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We Need An Entrepreneurial Spirit To Tackle Women's Issues In The Middle East "We need smart, energetic, young business leaders who are willing to pound the pavement, raise a million dollars in capital, talk to the media, galvanize their startup colleagues, build innovative technologies, and once and for all, tackle the issues!"

By Mary-Justine Todd

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

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Nayer Ashraf was a promising 21-year-old young woman who certainly had her own hopes and dreams, fears, and woes, and likely faults and flaws as well, just like the rest of us. In Cairo in June, she was murdered by a man for refusing his marriage proposal. And while we all agree that she didn't deserve to die, this should matter to entrepreneurs even more, because regardless of your personal circumstances, violence against women affects everyone.

Let's look at the economy. According to the United Nations, one in seven women will face gender violence in the Middle East, in this year alone. Currently, there are 227 million women living in the MENA region. That means that 32 million women in this region will be abused annually. Studies indicate that 50% of abuse survivors will develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and 50% of PTSD sufferers will become unemployed.

So, as a direct result of abuse, eight million women will lose their jobs or become financially dependent in the Middle East- this year alone.

How does this affect you? Well, if eight million people suddenly lost their jobs this year due to some other factor, like say, a global pandemic, the public and private sector alike would be scrambling to pick up the pieces. Because unemployment is a drain on the economy, and it creates a hostile environment for entrepreneurs.

So, now what? What can we, as entrepreneurs, do to fix this? We must approach these sensitive issues, well, with sensitivity. But do not confuse it with trepidation. We must be bold, but kind. We must insist, but not shame. We must push forward, but also be patient. And we must take a new approach to charity.

Traditionally, women's issues are addressed by ladies-who-lunch type of groups. Well-meaning groups of women who want to help. They raise money in a raffle. They hold lovely lunches. They talk to their other ladies-who-lunch friends, and cajole them into donating money. And they give some relatively small amount to some other lovely-lady-do-gooding organizations.

Fine. It works. A little bit. But not really. What we need is an entrepreneurial, startup mentality to really fix these tough challenges. We need smart, energetic, young business leaders who are willing to pound the pavement, raise a million dollars in capital, talk to the media, galvanize their startup colleagues, build innovative technologies, and once and for all, tackle the issues!

But that is not happening? Why not? Well, because, frankly, there is no money in it. Who wants to work that hard, for that long, to make US$30,000 a year? Very few people.

So, that is where entrepreneurs and big businesses can come together to really make an impact. We need entrepreneurs to dedicate their efforts to these issues, but that alone is not enough, because they need to be able to count on corporate support. The corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement in the Middle East is often stuck in old ways of doing charity. They're giving small amounts of cash to their wives' ladies-who-lunch groups, perhaps conducting the ever-so-popular beach cleanup, or the obligatory Ramadan food drive.

In 2022, the combined gross domestic product of the GCC countries alone is in the neighborhood of $1.7 trillion. If only 0.01% of this (and let's remember the eight million women this year who will lose their jobs due to violence or abuse) went to these "women's issues," that would equate to $170 million.

The point is that there is a lot of money to go around, and if it was only getting into the hands of the socially conscious entrepreneurs who are actually capable of tackling these issues in a modern, sophisticated, and entrepreneurial way, there could be a viable and inspirational path forward. Therefore I call on the corporate CEOs and the CSR managers to challenge their ways of doing charity.

I call on the entrepreneurs to take the plunge.

And I call on society to recognize that women's issues are human issues. And if we can tackle even just one of them, like violence against women, we will be taking a big step forward for not only the economy, but for humanity as well.

Why not let the Middle East pave the way on this issue? Let's be bold and kind, insistent and persistent, progressive and respectful.

Let's show the rest of the world how to do it, and together, we might just change the world.

Related: Intersectional Impact: Dana Co-Founder And CEO Zada Haj Is Tackling The MENA's Needs For Sustainability And Gender Inclusion With Her Enterprise

Mary-Justine Todd

Founder and Executive Director, Shamsaha

Mary-Justine Todd holds an MA in international studies, an MPH in international public health, and is completing her PhD in international law. She is the founder and executive director of Shamsaha, the Middle East’s first and only full scale women’s crisis response program 
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