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About the Middle East Women's Initiative

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Women’s Initiative (MEWI) builds on the work of the Middle East Program and Haleh Esfandiari’s extensive history in promoting the empowerment of women in the region. Through an open and inclusive dialogue with women leaders from the Middle East and continuous research, MEWI aims to deepen understanding of both the challenges and opportunities in gender development and prescribe policy recommendations for governments and civil society to achieve gender parity across the region.

Women constitute half of the population of the Middle East, however, research shows the region continues to face challenges in closing the gender gap, particularly in both workforce and political participation. The Gender Gap Index (2018) ranked the MENA region Women's labor force participation in the MENA region is one of the lowest globally at 21 percent. Also, akin to global trends, there is a noticeable women leadership deficit across the region, particularly in the public sector.

While many countries (such as, Iraq, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait) have appointed female cabinet ministers or elected female members of parliament as early as the 1980s, no country has ever appointed or elected a female head of state or head of government. There is, however, hope for positive change and progress. The United Arab Emirates, for example, made history in November 2018 in electing Dr. Amal Al Qubaisi as the first female parliamentary speaker in the Middle East. A month later, Bahrain’s parliament followed suit in electing Fouzia Zainal as their first female speaker. Both Speakers Qubaisi and Zainal offer a beacon of light for the younger generations to press on in their work to achieve gender parity, particularly in the political sphere where women’s voices have been historically absent.