Following the ‘Bridging the Gap’ survey in Saudi Arabia, Women without Borders (WwB) held its ‘This is me!’ Workshop in three Middle Eastern countries to provide a practical solution regarding the considerable gap between the number of highly educated women and comparatively low level of female engagement in public life. Workshop participants in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were trained in self-presentation skills.

When a number of Middle Eastern countries began to soften their grip on female employment restrictions, creativity and confidence became essential ingredients in preparing women and potential employers for their new roles. Raising awareness and building up application-related competencies became necessary approaches in creating points of entry for women who in many cases lacked the necessary confidence, awareness of opportunities, and basic skillset to access the job market.

The ‘This is Me!’ Workshop was a pioneering personal and professional training for young Saudi, Emirati, and Jordanian women to prepare them for future employment. Women without Borders (WwB), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and Prince Sultan University collaborated to spearhead this workshop for 82 senior-year university students in order to hone presentation and communication skills of women who showed promising leadership potential.

The Workshop originated from the findings of WwB’s qualitative and quantitative ‘Bridging the Gap!’ research survey. This follow-up programme offered a practical solution to the glaring discrepancy between the high number of educated women and low level of female engagement in the public sphere. As the survey had made clear, young female graduates are not necessarily lacking opportunity, a cosmopolitan outlook, or ambition. Female students are far less prepared for the job market than their male counterparts, over half of whom are not only opposed to extending female participation in public life beyond education; the majority also hold the view that women should not be afforded the opportunity to compete with men on equal footing.

In response to the two central challenges of employment preparedness and counter-participation attitudes facing female students, and based on the extensive survey data, WwB developed a training manual and designed the Workshop as a space for motivation, confidence-building, and interaction to improve their personal and professional positioning in the job market and beyond. The exercises encourage students to become more proactive and articulate, and to advance their critical thinking skills. To account for regional and context-specific differences, WwB worked closely with its respective partner in each country and adapted the Workshop accordingly. The Workshop was a call to action that served as a potential model for universities across the region to prepare women for a more inclusive life after university, and to encourage their more seamless integration into the job market.

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