Princess Dr Reem Bint Mansour Al Saud on why we need more female leaders and how Middle East women are key to sustainable development
Labor Day is marked in many countries (including in the Middle East, such as Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, and Lebanon) on May 1 and Earth Day was observed worldwide this past April – but even without those dates, there’s been no shortage of stories about why we need more female leaders and sustainable solutions for our planet. But not enough stories have featured the voices of women – and, specifically, young women in the Middle East.
Princess Dr Reem Bint Mansour Al Saud says we need to change that. The royal is a member of Saudi Arabia’s permanent delegation to the United Nations in New York, and a tireless advocate for women in leadership and sustainable development – particularly development that benefits women in the Middle East.
“Sustainable development cannot happen without young women,” she says. “They are the agents of change and are equally responsible for the sustainability of this planet. The world needs all of humanity to pitch in, especially the commitment, innovation and ideas contributed by women.”
Dr Al Saud says women in the Middle East have been doing just that – setting an example for the rest of the world.
“Women in the Gulf have the highest rate of women earning a tertiary education. They are investing in their skills and development, and entering the labor force at a faster rate.”
The statistics point to more positives. In the UAE alone, women account for more than $50 billion of business, according to the Vice President of the UAE Gender Council, Mona Al Marri. Women are also set to make up half the members of the UAE’s Federal National Council when elections are held this year (a move that’s been praised worldwide). Dr Al Saud says it’s important to continue striving for more progress.
“I would like to see more women in leadership positions,” she says.
“And the trends seem to indicate that that’s where we’re headed, with female political representation and leadership increasing overall in the Arab World. In parliament, female representation has continued to increase over the last 10 years. I would also like to see the incorporation of more policies that support organizational health and wellbeing.”
Why wellbeing? According to Dr Al Saud, we also need to focus on wellbeing for more “holistic” solutions. “By a holistic view, I mean incorporating policies that address the physical, mental, emotional, and social wellbeing of women,” she explains.
“Research has proven that investing in the wellbeing of women will not only drive economic growth but will also lead to favorable outcomes in regards to personal and professional growth. This approach is the best way to ensure that women, who are still the primary caretakers at home, get the support they need while they embark on a more challenging career path. Lastly, this approach goes a long way toward achieving justice and equality, and this will cause a ripple effect on the personal and professional communities women to engage in.”
Another way to promote a more equal and sustainable world, according to Dr Al Saud: women mentoring other women – and aiming as high as possible. “It’s a great way to foster leadership, encourage the sharing of challenges and successes, and overcome limiting beliefs,” she explains.
“Women can become agents of change by building these networks or choosing to participate in them. Too often women feel apologetic for their achievements, which is unfortunate given that it hinders their personal and leadership development. If young women today stop applying for jobs below their qualifications and begin to follow on the path being paved by the women leading in the political arena, as well as in the public and private sectors, we will start to see some amazing achievements.”
No matter what shape sustainable development takes in the future, Dr Al Saud says it must include women.
“Women represent half of the world’s population, and if half of the population is marginalized, development simply cannot happen. Sustainable development cannot be achieved if women’s rights are not fully supported. Women need to be engaged participants in the process in order to successfully address the pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges.”