Top 100 Arab women leaders: How more can join the list

Businesswomen and activists top the Arabian Business ranking, but how can more women spur civil society in the Arab World?

Lebanese pop star Nancy Ajram (Centri).

CEO of the Olayan Group Lubna Al-Olayan advised at the World Economic Forum in Davos, “We need to pressure the CEOs in GCC countries” in the banking industry to mentor women and “we need to get them to believe in it...not just play lip service.”

This year, Ms. Olayan ranked as number 3 in the “100 Most Powerful Arab Women” by ArabianBusiness.com. If her advice is applied, we could see Arab women in finance and banking tap into the Islamic Banking industry, which has the potential to make headway into socially responsible investing, a global trend. It would be a shame to miss this opportunity to advance and participate in an innovative field.

 Last year, I reviewed the top 100 Most Powerful Arab Women and argued that I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, the women were influential and mostly resided in the Arab countries. Moreover, the activists named in the Top 100 effectively leveraged social media for organizing and activating communities, as described by Altmuslimah Assistant Editor, Shazia Kamal. On the other hand, most of them primarily came from a legacy of family wealth, like #5 ranked Raja Easa Al Gurg of the UAE.

 The most represented category of women who exhibited “influence” was the ‘Culture and Society’ sector. Yet the “Culture & Society” sector is a broad range that includes both activists and entertainers. Perhaps they are linked by their philanthropic efforts, and that is why they are counted the same. However, I am not sure if the famous singer, Elissa, who ranks at number 41, wields the same type of influence as, Dalia Mogahed, Director of Abu Dhabi Gallup--who is ranked as number 32 and listed as from the UAE, rather than the United States.

Dalia Mogahed

(Dalia Mogahed speaking at Davos, photo by Norbert Schiller - WEF)

 Like 2011-2012 rankings, Arab women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields (STEM) did not rank in the upper quartile of the rankings. Hayat Sindi is in the ‘Science‘ sector, but is in the United States.

 For 2011, the number one ranked woman was the United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Trade, HE Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi. Again, Ms. Al Qasimi ranks as number one in the 2012 list. She became the first female to hold a ministerial post in the UAE when she was appointed to the UAE’s Minister of Economics & Planning. Before entering government service, Sheikha founded Tejari, (which means ‘commerce’ in Arabic) a business to business private venture for online purchasing. As a result of Tejari, “70 percent of the Dubai’s government purchases are made online.” However, only four other Arab women in government comprise the top 100. Last year, Tunisia’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, Laila Labid, was ranked at #84. However, this year, neither she, nor or her equivalent were listed.

(United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Trade, HE Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, photo by Richter Frank-Jurgen)

Less than 5 percent of the top 100 represent women in the public sector. Optimists may argue that this small number hold ministerial positions. Furthermore, number 10 ranked influential was Kholoud Faqih, who broke the male dominated sha’riah court system of judges as the first woman to be appointed an Islamic judge in Palestine.

 Still we see a mismatch: I expected more public sector representation in the top 100 since most—if not all—the Arab nations employ women more than any other sector.

 Arab women were less represented in the industries of research, science and technology. The specific categories include, in order of most represented:

  • Culture/Society – 31

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