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Mashreq Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment

January 19, 2019

Beirut, Lebanon



The Mashreq Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment was held on January 19, 2019, at the Grand Serail in Beirut at the margins of the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut.

The conference was held under the Patronage and with the presence of H.E. Saad Hariri, Lebanese Prime Minister with high level representation from the Governments of Jordan and Iraq, as well as heads of international organizations, ministers and members of parliament.


  • Gender equality is smart economics, contributing to poverty reduction, strengthening resilience and boosting shared prosperity. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, women only generate 18 percent of GDP, compared to a world average of 37 percent, and increasing female labor force participation to the levels of men could boost regional GDP by 47 percent. Today, the majority of women in MENA are jobless, that is facing high inactivity and high unemployment rates. Only 19% of working age women participate in the labor force in MENA, compared to 46% in middle-income countries and 52% in LAC. In Mashreq countries, Jordan has one of the lowest female labor participation rates in the world with 14% compared to 19% in Iraq and 23% in Lebanon.

    Empowering women and girls has an intrinsic value and is instrumental to achieve more inclusive institutions, sound policies, and effective development outcomes. In the Mashreq countries, important gains have been made in women’s access to education and health, but persistent challenges remain in the areas of women’s economic opportunities, voice and agency.

    Working towards this goal, the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Government of Canada have come together to support Mashreq Governments’ efforts towards enhancing women’s economic empowerment as a catalyst towards more inclusive, sustainable and peaceful societies, where economic growth benefits all.

    This high-level conference aimed to elevate the dialogue and overall awareness of the importance and benefits of enhanced economic participation of women in the Mashreq region, and create a space for the Governments of Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, in collaboration with the private sector, civil society and development partners, to share their commitments to this agenda. Specifically, the conference aimed to:

    1. Highlight key challenges and constraints to women’s economic empowerment in the Mashreq from a holistic perspective bringing in experiences from the policy side, from private sector and from civil society; 
    2. Identify best practices from different types of stakeholders that address challenges and enhance women’s economic empowerment and participation in the labor force in the Mashreq, and discuss how they can be scaled up and replicated; 
    3. Announce specific country level commitments to enhance women’s economic empowerment that each country will focus on, with clear monitoring and reporting mechanisms (progress to be reported preferably on a yearly basis); and 
    4. Launch the “Mashreq Gender Financing Facility” aimed at supporting client countries in achieving their commitments towards enhancing women’s economic empowerment. 

    It is proposed that this conference become an annual event to review progress and make new commitments each year to advance women’s economic empowerment.


    8:30 - 9:30

    REGISTRATION AND COFFEE (Doors close sharply at 9:30)



    9:30 - 10:30


    Ferid Belhaj, Vice President, MNA Region, World Bank

    Stephanie von Friedeburg, Chief Operating Officer, IFC

    HE Emmanuelle Lamoureux, Ambassador of Canada in Lebanon

    HE Mahdi Al-Alak, Secretary General, Council of Ministers, Iraq

    HE Mary Kawar, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Jordan

    HE Ahmad Abu Al-Ghaith, Secretary General, League of Arab States

    HE Saad Hariri, President of the Council of Ministers, Lebanon



    10:30 - 11:00  




    11:00 - 1:00

    SESSION 1: Why Women’s Economic Empowerment is Good for Growth: Towards a more enabling policy environment for women’s economic participation in the Mashreq


    Introductory Remarks

    Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development, World Bank


    Panel Discussion

    Moderator: Hadeel Abdul Aziz, Executive Director, Jordan Justice Center for Legal Aid

    HE Mary Kawar, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Jordan

    HE Jean Oghassabian, Minister of State for Women’s Affairs, Lebanon

    HE Thikra Alwash, Mayor of Baghdad, Chairperson of the Permanent High Committee

    on Advancing Iraqi Women

    Salma Nims, Secretary General, Jordanian National Commission for Women

    Claudine Aoun Roukoz, President, National Commission for Lebanese Women

    Ibtisam Aziz, Director General, Women Empowerment Directorate, General Secretariat of Council of Ministers, Iraq



    1:00 - 2:00




    2:00 - 3:30

    SESSION 2: Private Sector as a Catalyst for Women's Economic Participation


    Introductory Remarks

    Stephanie von Friedeburg, Chief Operating Officer, IFC

    Nadim Kassar, General Manager and CEO, BLC Bank, Lebanon




    Lightening Talk

    Nour Al Hassan, Founder and CEO, TARJAMA


    Panel Discussion

    Moderator: Tania Mousallem, Board Chair of Global Banking Alliance for Women and Acting CRO and Advisor to EGM at Bank Med

    Hala Fadel, Co-founder and Managing Partner, LEAP Ventures

    Farhan Ifram, CEO, MAS Kreeda Al Safi

    Nourah Mehyar, CEO, Nafith Logistics

    Nadia Al Saeed, CEO, Bank al Etihad, Jordan

    Khawla Al-Asadi, Chairperson and General Manager, Al-Rafidain Bank, Iraq



    3:30 - 5:00     

    SESSION 3: Leveraging Social Change to Enable Women’s Economic Opportunities

    Panel Discussion

    Moderator: Shereen El Feki, Regional Director, MENA, Promundo

    Mayyada Abu Jaber, Co-founder of JoWomenomics and The World of Letters – MENA

    Safa Salwan, Business Development Manager @Careem, Founder of GDG/WTM Baghdad

    Ghida Anani, Founder, Abaad, Lebanon

    Leila Serhan, General Manager, Microsoft

    Mohamad Naciri, Regional Director, UN Women



    5:00 - 5:30       

    CLOSING SESSION: Gender Commitments

    Moderator: Fadia Kiwan, Director General, Arab Women Organization


    Commitments of Women’s Economic Empowerment Actions Plans

    HE Samir Murad, Minister, Ministry of Labor, Jordan

    HE Jean Oghassabian, Minister of State for Women’s Affairs, Lebanon

    HE Mahdi Al-Alak, Secretary General, Council of Ministers, Iraq


    Launch of the World Bank Group Mashreq Gender Facility

    Ferid Belhaj, Vice President, MNA Region, World Bank

    Stephanie von Friedeburg, Chief Operating Officer, IFC

    HE Emmanuelle Lamoureux, Ambassador of Canada in Lebanon


    Conclusions: “The Beirut Communique on Mashreq Women’s Economic Empowerment”

    Saroj Kumar Jha, Regional Director, Middle East Department, World Bank


  • The Mashreq Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment was organized in partnership with:

    • The Government of Lebanon;
    • The Government of Canada;
    • The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs;
    • The World Bank and IFC.

    The Conference brought together the following stakeholders:

    1. Ministries and government entities in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq: Prime Minister’s Office, Ministries of Women’s Affairs/ Labor/ Justice/ Social Affairs/Economy/ Planning/ Finance/ Education…, Mayors, Central Banks, and Women’s National Commissions.
    2. Members of Parliament.
    3. The private sector, e.g. firms implementing initiatives to attract and retain women, business associations and chambers (e.g. commerce, industrialist, private banks), business and professional women foundations, and executive women organizations.
    4. Civil society representatives – international and national
    5. Development partners, e.g. UN agencies, donors, international organizations.