Mohammad Naciri is the Regional Director of UN Women for Asia and the Pacific. Prior to joining UN Women, Mohammad was the Deputy Country Director of UNDP in Yemen, where he supported the country in the formulation of its Gender Strategy and the Gender Responsive Budgeting process. He has worked in Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Cambodia, dealing with issues from human trafficking to ethnic cleansing.
Here are the excerpts of the interview with Mohammad.
According to McKinsey, advancing women's equality in the countries of Asia Pacific could add $4.5 trillion to their collective annual GDP in 2025. Do you see agreement among stakeholders to bank on the power of parity?
The awareness is growing and many constituencies are recognizing more and more the opportunity cost of women’s economic engagement. Both politicians and corporates are realizing that it is not only the right thing to do but it is also the smart thing to do. UN WOMEN’s engagement with the corporate sector works on promoting the Women Empowerment Principals and provide substantiated evidence not only from the McKinsey simulation but from various organizations like World Bank, FAO, Booz & Co, Forbes amongst others. Engaging more women economically means higher chances for profit and success. At the same time, with governments, we equally substantiate that it is the single biggest leap in economic prosperity in any context.
One of UN Women's stated goals is to increase female participation in leadership positions. In Asia Pacific, there is only one woman in leadership positions for every four men. How can we improve this and what's your message to women leaders?
A combination of immediate, medium and long term actions is required. On the immediate term, affirmative action and temporary measures should be taken by introducing quotas for women in the political and economic spheres. On the medium term, we have to work on making sure that the capacity and skill sets of women are in sync to market needs. On the longer term, we have to work on addressing social norm change and communicate for behavioral change. This has to be through formal education, media, folkloric and cultural narratives and finally religious discourses.
Skill development is one of the issues that bar women from getting a share in today's workplace including in Asia Pacific? Many economies in the region are witnessing skills shortages? How can women be empowered with new-age skills?
There is a gap between formal education and market needs. Hence, the importance for women to seek, and for us (UN, CSOs, corporates, training institutions) to provide opportunities to re-skill/upskill the capacity kits to make them suited for the job and entrepreneurial markets.
Skills that women bring to the table once called 'soft skills', are now recognized as profitable and important. But why is the ground reality not changing much and why are CEOs and boards not taking cognizance of this?
It is only a matter of time until they are forced to recognize it. Corporates that won’t integrate the ‘soft skills’ or what I call skills that rely on emotional intelligence will soon be obsolete and out of the market.
What are the biggest challenges regarding women's empowerment in the APAC region and how are they different from other regions?
It is the region that has the highest number of young people, the highest number of growing economies and the region that leads the digital and IT revolution. Engaging women economically remains to be the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity.
World Economic Forums 2018's report suggests that the rise of new technologies across a range of industries may, in fact, play a role in exacerbating persistent gender gaps. Do you think technologies such as AI will make the gender gap in the workplace harder to close?
The time is not to act. Women have to have equal access to new technologies not only for their sake, but for the sake of a prosperous world. It is our collective duty to make sure this happens.
Are you taking any skill development program for women in Asia Pacific region?
Of course, we have few of them almost in every country in which we operate. The skill development is a part and parcel of our work with and for women in the region.
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