Building women’s resilience to global challenges

Women have not benefitted equality from industrial and technological development and have been profoundly tested by the Covid-19 health crisis, where women-led businesses have been specially hit. Half of the women-led enterprises in the Euro-Mediterranean region have had to suspend all activity. To focus on these challenges, the UfM partnered with UNIDO for the conference Women in Industry and Innovation – Building women‘s resilience to global challenges and emerging crises which took place online on 15-17 July 2020, gathering over 1600 users. The conference addressed how to improve resilience along value chains, realising emerging opportunities through ICTs and digital technologies, and tap into opportunities in circular economy to help women strengthen their position and improve their resilience in the face of crises such as COVID-19.

Organised under the framework of the UfM labelled project “Promoting Women Empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development in the MENA Region”, promoted by UNIDO in partnership with UN Women and FAO. The event gathered government representatives, private sector actors, experts, entrepreneurs, researchers and other relevant stakeholders, in an effort to promote the development of an inclusive and sustainable environment for the economic empowerment of women as drivers of industry and innovation.

During his presentation, the UfM Secretary General, Nasser Kamel,  highlighted the current challenging social and economic context caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the worst economic crisis of the century with markets and supply chains disrupted, businesses closed, and millions of people around the world who have or will lose their jobs and livelihoods. The Secretary General underlined that experience from past crises has shown that the most vulnerable and marginalized populations—among which women- are always the most impacted. Looking to the future, and to rebuilding the economy, Nasser Kamel stated how it is critical to recognise that investing in women and creating a gender equal business ecosystem is the greatest opportunity for our countries and for our social peace and that “by putting women at the heart of our response to this pandemic, we will see a leap in progress”.

The conference combined high level segments, with roundtable discussions and special sessions on female role models, to address the main hurdles hindering women’s progress and generated recommendations that can contribute to national, regional and global efforts to promote women as key players in building more innovative sustainable business model. Among others, experts highlighted the relevance of female role models, which are crucial in inspiring young girls to enter the STEM fields, the role in transitioning to circular economy models and the importance of a cultural transition to create safe spaces for women in traditionally male dominated sectors, stressing the urgent need to tackle sexual harassment and maternity protection.

At a social level, speakers pointed out how investments in the care economy are lacking and more actions to ensure men share unpaid care work more evenly are needed, through education and by supporting paternity leaves. Finally, the need for more to be done towards protecting single parents, who are predominantly women, was also highlighted.