Empowering Arab women scientists for leadership roles

The AWLA program is set to shake up the role of women in science in the Middle East and North Africa. Female scientists make up just 17 percent of the total across the MENA region — the lowest number in the world. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 August 2019
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Empowering Arab women scientists for leadership roles

  • AWLA fellowships are designed to develop a cadre of scientists for leadership roles in agriculture
  • A total of 22 scientists from across the MENA region have just become the first AWLA fellows

DUBAI: Imagine a program that aims to develop a pool of Arab women researchers who can make a positive impact in their workplaces, communities and countries. Next, imagine a program that seeks to utilize the talents of these researchers to achieve agricultural prosperity and also addresses the career challenges they face.

Now imagine a single program that combines those two objectives plus advances the UN’s goal of achieving “a more sustainable future for all.” Established recently by the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), Dubai, the program is called Arab Women Leaders in Agriculture (AWLA).

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, AWLA seeks to develop a cadre of Arab women researchers equipped with the knowledge and leadership skills to advance the goal of agricultural sustainability and food security in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Far away from the glare of the media, a cohort of 22 women scientists from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia recently became the first AWLA fellows. As members of the region’s first networking platform for female researchers working in various agricultural and food security-related disciplines, they will address pressing regional challenges.

“We believe women in management will understand the challenges better,” Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA’s director general, told Arab News. “The fact that very highly educated women get stuck in lower positions doesn’t give a country the full advantage of female education.

“Once you have a woman at the helm of an organization, you have what I call ‘soft leadership’. It’s about engagement.”

Elouafi said the idea of AWLA began two years ago, designed based on data from the Arab world.

The numbers showed that female representation was strong regionally at university level — around 50 percent — but made up less than two percent at the management level in the workplace. On average, just 17 percent of scientists across the region are women, the lowest rate in the world.

“Agriculture employs a large number of women, mainly at factory, food-processing and farming levels,” Elouafi said.

“Yet we see very few women in the upper management of scientific organizations, specifically in agriculture. This means there is something wrong.”

She said the name AWLA — which means “I am worthy” in Arabic — was chosen because “we wanted an Arabic word that meant that every Arab woman should be invested in to provide her with the opportunity to advance her career.”




The 22 Arab women scientists from across the Middle East and North Africa selected for the first fellowships under the AWLA program. (Supplied photo)

The first phase of AWLA commenced with an eight-day workshop on June 30 in Tunis, involving mentoring, orientation classes and positive leadership sessions. The 10-month program will be conducted in Tunisia and the UAE, and will include three face-to-face learning modules and 12 research and development online courses.

A critical element of the program is team-based academic “capstone projects,” which will give the participants an opportunity to apply the skills, tools and knowledge they will have gained during the 10-month fellowship. To encourage diversity and inclusion, the teams comprise fellows from different countries and backgrounds. The idea is to encourage interaction between the team members.

At the end of the program, the fellows will have to present their projects and hold discussions with potential funders.

“Through this first workshop, I have started to find myself,” said Dr. Hasna Ellouzi, an assistant researcher at the Biotechnology Center of Borj Cedria in Hammam-Lif, Tunisia.

“Now I believe that every step, every second of my journey depends on me. I now see my goals. They are in my hands and I am sure that through AWLA, I will be able to achieve them.”

We believe every woman given an opportunity  to go through the mentorship program can advance her career.”

To meet the expectations of Ellouzi and other fellows, AWLA will facilitate their access to leadership roles; promote research excellence and impact; encourage gender-responsive working cultures and enabling environments; and provide a platform for highlighting their intellect, capability and contribution.

Elouafi, the ICBA head, has few illusions about where the problems lie. “We have still a male-dominated leadership in this region, not just in agriculture and science,” she said. “And the reasons behind this phenomenon are both cultural and biological. Many women want to have a family.”

At the same time, according to Elouafi, women have an edge over men in the way they lead. “It’s not only about rules and responsibilities, hours and deliverables, or being tough,” she said. “It is much more about engagement, fulfilling yourself and delivering.

“I don’t see it much with male leaders because it takes a lot of emotional intelligence, an area where women have a natural advantage.”

The difference AWLA could make at an individual level is obvious to Dr. Mounira Azouz, a fellow from Algeria who works as a food scientist at Algeria’s National Institute of Agricultural Research. “The fellowship is a huge opportunity for me,” she said, “to improve my skills and learn new tools to enhance my capability for leadership roles in the food and agriculture sector.”

On a broader scale, AWLA is aligned with four of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — on gender equality (SDG 5), climate action (SDG 13), life on land (SDG 15), and partnerships for the goals (SDG 17).

As AWLA’s website puts it, the program’s “long-term goal goes beyond capacity development and includes improved food security and nutrition, a better research and development landscape, and economic and social benefits of a narrowed gender gap in the region.”

According to Dr. Mouldi El-Felah, a professor of agronomy and genetics from Tunisia, “The program is very important and very innovative. What I found during the workshop is that the approach is very clear and helpful for women fellows who will take on leadership roles in agriculture in the future.

“In this way, AWLA works to address an important issue, namely the gender gap in the region.”

Ultimately, AWLA is about giving female Arab scientists the equal opportunity they deserve, Elouafi said.

“We believe that every woman who is given an opportunity to go through the mentorship and leadership program, can eventually acquire the skills necessary for advancing her career.

“Most of these women didn’t get the opportunity to develop their leadership abilities. So we are hoping that once they get the opportunity, they will see how enjoyable the job and experience could be. This will make them interested in managerial positions.”


Anger in Lebanon over botched Israeli drone strike on Beirut

Updated 59 min 23 sec ago
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Anger in Lebanon over botched Israeli drone strike on Beirut

  • Prime Minister Hariri says Israel drone crash was violation against Lebanon
  • Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the incident was 'very dangerous'

BEIRUT:  Anger erupted in Lebanon on Sunday after two Israeli drones crashed in south Beirut in a botched raid that was the most serious military escalation since 2006.

The first device, thought to be a surveillance drone, fell to ground between residential buildings in the Mouawad area after children threw stones at it. Israel is thought to have launched a second armed drone to destroy the first one, but it exploded near the Hezbollah media center in the southern Dahiyeh suburbs.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has described the crash of two Israeli reconnaissance drones over Beirut as a violation and “aggression” against Lebanese sovereignty.

“The new aggression ... constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation toward further tension,” he said. 

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday the incident was "very, very, very dangerous." He vowed to confront and shoot down Israeli drones in Lebanese skies from now on.
 

Damage is seen inside the media office of the Lebanese Hezbollah group in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP)

Earlier on Sunday the Lebanese army confirmed that the drones were Israeli, while the Shiite group said one of the aircraft damaged its media centre.
“Two drones belonging to the Israeli enemy violated Lebanese airspace (at dawn)... over the southern suburbs of Beirut. The first fell while the second exploded in the air causing material damage,” an army statement said.
The early morning incident came hours after Israel launched air strikes in neighboring Syria.

The Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, telephoned Hariri and stressed the country’s rejection and condemnation of the repeated Israeli violations against Lebanese sovereignty.

FAST FACTS

  • The first drone fell to ground between residential building in the Mouawad area.
  • The second device exploded near Hezbollah media center in the Dahiyeh suburbs.
  • Lebanon will file a complaint with the Security Council to condemn the attack.

The Arab League said in a statement that “Aboul Gheit affirmed the Arab League’s full solidarity with Lebanon in this delicate situation and its readiness to play its role in maintaining security, stability and civil peace in Lebanon.”
The statement added that the organization strongly condemns the repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty, especially in its airspace, as a flagrant violation of Security Council resolution 1701.
The statement stressed that the Arab League hopes to all concerned parties would not escalate and restrain in order to prevent threatening the security and stability of Lebanon and the region.

Lebanese security stand at the site where an Israeli drone was said to have crashed in a stronghold of the Lebanese Hezbollah group, in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

Lebanon has made frequent complaints to the UN about Israeli planes regularly violating its airspace.
In an apparent admission that the drone attack on Lebanon was an error, Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, said neither Iran nor Israel were interested in all-out war. “We’re not there yet,” he said. “But sometimes, someone makes a mistake.”
The Lebanese Army said on Sunday it had cordoned off the drone crash site and military police were investigating the incident under the supervision of the judiciary.
A military source told Arab News: “The Lebanese army did not receive the remnants of the two drones immediately, but is in the process of receiving them from Hezbollah.
“The military investigation will focus on the purpose of the flight of the drones, and their route. It is clear that something went wrong during their flight.”
Hariri received a telephone call from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after the incidents. The prime minister’s office said: “Pompeo stressed the need to avoid any escalation and to work with all parties to prevent any form of deterioration.”
Hezbollah spokesman, Mohamed Afif, said one of the two drones was rigged with explosives.
He said a second drone which appeared to have been sent by Israel to search for the first drone less than 45 minutes later exploded in the air and crashed nearby — an explosion heard by residents of the area.

Afif told The Associated Press Sunday: “We did not shoot down or explode any of the drones.”

Hassan Nasrallah will respond in a televised speach later Sunday. (File/AFP)

The drones struck overnight in Beirut where residents reported one large explosion that shook the area, triggering a fire.

Initially they said the nature of the blast in the Moawwad neighborhood was not immediately clear, but said it might have been caused by an Israeli drone that went down in the area amid Israeli air activity in neighboring Syria.
The late-night airstrike, which triggered Syrian anti-aircraft fire, appeared to be one of the most intense attacks by Israeli forces in several years of hits on Iranian targets in Syria.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Al Quds force, working with allied Shiite militias, had been planning to send a number of explosives-laden attack drones into Israel.
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attack by Israeli warplanes a “major operational effort.”
Syrian state TV said the country’s air defenses had responded to “hostile” targets over Damascus and shot down incoming missiles before they reached their targets.
In recent days, US officials have said that Israeli strikes have also hit Iranian targets in Iraq.