Op-ed from EFE's SVP, Jasmine Nahhas di Florio: The Power of Female Leadership And Entrepreneurship In Times Of Crisis

Amid the current unprecedented worldwide coronavirus pandemic, female global leaders continue to champion the issues affecting the most at-risk communities with swift, firm, and effective responses. With reports highlighting how women are just as effective as men in leadership roles, their success may seem unsurprising to many. Yet in all fields across the globe, women are struggling to find employment—an essential first step for the creation of the next generation of women leaders.

As we all deal with the effects of this unprecedented crisis, especially on the job market, we must also remember those who will disproportionately feel the impact of the outbreak. Despite the layered hardships they have been facing after being uprooted from their own soil, refugee women across MENA have proven themselves to be extremely resilient. Young refugee women have become significant contributors to their family income and local economies.

Hiba, a young refugee who fled Syria with a university degree in information technology (IT) architecture, recalls the years she spent searching for employment in Jordan when she had “no job and no money.” The economic hardship was compounded by the toll her job search took on her self-esteem. Yet, Hiba remained optimistic.

A young person who is also a refugee and a female, faces many more barriers than a general jobseeker in the MENA region, where youth unemployment is already the highest in the world at 23%. For example, only 6-8% of refugee women are formally employed in Lebanon, Germany, and Turkey.

According to UNHCR, there are nearly 5.6 million registered Syrian refugees, with 64.4% in Turkey, 16.5% in Lebanon, and 11.8% in Jordan. Host countries have taken great strides to provide work permits and economic opportunities to refugees—balancing this against the need to provide jobs for local youth.

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Jordan is providing refugees with vaccinations, family planning and secondary healthcare. Mohammad Rasoul Tarawneh, secretary-general of Jordan’s High Health Council and member of the expert committee advising on COVID-19 crisis says, “The welfare of Jordan’s Syrian refugees is a central concern. The important thing to note is that we plan for Jordanians and non-Jordanians. We’re all part of the same system.”

In 2014, in the seven months that Hiba was searching for a job, she relied on training programs to help herself earn an income. She learnt wax and soap-making through online research. She also got engaged in an entrepreneurship program, created a comprehensive business plan to sell her products, and raised money from her family and friends to launch the artisanal soap and wax studio. Now, she’s running a profitable business and repaying her investors.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), refugees with entrepreneurial acumen and skills, such as Hiba, have largely contributed to the fact that 26% of new businesses registered in Turkey in 2014 were by Syrian.

If given the chance, refugee women can bring tremendous benefits to employers and local economies—an International Rescue Committee (IRC) survey on refugee women conducted with the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security found that they can contribute up to $1.4 trillion to the annual global GDP.

Post-COVID-19, countries will be looking for ways to stimulate the global economy and boosting entrepreneurship will one of the key ways to do that. If governments invest in the entrepreneurial spirit of female refugees, the results will prove rewarding in alleviating the economic burden, while also setting a new standard for refugee employment. If we begin to empower refugee women to become business leaders and entrepreneurs, we will see the same success replicated in other sectors too.

For Hiba, entrepreneurship is how she rose up in a time of severe crisis. Hiba, now able to support her family, educate her children, and feel welcomed by her community, says: “Now, I work with both Syrian and Jordanian women at my work, and we are one.” Her family is thrilled by her success, and she glows with enthusiasm in sharing that she contributes to the household almost as much as her brother. It’s a rare accomplishment in Jordan—only 4% of work permits for Syrian refugees are awarded to women—but one that sparks hope.

Millions of refugee women like Hiba can build a future with dignity and hope by financially lifting-up their families, contributing to their local economies, and, in turn, feeling empowered by their own entrepreneurship success. As Hiba says, “Whatever hits Syrian women, whether it’s weakness or defeat, we always rise back."

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Click here to find the article on Forbes Middle East.

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