Skip to Main Navigation

MENA: Preventing another lost decade through enhancing women’s economic opportunities

March 8, 2021




Gender equality is smart economics. Increased female economic participation contributes to sustainable growth and is key to helping grow the middle class. However, in the Middle East and North Africa region, very few women work. As a region, MENA has the lowest female labor force participation in the world – only 22% in 2020, compared to 77% for men – and unemployment among women is much more severe than among men. In the context of multiple crises, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, what are the challenges facing women still in joining the labor force, and what can be done to remove such legal, mobility, financial, and other barriers to an equitable access to opportunities?

This International Women’s Day, please join World Bank MENA Vice President Ferid Belhaj, Chief Economist for MENA, Roberta Gatti, and notable influencers and leaders from the region for a live discussion on the current situation and what development partners like the World Bank Group can do to elevate the impact on the ground for women.


Follow the conversation on Twitter using #SheCan.

  • Opening Remarks by Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Regional Vice President for MENA, will commence at 8am EST. A panel discussion, moderated by Roberta Gatti, World Bank Regional Chief Economist for MENA, will follow, featuring guests from the Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Commerce and Investment and founders from littleBits and Ahalna Campaign.

  • Image

    Ferid Belhaj

    World Bank MENA Vice President

    Ferid Belhaj has been the World Bank Group Vice President for Middle East and North Africa since July 1, 2018. Prior to this, Mr. Belhaj served 15 months as the Chief of Staff of the President of the World Bank Group. From 2012 to 2017, Mr. Belhaj was World Bank Director for the Middle East, in charge of World Bank work programs in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran, based in Beirut, Lebanon. A Tunisian national, Mr. Belhaj joined the Bank in 1996 as Senior Counsel in the Legal Department, managing a number of legal and judicial reform projects. He also served as Bank Counsel for countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Algeria and Thailand.


    Roberta Gatti

    World Bank Regional Chief Economist for MENA

    Roberta Gatti is the Chief Economist of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region of the World Bank. In that role, she oversees analytical work to support the Bank’s operations and economic surveillance in countries in the region. In her previous capacity of Chief Economist for the Human Development practice group, she co-led the conceptualization and release of the World Bank Human Capital Index and oversaw the Service Delivery Indicators data initiative. Roberta joined the World Bank in 1998 as a Young Professional in the Macro unit of the Development Research Group. She has since led analytical agendas on growth, firm productivity, gender, social inclusion and labor markets, including as the Global Lead for Labor policies.

    Dr. Eiman Al-Mutairi is currently the Assistant Minister for His Excellency the Minister of Commerce and Investment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    Eiman Al-Mutairi

    Assistant Minister, Ministry of Commerce and Investment, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

    Dr. Eiman Al-Mutairi is currently the Assistant Minister for His Excellency the Minister of Commerce and Investment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She is also the CEO of the National Competitiveness Center (NCC) tasked with reforming the Kingdom’s regulatory and policy environment for doing business and improving national competitiveness through working with public and private partners and implementing international best practices. Dr. Al-Mutairi has over 25 years of professional experience in the public and private sectors. She served as Board Member and General Supervisor for the Saudi Business Center and a Member of the Board of Directors of the Education and Training Evaluation Commission. She worked as the Head of the Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority Transformation Office. She also held several leadership roles at Saudi Aramco, including as Manager of Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare Coordination Department. Dr. Al-Mutairi holds an undergraduate degree in chemistry from King Faisal University, and earned a doctorate in bio-organic chemistry from the University of Bristol. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship in genetics/molecular biology from Harvard University.


    Ayah Bdeir

    Entrepreneur, Engineer, and Social Activist

    Ayah Bdeir is an entrepreneur, engineer and social activist. She is the inventor of littleBits, the electronic building block that has transformed STEM education for millions of kids around the world. For over a decade, Bdeir's work has centered around empowering everyone to be an inventor — by modularizing and democratizing electronics, by pioneering new ways of learning through play, and by reimagining the relationship between technology and creativity. Bdeir has been particularly focused on empowering underrepresented communities, especially girls, with the tools to become tomorrow's changemakers. In recognition of her work, Bdeir has received numerous awards, including: BBC 100 Most Influential Women (2019), a TED fellowship and she has appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine (2011). Her inventions are included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and she holds over a dozen patents. Bdeir graduated from the MIT Media Lab and the American University of Beirut. She is from Beirut, Lebanon, and lives and works in New York.


    Naseer Shamma

    Musician/Composer, and Founder, Ahalna Campaign

    Naseer Shamma is a renowned Iraqi musician and composer, born in 1963 in Iraq. He graduated from the Institute of Musical Studies in Baghdad in 1987 and went on to gain a a PhD in "Musical Philosophy". Shamma has won more than 60 awards, including the award for the best artist in Iraq, the British Royal Academy Award and the "Rotterdam Arab Festival" award. During his career, Shamma has focused on promoting the teachings of the Oud instrument and as result established the Arab Oud House in Cairo, Alexandria, Abu Dhabi, Baghdad and Khartoum, gaining International recognition these institutions have gone on to attract students from all over the world. He has produced many memorable performances, among them with the "Metropolitan Orchestra" in Montreal, with Jazz legend Winton Marsalis, in addition to the "Lebanese National Orchestra of Oriental-Arab Music". In 2000 he founded the 2350BC Orchestra contrasting the most prominent former graduates of the Oud House, accompanied by renowned guest musicians and performing across various parts of the world. He is also the founder of Eastern Orchestra, which includes 75 musicians from the far-east MENA and European regions as well as the "Global Ensemble”, a group of leading Western musicians, emphasising for peace and justice recently re-branded to the "Peace Builders”. Shamma has widely contributed to globalising of the oud instrument, and has been named “Master of the Oud” as well as “The Oud Legend”. He has tirelessly fought for human rights and advocated for humanitarian plights in addition to the preservation of human heritage. He currently serves as ambassador to "The Non-Violence Project", The International Federation of Red Crescent/Cross Societies and UNESCO.


    Mona Zulficar

    Founding Partner and Chairperson, Zulficar Partners

    A practicing attorney for more than 35 years, Zulficar is a specialist in major restructuring, banking, project finance, and mergers and acquisitions. Previously, Zulficar chaired the Executive Committee of Shalakany Law Office. She has also been the non-executive chairperson of EFG Hermes Holding, SAE since April 2008. She has advocated for human rights and women’s rights in Egypt and internationally. She led successful campaigns resulting in major legal reforms including the “New Marriage Contract”, the Equal Right to Divorce Law, the Family Courts Law, equality in granting Egyptian nationality between the father and the mother under the Nationality Law, and the NGO Law. She is currently working on the Equal Opportunity and Non-Discrimination Law. She has recently also played a key role in drafting the Egyptian Constitution as member and Vice Present of the Commission of 50, which drafted the present Constitution of 2014. Zulficar founded and chairs Al Tadamun Microfinance Foundation, focused on economic empowerment of poor women. She also chairs the Women’s Health Improvement Association in Cairo. She also served as the Deputy Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, the Chairperson of the World Bank’s External Gender Consultative Group, and is a member of the National Council for Human Rights in Egypt.


    Ola Awad

    President of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics

    Dr. Ola Awad is a member of the Palestinian community, regionally and internationally, with over 20 years’ experience working on various topics including modernization of Statistics, Sustainable Development, Gender Equality, Youth, Labor Market, Palestinian Economy, Good Governance, Statistical Literacy, Management and Communication. She has been the President of PCBS since 2009, leading the successful development and implementation of various statistical and non-statistical programs on the local, regional and international levels. Dr. Awad is the first woman elected from developing countries and the Arab region to lead the IAOS. She is currently the Co-Chair for the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (HLG-PCCB), a council member in the ISI for the years (2017-2021). Dr. Awad also represents the Arab region in the HLG-SDGs. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the Harvard Data Science Review HDSR, a member of the American Statistical Association and a mentor at the Swedish Program for Women’s Strategic Advancement (ProWSA). Dr. Awad holds a Doctorate of Business Administration from the University of Liverpool– UK, an MSc in Applied Statistics from Birzeit University, a Master degree in Business Administration and Management from Boston University and a BSc in Economics from Birzeit University.


  • TIME: From 1:00 – 2:00PM GMT (8:00 – 9:00AM EST)
  • LANGUAGE: Discussions will be conducted in English. French and Arabic interpretation will be available.