His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, today attended the opening session of Global Women’s Forum Dubai (GWFD) 2020, which began in Dubai today. He was accompanied at the event by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council of Dubai.
The opening session featured addresses by Ivanka Trump, Advisor to the President of the United States of America (USA); David Malpass, World Bank Group President; and Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.
Also attending the event were HH Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum; Her Highness Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE Gender Balance Council, President of Dubai Women Establishment, and wife of His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs; HH Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairperson of Dubai Culture & Arts Authority; HE Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future; HE Obaid bin Humaid Al Tayer, Minister of State for Financial Affairs; HE Mona Al Marri, Chairperson of the Board and Managing Director of Dubai Women Establishment; and a number of ministers and senior officials.
In her opening speech, Ivanka Trump thanked His Highness Sheikh Mohammed for his “commitment to advancing women’s economic participation across Dubai and the broader United Arab Emirates.” She commended Emirati leaders for “removing barriers to women joining the workforce and developing a national strategy that recognises that women are central to sustainable growth.”
She noted that last year, more than 70% of Emirati university graduates were women. She also commended key countries in the MENA region for instituting significant reforms over the past two years. “Saudi Arabia has changed laws to respect women’s freedom of movement and access to credit and financial services. Bahrain introduced legislation to prevent discrimination in the workplace. Jordan eliminated legal restrictions on women’s ability to work at night. Morocco expanded women’s land rights and Tunisia introduced laws to combat domestic violence. We applaud these advancements,” she said.
However, she stressed that there is still much more work to be done. “Too many women continue to face obstacles to entering the workforce, starting their own businesses, reaching their full potential, and charting their own future. In the Middle East and North Africa, on average, women have only half the legal rights of men. In this region alone, women’s economic equality has the potential to add $600 billion to global annual GDP by 2025,” Ivanka Trump said.
“That number represents far more than an economic boom – it represents millions of lives full of promise – mothers who could provide for their children, daughters who could be the first to graduate high school, and young women who could start businesses and become job creators. This is the future we can and must achieve together,” she pointed out.
“Today, we come together to ask the nations of this region to continue to work with us, to break new ground, and to institute changes, legally and culturally, that will give every woman the chance to determine her own destiny and to bring greater peace and prosperity to this region and the world,” she told the audience.
In his opening remarks, David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group, said: “We estimate that in MENA, increasing female labour-force participation to the levels of men could boost regional GDP by 47 percent. Currently, US$ 575 billion in regional income is lost because of gender-based discrimination in laws, social norms and practices that constrain women’s rights and opportunities. Fortunately, more countries recognise that their economies can only reach their full potential with the full participation of both women and men.”
He said the World Bank has been working on two key areas: laws and regulations and broadening access to finance. “We need to work towards having laws, policies, and regulations that empower women to succeed in the economy. The World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law report tracks eight indicators for women – from entering the workforce to living in retirement – across 190 economies.”
“MENA has historically had the lowest average score on the report’s index. However, this year, the region made the most progress. Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria and Bahrain made a number of reforms. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, in particular, made the most reforms. Since 2015, the UAE has pushed for legislative reforms, including equal pay and female representation in corporate boardrooms. In Saudi Arabia, laws were changed to protect women from employment discrimination and to prohibit employers from dismissing a woman during pregnancy and maternity leave,” he said
Malpass also underlined the need for broadening access to finance and markets: He noted that globally, the financial gap for women-led businesses is $1.5 trillion.
The opening session also saw Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, engaging in a discussion with John Defterios of CNN. She said: “We owe the UAE a debt of gratitude” for its achievements in women’s empowerment.” She noted that “big chunks of the world don’t know that,” and stressed on the need to amplify the message that “the tide is turning for women in the Middle East.”
Speaking about the impact of greater gender equality, she said: “If tomorrow we woke up in a world with 100% gender equality, the wealth of the world would be, according to the most recent data, $172 trillion bigger. We would be a much richer world. If we are to bring the Middle East on par with the more advanced economies, over the next years, there would be $1 trillion more in output.”
Answering a question on the impact of the Novel Coronavirus epidemic on the Chinese economy, she said: “It is too early to say. We don’t yet know what is the nature of this virus. We don’t know how quickly China would be able to contain it. We don’t know whether it will spread to the rest of the world. But what we do know is that it is going to affect global value chains. It is affecting tourism and travel. If it is contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and then a very rapid rebound, what is known as a V- curve. We’re very much hoping this is going to be the case.”
China has been slowing down naturally, she noted. However, “as a result of the reduction in trade tensions, with the Phase 1 trade agreement signed between US and China, we actually have been predicting some improvement for 2020. The bottom line is, we are in a world with more uncertainty. We have to build more predictability to counter this uncertainty. The virus, we cannot predict. But interest rates or how we are going to go about trade, that is something in our hands.”
“China today has a much bigger share of the global economy than during the SARS epidemic. If things go bad for China, that is not good news for the rest of the world. But they are working very hard to contain the epidemic,” she said.
“For now, we are saying that our forecast is 3.3% growth for the global economy,” she said. “There could be a cut. We are hoping that it would be between 0.1-0.2%. I wish I could look at the crystal ball. There is still a great deal of uncertainty,” she added.
Earlier, HE Mona Al Marri, Chairperson of the Board and Managing Director of Dubai Women Establishment delivered the welcome note at the opening session. “The theme of this Forum, ‘The Power of Influence’, captures the essence of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision to elevate the status of women across all sectors and levels. This mission has been transformed into a reality through the creation of the UAE Gender Balance Council and Dubai Women Establishment, led by Her Highness Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum,” she said.
“Whether it is through ideas, actions or new partnerships, we can shift perspectives, exchange knowledge and shape policies that further women’s positive impact around the world, building our influence to inspire families, communities and even entire nations. Since the foundation of the UAE 48 years ago, our leadership’s vision has guided the country in establishing itself as a global model for rapid progress in women’s empowerment and gender balance. The UAE’s experience in accelerating women’s participation in the society and economy serves as an inspirational reference for countries seeking to transform the environment for women. We are confident that we will see greater achievements in the years to come,” she said.
The second edition of the Global Women’s Forum Dubai, organised by the Dubai Women Establishment rom February 16-17 under the theme, ‘The Power of Influence’, highlights dynamic women across governments and the business world, as well as their significant impact and valuable contributions across the global economy and society.
Over 100 leaders and experts from across the world have come together to engage in constructive dialogue on the advancement of women at the two-day Forum. More than 3,000 delegates from 87 countries are expected to attend over 60 workshops and sessions.