By Tala Fakhro, Chief Project Officer – Market & Strategy Intelligence and Policy Advocacy at Bahrain EDB
Last month, the Arab world celebrated as the Hope Probe – the first Arab mission to Mars – completed the most critical and challenging phase of its mission: entering the orbit of the red planet. But beyond the scientific achievement, there was another very real success story – 80 percent of the scientific team working on the mission were women. This may seem surprising, but in the Arab region, and in Bahrain specifically, women have been leading from the front for decades.
The success of the Mars mission comes as a growing body of research indicates a strong correlation between gender diversity and innovation – and subsequently success. Recent examples include the “Gender 3000” report, published at the end of 2019 by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, which found a link between firms with more female leaders and stronger share price performance over time.
Another study released around the same time by the Kauffman Fellows Research Centre found that companies with female founders raised 21 percent more in venture capital funding than companies with all-male teams.
In other words, gender diversity is critical to the success of the GCC’s economic diversification efforts, and by extension its survival. Before the Hope Probe, the Kingdom of Bahrain was already demonstrating this to be true.
Bahrain has been a regional trailblazer when it comes to gender diversity. In 2001, Bahrain became the first GCC country to appoint a woman at a ministerial rank, naming Lulwa Al Awadi as Secretary General of the Supreme Council for Women (SCW). This was followed by the appointment of Mona Jasem Al Kawari, the GCC’s first female judge, in 2006. By 2018, Bahrain’s parliament was led by a woman – Fawzia Zainal.
As for business ownership, 42 percent of all commercial registrations in the kingdom are female-owned.
Moreover, many of the kingdom’s most important institutions tasked with driving national growth are led by women. This includes the Central Bank of Bahrain’s pioneering FinTech and Innovation Unit and Bahrain’s innovative Fund of Funds, driving VC growth throughout the region.
The SCW, through initiatives like the Gender Balance Report, has been instrumental in driving Bahrain’s increasingly progressive public policy regarding women. It also continuously measures the effectiveness of existing policies to ensure the equal participation of Bahraini women in driving national economic growth.
The organisation is a key factor in why Bahrain has extended its “gender balance” strategy to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus, while ensuring that women do not become economic victims of the pandemic. For now, addressing both the urgent and more long-term needs of women during these turbulent times is a national priority.
As a result of Bahrain’s trailblazing approach to gender diversity, the kingdom has proven to be a regional leader in innovation too. It was the first GCC member to begin diversification efforts, the first to liberalise its telecoms market, the first to establish a dedicated FinTech hub and the first to launch an onshore FinTech regulatory sandbox. Its ability to flexibly yet comprehensively regulate even the most cutting-edge technologies has earned the kingdom a reputation as the Gulf’s de facto test-bed for emerging tech.
In one of the world’s more socially conservative regions, we are starting to see significant progress, but we cannot slow down now. Our region will need to keep up with the fourth industrial revolution. That is why we need to keep maintaining our current momentum regarding gender diversity. Then, even Mars is not the limit to what we can achieve.