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Rise in Arab women contributing to IT society

More women than men are taking up information technology programmes in UAE universities

More women are becoming CIOs and IT project leaders in UAE government and banking sectors.
More women are becoming CIOs and IT project leaders in UAE government and banking sectors.

More Arab women are taking up information technology programmes in universities compared to their male peers, says Microsoft Gulf GM Charbel Fakhoury.

In 2006, Microsoft and the U.S. Department of State's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) launched the women in technology (WIT) initiative in the Arab region, working in partnership with the UAE Women's General Union. The idea was to use technology to empower women and enable them to contribute to the economic and social development of region.

Microsoft is proud to be part of the movement, with Fakhoury stating that today there are more women IT graduates than men based on his experience of working with universities in the Gulf.

"The males have more opportunities to get into management because of the need that exists as part of Emiratisation drive and we realise that now that it's the females that are playing a big role in IT business. The number of IT graduates are more females than males," Fakhoury tells ITP.net at Microsoft's Tech.Ed event taking place from March 1st to 3rd in Dubai.

He says that there are a number of reasons for this trend, including the fact that technology is now seen as an integral part of the overall business strategy.

"IT today is a very important job; it's very strategic and at the same time it's a very clean office environment job where a female can do their jobs as a professional. I've noticed a lot of CIOs and CTOs and IT project leaders are females in the government and banking sector which is an interesting shift....we definitely see rise in the female community in the IT sector," Fakhoury adds.

When WIT was first launched, there were community centres in Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Today 60 WIT centres are present in those countries with Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Yemen added to the list. It's said to have trained about 7,000 women so far and aims to equip at least 3,000 more with technology skills by the end of 2010.

Fakhoury adds that a number of women who did not have the chance to study in universities or schools are being reached out to through the WIT centres where they get a solid foundation in basic computer concepts and the essentials of hardware, software, operating systems and the internet. They then have a better chance at securing jobs, while some use the skills learnt to start their own business.

It's an initiative that Microsoft firmly believes has the potential to make a real difference, especially to the development and progress of the United Arab Emirates.

"In the UAE, if you say there are only 10% of nationals, and out of that 10% there's 50% men and 50% women. Out of that 50%, how many of them are in the working force? So imagine the economic and social impact if we increase the productivity of that 50% knowing that we only have that 10%.That's why we've been focusing on this for the last few years because we understand they can play a really big role on decision making, education, social development and also use it to be more independent and empowered."