12 initiatives working to empower women in the Middle East

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Bahraini women weaving. Photo courtesy of Sophie Middleton.

Women’s economic integration and empowerment is a global issue that has a particular resonance in the Arab world. Women represent just one quarter of the labor force, and less than 1 in 7 of the 5,887 firms in 10 MENA countries surveyed by the World Bank between 2003 and 2010 were female owned.

To celebrate and catalyze organizations who are “being the change”, Ashoka Changemakers and General Electric recently launched The Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality in MENA competition (which also includes Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan). The deadline is next Wednesday, November 6th. Interested parties can apply here.

Encouragingly, there are many examples to look to if you need some inspiration!

Starting with the two Early Entry Prize winners that were awarded by Ashoka last week, here are 12 initiatives working to empower women in the Middle East: 

  1. Roudha Center is a one-stop-shop for women entrepreneurs in Qatar that is focused on fueling the economy through entrepreneurship and providing a holistic approach to equipping women with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to succeed.
     
  2. Women’s Digital League is a women-owned digital services firm that economically empowers Pakistani women- even in the most remote areas of the country- without them having to leave their homes.
      
  3. Glowork is a Saudi-based social enterprise that aims to drive women’s participation in the Saudi workforce. The first portal dedicated to female recruitment in the GCC has already placed 3,000 women in the workplace and found work-from-home employment for another 500. SAS Holding recently invested around $16 million in Glowork, which will help scale its model across the Arab world.
     
  4. Women in Technology (WIT) is a Beirut-based organization that acts as a platform to empower professional women by encouraging them to use ICT to enhance their exchange of ideas and information.
     
  5. Trochet – which is a combination of the word “trash” and “crochet” is upcycling women out of poverty. The project gathers recycled plastic bags and sends them to low-income women to knit or crochet into creative designs and products like coasters, bean-bag chairs, or even new bags. The proceeds from the products support the women.


     
  6. Artistry Egypt, which was a semi-finalist at the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Business Plan Competition last year, provides artisan training to low-income communities. Artistry Egypt trains female youth to make handmade carpets and high quality eco-friendly textiles.
     
  7. Ruwwad is a community empowerment organization founded by a group of entrepreneurs to help disadvantaged communities overcome marginalization. Ruwwad’s women empowerment program operates in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestine, providing women with education, income generation and social justice.
     
  8. How Women Work in Qatar empowers women to grow and succeed while breaking down barriers and promoting understanding between cultures and genders through conferences that create a sense of community and belonging.
     
  9. Diva Events & Media aims to empower Bahraini women, by marketing their products, and positioning them as local and international leaders.
     
  10. Tomorrow’s Youth Organization - with support from the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and other leading organizations in Nablus and Lebanon - provides women with customized entrepreneurship programs focusing on skills and personal development. In cooperation with the PalTel Group Foundation, they also offer Women’s Incubation Services for Entrepreneurs (WISE).
     
  11. Sitat Byoot which means “Women of the Home” is an online portal that provides socially disadvantaged women in Jordan with the opportunity to sell handmade goods ranging from gold-accented abayas to wicker baskets. The social enterprise provides training in sales and online marketing to the women and offers them incentives as well.
     
  12. Wamda for Womenin addition to featuring women entrepreneurs on its portal, W4Women organizes a roadshow of two-hour roundtable discussions across several Arab cities, to debate the challenges that women entrepreneurs face, focusing on how women can lead the way in supporting each other and effecting change.

The Women Powering Work competition will accept entries up until November 6, 2013, 5pm EST. The initiative seeks social entrepreneurs who are enabling women to achieve full economic equality, strengthen their families and communities, and benefit equitably from economic growth. The entries will be evaluated based on innovation, social impact, and operational sustainability.

Three prizes, each totaling US $25,000 in unrestricted funding, will be awarded to the winning entries.

We look forward to meeting the winners. In the meantime, please add your favorite women's initiatives in the comments section below! 

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