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Women in Workforce Key to Arab Youth Employment

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Educational Reform and Women in Workforce Key to Arab Youth Employment

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May 22 2015

  • Young people should be educated in critical thinking skills
  • Inclusion of women in the workforce can reduce unemployment levels
  • Reduction of government red tape would help young people establish businesses
  • For more information about the meeting: http://wef.ch/mena15

Dead Sea, Jordan, 22 May 2015 – To reduce unemployment among Arab youth, schools and universities should teach critical thinking, women should be encouraged to join the workforce, and governments should ease regulations for start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Speaking of young people, who make up two-thirds of the Arab population, Fadi Ghandour, Founder and Vice Chairman, Aramex International, said: “Youth is the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity in the region.” He emphasized that the main function of the educational system in the Arab world is “still to produce people who work in the public sector”. In some Arab countries, the public sector employs 50-80% of the workforce, he noted.

“In our region, we are so caught up with getting the degree but are not teaching youth how to think,” said Omar K. Alghanim, Chief Executive Officer, Alghanim Industries. He added: “Across the Gulf, there is no teacher proficiency. We have a lot of desks, a lot of school buildings and a lot of teachers, but we don’t have a lot of quality.”

For Bodour Al Qasimi, Chairperson, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), the need to overhaul the educational system is imperative and the collective responsibility of parents, governments, the private sector and civil society. “We need to first invest in people then in infrastructure,” Al Qasimi said.

Another challenge that Arab youth face is the red tape imposed by their governments that is off-putting. “Sadly, in our region, it’s not the lack of capital that is a problem for young entrepreneurs, but excessive government regulations,” said Alghanim. Moreover, the private sector has a role to play. “We need to create laws that make it easier for banks to fund SMEs.”

Compounding the problem is that young women are not joining the workforce. At 44%, female youth unemployment is almost double that of their male counterparts in the region, although more than half of university graduates are women. “We need to change perceived gender roles in our society,” said Al Qasimi. “We need to have more legislation that supports women, such as maternity leave and shared parental responsibility.”

If young people are not given options, there is the danger of them turning to radicalization, said Mahmoud Jibril, Prime Minister of Libya (2011) and Leader of the National Forces Alliance of Libya. “The question is do we want our kids to be part of the productive force, or do we want them to be part of Daesh (ISIS),” he said.

The role of education was highlighted by H.R.H. de Borbon Parma, Head and Representative for Partnerships in Switzerland, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). “During conflict, education is seen as one of the most important elements that we have to continue providing, because it gives hope to children and their families,” she said.

The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa is taking place at the Dead Sea in Jordan on 21-23 May. With the full support and presence of Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah, this year’s event marks the Forum’s ninth meeting in Jordan and the 16th meeting in the region. More than 1000 business and political leaders and representatives of civil society, international organizations, youth and the media from over 50 countries will participate under the theme, Creating a Regional Framework for Prosperity and Peace through Public-Private Cooperation.

The Co-Chairs of the meeting are: Omar K. Alghanim, Chief Executive Officer, Alghanim Industries, Kuwait; Gordon Brown, Chair, World Economic Forum Global Strategic Infrastructure Initiative; UN Special Envoy for Global Education; Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2007-2010); Suma Chakrabarti, President, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), London; Bodour Al Qasimi, Chairperson, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), United Arab Emirates; and John Rice, Vice-Chairman, GE, Hong Kong SA

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