Women entrepreneurship to reshape the economy in MENA through innovation: High-Level Panel during European Development Days

Date : 17 October 2012

Welcoming Remarks delivered by John Hendra, UN Women Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director, at the High Level Panel on Women Entrepreneurship to Reshape the Economy in MENA through Innovation.

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Our topic this morning could not be more relevant. We know that investing in women is not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do - as the World Bank calls it “smart economics that can help to accelerate poverty reduction and boost economic and social development.

Research shows that empowering women is not just good for women. It is good for all of us — for peace, the growth of our economies, for food security, for human security — in short, for the well-being of current and future generations, as women are more likely to share their income with their families and communities at large.

Yet globally women own only 1 per cent of the world's wealth, earn only a 10 percent share of global income, and occupy just 14 per cent of leadership positions in the private and public sector. And, while women produce half of the world's food, they own a mere one percent of its land.

Women living in the MENA region have the lowest rates of female labour force participation around the world, at 26 per cent compared to the global average of 52 per cent. This is a clear signal that they continue to face significant barriers to meaningful participation in socio-economic and public life. These include lack of economic opportunities, poor working conditions, and the absence of the institutional, societal support needed to leverage them into public life.

In the MENA region the informal sector currently represents the main source of employment for new labor market entrants, accounting for one third of the labour force in Egypt, 25 per cent of the workforce in Jordan, and between 40-50 per cent of non-agricultural employment in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Women in the informal sector are primarily non-wage workers contributing in various ways to household production and family businesses. Most work with minimal access to land and other resources.

Globally and regionally, our economies are in flux, and it is often women who are most vulnerable. Ongoing adverse impacts of the world financial and economic crisis, volatile food and energy prices and food insecurity, the lack of investment in rural development and agriculture and demographic change have exacerbated the disadvantages and inequalities faced by women and girls, especially those in rural areas.

At the same time, women have undoubtedly benefited from emerging economic opportunities.

For instance, women's employment accounts for 70 per cent of the 27 million jobs in export processing zones. And the expansion of the ICT sector has created greater employment opportunities for skilled women in a number of countries around the world.

Yet while high-income countries have on average four new firms per 1000 working age people, MENA countries register only 0.63 new firms, ahead of only sub-Saharan Africa. Barriers to doing business, especially for smaller firms, cultural norms which value entrepreneurial activity less highly than other more secure occupations, and low levels of women's participation in employment and business are among the main factors accounting for this.

Today's panel will discuss how to turn this around, focusing on good practices, and the challenges of including women in innovative economic development. We are indeed very lucky to have such an eminent group of people here with us this morning to discuss this key issue.


The European Development Days (EDDs) is one of the most relevant forums in Europe on international affairs and development. Organized by the European Commission, the EDDs gather policy makers, practitioners, politicians and development workers from very diverse areas to discuss on recent developments and important initiatives including the approaches that will be adopted in the coming year in the key areas of development cooperation. This year's EDDs focus on “Supportive Inclusiveness and Sustainable Growth for Human Development

To see an archived webcast of this speech on 16 October, click here »