 

ENID’s French Loom Workshop – El Maana Complex, Qena.

UNDP Egypt, in partnership with the Ministry of International Cooperation are uplifting marginalized communities in Rural Upper Egypt. Operating primarily in Qena, Sohag, and Luxor,  The Egypt Network for Integrated Development (ENID) project harnesses skill formation for employability and job creation to empower women. Through ENID, women in Upper Egypt are equipped with the necessary capacities and skills, enabling them to pursue new professions and achieve economic and social empowerment. Their increased productivity, inspirational impact, and active roles within society have been transformative.

Acquiring new skills in Iraq  

Buthaina baking cake at home using the tools provided by UNDP (left & right). Centre: Learning how to make pizza.

Photo credit: UNDP Iraq 2024

UNDP in Iraq has been working with partners to provide livelihood and economic support by offering vocational training, cash for work activities, and small business grants among others – to improve women’s lives and rebuild social bonds. 

Buthaina Hussein, 30-year-old , a married mother of four is one of the 10 women from the Al Zab village in Kirkuk Governorate selected to take part in the vocational classes. She expanded her baking skills, learning how to make different types of cakes and Iraqi candies and perfecting her decorating techniques after attending 14-day training. By the end of the training, she was taking orders from her neighbours and earning 6000 IQD per cake sold.  Buthaina’s family was displaced in Kirkuk City for 5 years due to the ISIL insurgency and returned to find everything destroyed. 

“Everyone in my family is excited about this, my children all support me while I work and they are learning too,” she said. 

Photo credit: UNDP Iraq

Another successful story is Radasa, 43, who was born and raised in the rural area of Al Shirqaat, Salah al-Din who received training and support with cattle keeping and breeding. She received one cow and a small ox. She plans to use the cow to produce milk for her family and to sell to community members. 

UNDP is supporting women by providing trainings in different fields to empower them through acquiring new skills.

Photo credit: UNDP Iraq

UNDP Iraq has offered a training course in computer literacy where Sakinah learned to format devices, install programs, troubleshoot common computer problems, and learned to fix them. Prior to the training programme, Sakinah was not technologically inclined, but now she acquired new skill empowered to give back to her community, leveraging the potential of using technology for development, and securing for herself a role in making it happen in her community. 

“I am passionate about sharing my knowledge and empowering other women, I believe that what I have learned, I must pass onto the next woman,” said Sakinah.   

Paving the way for a more sustainable and prosperous future in Libya 

TEC+ Event in Tripoli

Photo credit: ©UNDP Libya/Malek Elmaghrabi

Jamela, a talented native of Ubari, possessed a passion for fashion and a desire to empower women in her community. She to establish Al-Jamelah, a company specializing in tailoring and training, in 2018. Her platform has helped Libyan startups to scale up, expand their network, and secure investment, fostering an enabling environment for inclusive economic growth. 

Jamela started small, and then overcame initial financial hurdles by selling her prized possessions to fund her project. With unwavering determination, she embarked on her entrepreneurial journey with five dedicated female employees and just two sewing machines. She envisions establishing a factory in the southwest, creating jobs for over 50 women. Her aspirations extend even further, aiming to transform Al-Jameelah into a leading design and fashion powerhouse in Libya and beyond. 

Empowering women in journalism in Somalia 

Photo credit: ©UNDP Somalia

UNDP Somalia established Bilan Media in April 2022 has set up an all-women, editorially independent media unit. Called Bilan, which means bright and pure in Somali, the unit opened its doors in April and is staffed and run entirely by women producing high-quality, high-impact, original journalism across all platforms, including TV and radio.  

The team reports a mix of hard news and in-depth features. With its unique perspective and access to women’s lives and opinions, Bilan is breaking new ground not just for women journalists but also for Somali journalism, shining a light on stories that have long been ignored. 

Bilan aims to provide a model of well-researched and informative reporting that media professionals across the country will come to respect and will want to emulate, irrespective of their gender. 

“During our first year, we have reported on as many positive topics as negative ones, including on urban women who have set up farms outside Mogadishu, and a 10-year-old girl who teaches crafts to adults”, Fathi Mohamed Ahmed, Chief Editor at Bilan Media.  

UNDP is helping Somali women and Somali stories find a global audience by working with international outlets that can feature Bilan’s work.  

Mastering skills in Syria 

Photo credit: ©UNDP Syria

UNDP Syria is working with the Government of Germany, through its Development Bank KfW, to provide vocational and skills training that fosters youth talent and employment support services that increase their chances of employability. 

Aya is a 25-year-old woman from Aleppo, Syria, who decided to take up welding as a profession. She was displaced due to the war, her sense of determination, persistence and passion about exploring everything new made her stand up on her two feet. In less than four months at the Metal Centre in Aleppo, and despite her young age, she mastered the skills needed to work as a blacksmith, a job that has long been male-dominated. 

Aya spent four months in training, where she learned how to use arc and gas welding, assembling metal pieces, forming geometric shapes, and metal inert gas (MIG) and tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding.  

“I want to be the first Syrian woman to open a blacksmith's workshop, build a name for myself in this field (forming and forging metal pieces) and have my own clients. I want to name it "Iron Woman". It is the nickname I was given by my colleagues at work”, Aya.  

Photo credit: ©UNDP Syria

Another successful story is Badriya who is 30 years old from Al Midan neighbourhood in Aleppo. She learned carpentry through training opportunities offered at the Technical Vocational Training Centre (TEVT) in the Bustan Al-Qasr area. She was able to produce/repair 2,100 double desks for schools being rehabilitated by UNHCR, by the standards and specifications set by the Ministry of Education.  

“On the first day of training, I realized that I was the only woman among the trainees, but my determination to learn the profession was the main motivation to continue,” Badriya explained. 

Empowering rural women in Yemen  

Photo credit: ©UNDP Yemen

Samia, a 47-year-old woman, from Beer Jaber Village, Lahj Governorate, Yemen, established a dairy center, where she processes various dairy products using raw materials from her own farm.  

She developed her business skills, learning about marketing, supply chain management, and financial management.  

Photo credit: ©UNDP Yemen

Moreover, Samia planted henna trees to produce high-quality henna paste. Her success has not only benefited her but has also inspired many women in Yemen to start their own small henna businesses, contributing to the rich cultural heritage of this tradition, as well as the  local economy. 

"Our journey from dairy farming to dairy entrepreneurship was challenging, but it was worth every effort. We've learned that determination and the pursuit of knowledge can transform our lives," explains, Samia. 

With  generous support from the European Union and Government of Sweden, and through collaborative efforts by the United Nations Development Programme, World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the International Labor Organization, the ERRY Joint Programme has supported Samia to implement her project and benefit from multiple income streams.  

Yemeni women are vital to food value chains, maintaining food security and providing sufficient food for their families and communities by raising livestock and growing crops. 

Communities rely on women to tend livestock and to produce meat, milk, ghee, eggs, and honey – contributing to reduced poverty and creating job opportunities. 

UNDP and the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) have also collaborated to engage rural women in improving Yemen’s food security. 

Photo credit: ©UNDP Yemen

Haifa Ali, 43-years old, is an internally displaced mother of four who lives in Al-Shavahiah village in Al Marawi'ah, Hodeidah Governorate. Haifa attended a workshop on livestock value chains and following her training, she was chosen as the Head of the Milk Production and Collection Centre.  Haifa’s life was transformed after receiving training from UNDP’s national partner, the Small and Micro Enterprise Promotion Service (SMEPS).  

“Emergency Social Protection Enhancement and COVID-19 Response Project interventions have had a significant impact on livestock breeders: living conditions have improved and women have succeeded in increasing their cows’’s milk production,” says, Haifa.  

Unveiling the Power of Young Women as Insider Mediators in Lebanon 

With the generous support of Republic of France, UNDP in Lebanon is actively participating in the UNDP regional project on "Sustaining Peace through Insider Mediation in Arab States." As part of this initiative, a national network of 28 Insider Mediators has been established in Lebanon, comprising individuals from diverse age groups, backgrounds, and levels of experience. 

Among the members of this network is Perla Madi, a 24-year-old resident of Baalchmay, Mount Lebanon. Despite her young age, Perla has taken on the challenge of showcasing the significance of youth in Insider Mediation processes within her community. By being part of this network, she has had the opportunity to participate in a training with the Clingendael Institute in The Hague, Netherlands, which has equipped her with exceptional skills and exposed her to various global contexts. Throughout her involvement in the project, Perla continues to embark on a journey of capacity building. She actively participates in workshops, trainings, and dialogues, with each step highlighting her unwavering commitment. Perla has emerged as a beacon of inspiration, utilizing her mediation skills to bridge gaps, foster dialogue, and empower women and youth in her community. She has also engaged in different mediation processes and is a certified mediator from LAMAC, AIA, and Universite La Sagesse. The IM Network has provided Perla with a platform to connect with like-minded change-makers, peace builders, and Insider Mediators in Lebanon and the wider region which will elevate her efforts in promoting dialogue and sustainable peace.  

In Perla's own words, "As a young woman insider mediator, I believe our role goes beyond just resolving conflicts; it's about reshaping narratives and challenging stereotypes. It means embodying resilience and empathy while navigating complex social dynamics. Being an insider mediator empowers me to break barriers, amplify marginalized voices, and advocate for gender equality at every turn. It's not just a profession; it's a commitment to fostering a more just and inclusive world for future generations.” 

On Women's Day, we celebrate Perla's unwavering determination, serving as a reminder that peace is not a passive endeavor, but a tangible force shaped by those who dare to bridge divisions. 

Towards more inclusion of women in the Arab region 

Photo: UNDP Lebanon

The crucial role of women can’t be neglected in societies. Women must be included in all fields and in all rooms where decision-making takes place. 

Women's full and equal participation in all facets of society is a fundamental human right. Their role has ensured the stability, progress and long-term development of nations. 

International Women's Day is an opportunity to reflect women’s success in various fields  and celebrate overall contributions to society. 

Collectively, let's forge a more inclusive world for women in the Arab region towards a more prosperous future.