Steeped in historical civilizations and renowned for its exotic landscapes, entrenched cultures, and welcoming, diverse communities, I am proud to call the ancient lands of the Middle East my home. However, when it comes to gender equality in some of the Middle Eastern and North African countries, regretfully, our region does not merit so highly. A study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that just under a quarter of women in the MENA region are in employment, one of the lowest rates in the world. Indeed, the WEF’s Global Gender Gap 2017 Report stated that women in MENA will also have to wait 99 years to be equal with men in terms of political representation.
This is why I am particularly excited to present a different reality, shaped by the determination and commitment of amazing women. Women who have learned how to make the best of “what is” and left their positive mark on their families and societies. The green building movement has become an incubator for women in leadership roles in the region; it is women who are demonstrating exceptional leadership in a region expected to be hit particularly hard by the negative impacts of climate change, due to our lack of natural water resources, political instability and many armed conflicts. With women leading six out of the nine Green Building Councils in the MENA region – Egypt, Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco and Palestine – I am proud to see so many women playing a pivotal role in construction, a traditionally male-dominated industry, working to nurture and activate their communities, and deliver real lasting change.
Therefore, in line with the theme of Press for Progress for International Women’s Day this year, I wish to celebrate the women building a green, sustainable future in the MENA region and share some of their stories.
Our first story comes from Morocco where, in January 2018, Wiam Samir was elected as the first female President of Morocco Green Building Council. Instrumental in securing a day dedicated exclusively to buildings and construction at the UN’s COP22 climate change conference in 2016, Wiam’s influence and leadership has contributed to the rise of green building on the country’s development agenda.
“It is a truly great feeling to be part of the movement leveraging and leading the green sphere,” says Wiam. “Being an advocate for a topic that matters on different scales from civil society to governmental entities helps us realise the importance of our cause and double our efforts to make change happen.”
Strict cultural rules in the MENA region mean that many women do not share the same rights as men to make decisions, including the freedom to pursue professions. Sandra Draskovic, General Manager of Kuwait Green Building Council shares how she has faced professional challenges in her country. “Luckily, my family and relatives have always been supportive of my role as a green leader,” she says. “Contrarily, it is the leaders of giant industry manufacturers who fear and try to oppose the rise of our green building movement.”
However, she continues to advocate for a green and sustainable built environment in Kuwait where she organized the country’s first Green Building Forum attended by over 100 people, planting the seed for green building dialogue and action.
Given that traditionally women in society play a strong role as nurturers, it is not altogether surprising that we have so many women leading the climate conversation in MENA. Maysoon Al-Khuraissat, founder of Adaa, Sustainable Development Consultants in Jordan reveals that despite the challenges that come with juggling taking care of her family while campaigning for a green built environment, it has its rewards. “Knowing that what I invest my time into will help my own children and all children in the world have a sustainable and more secure future makes it all worth it!” she says. As a LEED faculty member since 2017, Maysoon has trained 370 architects and professionals in green building practices.
I am thrilled to see women in the MENA region rising up to join the movement to press for progress. Not only are they challenging gender inequality in their countries, they are doing so while addressing the equally pressing issue of climate change through the green building movement. Hardworking and committed to the cause, they have the support of family, friends and green activists who believe in equal opportunity. With this dedication and passion, I feel positive about the future, and about all the good things these wonderful women will continue to bring about.
Mohammad Asfour is Regional Head of WorldGBC’s MENA Network. To find out more about the MENA Network or to become a Regional Partner, contact Mohammad Asfour.
To find out more about International Women’s Day, visit www.internationalwomensday.com