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Mon 11 Nov 2013 01:48 PM

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IMF chief urges Gulf to empower women in business

Christine Lagarde says region 'really lags behind', needs to 'break down obstacles and barriers'

IMF chief urges Gulf to empower women in business
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF.

The female boss of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has appealed to Gulf countries to do more to encourage a greater economic contribution from women in the region.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, said in a speech in Kuwait that the Gulf "really lags behind" the rest of the world in participating in business.

"In the long race ahead, it makes no sense to simply eliminate half of the contestants even before the starting gun is sounded. Letting women participate more fully in economic life can yield enormous economic benefits," Lagarde said.

"This is one area where your region really lags behind. For the entire Middle East and North Africa region, the gap between male and female participation in the labour force over the past decade was almost triple the average gap of the emerging market and developing economies," she added.

She claimed that if this gap had simply been double instead of triple, the gains for the entire region, the Gulf countries included, would have been enormous —almost $1trn in output, amounting to annual gains of about 6 percent of GDP.

Lagarde added: "Given the stakes, the time has come to break down the obstacles and attitudes that hold women back — and in doing so, damage economies and degrade societies.

"We know how this can be done. By making sure that all girls have access to quality education. By removing restrictions on the economic role of women - their mobility, their participation in certain sectors, their property rights. By enshrining the principle of equal pay for equal work. By giving mothers and fathers real choices through appropriate parental leave programs and quality child care."

In her speech, Lagarde delivered an upbeat message on economic prospects for the Gulf region.

She said non-oil GDP growth in the Gulf region continues to be strong — above 5 percent.

Separately, Lagarde urged the Kuwaiti government to implement its national development plan and not leave it on the shelf.

“To the extent that the plan advocates diversification of the economy, education of the best possible quality for all and investment of public funding in infrastructure for the country, we applaud it. But it needs to be implemented,” she said.

“We are not advocating austerity. What we are saying is that the policy makers will be well-advised to spend public funding in areas that are good for its economy going forward. Which means investing in infrastructure, education, health and housing, rather than expanding the public service and letting public wages out of sensible control.”

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Paul 6 years ago

It’s not only the percentage of women participation in the MENA's local economies that really lags behind the rest of the world.
That is a consequence of many other lags.
A socio-cultural mind set, never brought up as fear or taboo, is the actual reason why MENA is not catching up with the rest of the world.

Mark X 6 years ago

Though there is some truth in Ms Christine Lagarde's statement, this is not applicable to the whole Gulf region. Several Gulf countries, UAE being prominent, and Oman to some extent, are where women can work and there are opportunities for them. Christine Lagarde and the other dignitaries who often make similar statements should address them to the particular countries where this right and many other rights are not available to them.Making general statements like this is being political polite to safeguard their trading relations - oil mainly!!!!!. Show some courage by being specific and direct.

Vicki Donlan 6 years ago

I have great respect for Christine Lagarde as she always calls them as she sees them. If only she could run for President of the U.S.

Mark X 6 years ago

Paul: The West (or the rest of the World) did not get where it is today overnight. There was a time in the West when women had almost no rights, and were not even allowed to vote apart from the many other no rights not only to women but non white humans, if I can them so. This is not that far, but quite recent - 60's in the USA when there was an Apartheid system practised in USA. I am sure in time the people of MIddle East and Arabic World will see this defect or error in their systems and allow women more rights. However, things can move faster if there was pressure from within from the women. Majority of women are or have the facility for education. Once educated, they need to press for their rights and a fair share of the cake.