WE Empower UN SDG Challenge Finalist, Saana Azzam - Founder, MENA Women Speakers, United Arab Emirates
2020 WE Empower Finalist, Greater MENA
Equality and equal opportunities for all are fundamental aspects of forging a just and equitable society. Saana Azzam’s MENA Women Speakers is ushering in a new era of equal representation for female speakers not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but across the world. WE Empower intern, Sidney McKee, interviewed Azzam and details how MENA Women Speakers is leading to more equitable, and fair representation amongst female speakers at professional events and conferences.
Azzam’s MENA Women Speakers is recruiting 1000 female speakers across the Middle East and North Africa who specialize in a diverse range of professional backgrounds and capacities so that they may tell their stories, share their expertise, and contribute to fostering an equal tomorrow through more cohesive female participation. As Azzam highlighted, “The research says that about 70% of all speakers worldwide are men… We know that when one person breaks the glass ceiling, it opens up the doors for so many more women”. Azzam is aiming to create a more inclusive and balanced mix, which will lead to higher levels of economic empowerment and productivity through increased opportunity.
Ensuring fair participation and competitive compensation
In many regions of the world, women are not able to pursue the same opportunities as men. MENA Women Speakers is addressing SDG 5 Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa, a region where female economic and professional recognition has historically been a challenge. Through MENA Women Speakers, Azzam is not only ensuring that women are compensated for speaking at professional events, but they are paid fairly for their work as well. When discussing the importance of fair pay, Azzam explained “We negotiate a lot on the fees… we make sure that they are paid fairly and that there isn’t that pay gap.” By strengthening support for competitive compensation and empowering societal potential through female involvement, Azzam is supporting SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth.
Fostering global equality
As a female change-maker, Saana Azzam understands the obstacles that women face when looking to share their experiences in professional and academic conferences. MENA Women Speakers provides assistance for women so that they have the means and access to a support base in a male-dominated region where they are able to participate in sharing knowledge. Azzam explained that “We’re giving them the opportunity in the platform to share their story”. By creating a culture of fair representation, Azzam is furthering SDG 10 Reduced Inequality through her work with MENA Women Speakers.
With the fundamental progress that MENA Women Speakers is making toward ensuring gender equality in the representation of female speakers, society is able to learn more from the perspectives of female experiences globally. The sharing of knowledge is a cornerstone of the success of our modern world, and Sanna Azzam is leading the way for a just and equitable future. Even though there are difficulties and challenges in considering taking action to support gender empowerment, Azzam has words of advice for change-makers looking to make a difference. “Even though things feel scary and you might feel an element of fear, the situation requires your courage and requires that you are bold. We know that when you do something that has a positive impact and goes against your own fear, it is going to open doors for others. You are paving the way for others to follow. You may be the first, hopefully, you will not be the last.”