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?

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  • Media – 21

  • Banking & Finance – 15

  • Construction/Industry – 13

  • Retail -8

  • Government – 5

  • Science & Technology – 4

  • Logistics – 1

  • Telecommunications- 1

  • Sport – 1

  •  In the 2012 rankings, the results were not that different in that less than five women made it to the less who came from the ‘Government’ sector. This figure is alarming since the public sector tends to serve as the largest employer of women across the Arab world. Here is the breakdown by sector:

    • Culture/Society – 40

    • Media – 14

    • Banking & Finance –13

    • Retail - 7*

    • Construction/Industry – 11

    • Government – 3

    • Science & Technology – 3

    • Real Estate - 1*

    • Logistics -0

    • Transport- 4

    • Telecommunications - 2

    • Sport – 2

     “What does it mean, and why does it matter?” warned my philosophy professor. Here is why the question should echo in our ears and why the answer should come sooner rather than later: 1) subregional skew, and 2) power and influence transform into a responsibility.

     Subregional Skew

    Geographically, the Arab nations of the Gulf (Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen) represent over half of the top 100 women—58 to be exact. Gulf nations lead in the most represented category of ‘Culture & Society’ as well. Saudi Arabia leads with women influencers, yet, many of them live abroad or hold dual citizenship. When it comes to influencing culture and society within their respective countries—or simply innovating social entrepreneurship—change usually is most effectual and effective when operating from the home base because it takes more than financial capital to cultivate influence, and later derive influence.

     Power and Influence Transform into Responsibility

    Individual responsibility multiplied by people with prestige snowballs into strong civil society institutions--be it watchdog organizations or “ladies who lunch” for a cause--a part from government. Once local institutions demand those in power to be held responsible, then it is easier to make the business case to demand corporate social responsibility once it becomes fashionable. (Society makes responsibility fashionable.)

    (Lina Ben Mhenni, photo by Indif)

    There should be a tradeoff between the prestige earned through such recognition. It is not worth anyone’s time to review these results and track them if the influentials listed are not addressing the challenges that have pushed many of them to emigrate from their countries and work abroad to excel. It is alarming due to the following observations:

    1. Note how many influential women reside outside of the Arab world: 13.

    2. Note how many entertainers are listed, but are not known for their philanthropic activities.

    3. Note how many are among the Arab Diaspora and fall within the ‘Culture & Society’ category because they have chosen the career path of activists.

    4. Note how many of the names appear year after year on the list within the ‘Government’ or ‘Banking & Finance’ categories, but are not invited to the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. (Yes, Queen Rania of Jordan participates and advises. But there can be more than one female, Arab voice.)

    On that note, it is promising to see a Lina Ben Mhenni ranked at #23 as a blogger in English and Arabic. As a Millennial Generation representative, she gets it. Mhenni might not have won the Nobel Peace prize, as Tawakol Karman earned in 2012. But she is an example that cuts across sectors. Hopefully she will blog about the next revolutionary trend that is led by both men AND women.

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