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UfM-UAB International Women’s Day event in Cairo Breaks Down Gendered Barriers to Finance & Networking Opportunities

 The Union for the Mediterranean and the Union of Arab Banks marked International Women’s Day by co-hosting Closing gender gaps in the MENA financial sector: towards women-led business development, a 2-day conference in the Egyptian capital aimed at reducing the high levels of entrepreneurial inequality between men and women. The first joint event since the signing of a cooperation agreement a month prior, the institutions worked hand in hand to bring together 100 public and private sector participants, highlighting initiatives and best practices that encourage female entrepreneurship and therefore promote more equitable regional growth.

Senior bankers, entrepreneurs, and other attendees took part in six panel discussions and roundtable talks on gender disparities in access to finance for business creation and development, the role of financial institutions and banks in promoting gender equality, the MENA female angel investment scene as well as on the role of fintech in bridging the gender gap, innovative practices to boost women's financial inclusion, and accelerating the role of women in international trade.

The OECD’s Middle East and Africa Division took advantage of the event to present a €5m programme for the financial and digital inclusion of MENA women entrepreneurs, helping them overcome unfair lending practices, a lack of collateral, and insufficient financial knowledge. Meanwhile, the UfM, UAB and DG- NEAR announced the new Gender Lens in Fintech Award to showcase and support gender-sensitive initiatives in the fintech sector, with a first-ever ceremony set for the end of this year.

Mona Fattouh from Conyworld (Egypt) scooped the $1000 first-place award for innovative startups as part of a pitching contest organised by the MENA Women Business Club, an initiative launched by the UfM and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in 2021 that facilitates members’ access to an extensive ecosystem of entrepreneurs, lawyers, consultants, executives, and investors. Guadaluna Chaer from LUXEED Robotics (Lebanon) came in second, winning $750, while third-place winner Fella Bouti from Ecotashira (Algeria) earned $500. All three women will have the chance to benefit from Plug and Play incubation and acceleration programmes in either Egypt or Morocco. The MENA Women Business Club also chaired a matchmaking session for women-led startups and investors on the second day, bringing the conference to a close.

“Our gathering in Cairo is not a celebration, but rather a call to action. The gender gaps in the MENA financial sector are stark as less than 5% of businesses are women-led, far below the global average of 23% to 26%, while the losses incurred due to the lack of female economic participation amount to $575 billion annually. These facts alone demonstrate the urgent need to further include women in the labour market, an issue that is at the heart of the UfM’s mission,” Union for the Mediterranean Secretary General Nasser Kamel said.

“In collaboration with UfM, we proudly lead the organisation of this event, showcasing our joint commitment to narrowing the gender gap in the MENA financial sector. Our shared goal is to foster an empowering environment for women, propelling them towards successful business development. I am genuinely excited about the potential impact of this event, anticipating positive transformations in our industry and beyond,” said Union of Arab Banks Secretary General Fattouh Wissam. “I eagerly anticipate the collaborative strides we will take towards a future that champions equality and empowerment for women in the financial sector.”

Promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality is one of the UfM’s main priorities, in line with the 2022 UfM Ministerial Declaration in Madrid on Strengthening the Role of Women in Society. Beyond initiatives such as the MENA Women Business Club, the UfM is also behind the launch of the first-ever Intergovernmental Monitoring Mechanism on Gender Equality. The next biennial High-Level UfM Conference on Women for regional stakeholders will take place in Nicosia, Cyprus this May.

UfM, UAB and DG-NEAR Gender Lens in Fintech Award: BANKS Award / WOMEN ASSOCIATION Award 
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About the UfM
The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) is the only Euro-Mediterranean inter-governmental organisation that brings together the countries of the European Union and 16 countries from the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean. The UfM provides Member States with a forum to strengthen regional cooperation, dialogue and to implement projects and initiatives that have a tangible impact on citizens to meet the region's three strategic objectives: stability, human development, and integration.

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