To help increase women’s economic empowerment and participation in the Middle East and North Africa, HANDS is embarking on a new two-year regional initiative in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia aiming to activate and equip the private sector to lead and be a meaningful participant in advancing women’s economic rights in these countries and in the region, with the support and cooperation of civil society, government and policy makers. This program is made possible by a grant from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).

Studies show that gender equality and higher female participation in companies and economies increase profitability, efficiency, and long-term sustainability. An awareness that women are the largest untapped human resource is also growing. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region), some companies are already committed to supporting women’s equal participation. To build on this, HANDS has initiated a pilot project to give structure to multi-sector dialogue and to provide space for highlighting positive outcomes and strategies of the private sector’s role in improving women’s economic equality, both in implementing changes and in receiving and giving feedback to other stakeholders, such as NGOs representing women’s rights and legislators.

Three outcomes are expected: 1) Increased awareness of the private sector in select countries in MENA region about the importance and benefits of securing economic inclusion and equality of women in the sector and overall economy; 2) Increased will and ability of private sector companies at country level to implement practical actions to improve economic participation of women and inform stakeholders about lessons learned and helpful strategies and measures to be taken; 3) Increased information sharing, support and constructive dialogue activated regionally and locally between private sector, civil society, and government to support scaling up efforts and new initiatives for further improving women’s economic rights in the region.

Main activities will include: 1) Regional training and networking with local, regional and international gender-equality advocates and experts; 2) Country level training, networking, and practical activities’ implementation/reporting; 3) Information sharing and constructive dialogue to inform future strategies and activities.

HANDS and our implementing partners in the MENA region believe that if we conduct regional and country-level activities that raise awareness of the importance of gender equality for the success of companies and economies, highlight and share successful strategies already implemented, and expand networks in which the private sector, civil society, and government are mutually supportive, we can support long term change and inform similar efforts to improve economic rights and higher participation of women in MENA region economies.