The female boss of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has appealed to Gulf countries to do more to encourage a greater economic contribution from women in the region.
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, said in a speech in Kuwait that the Gulf "really lags behind" the rest of the world in participating in business.
"In the long race ahead, it makes no sense to simply eliminate half of the contestants even before the starting gun is sounded. Letting women participate more fully in economic life can yield enormous economic benefits," Lagarde said.
"This is one area where your region really lags behind. For the entire Middle East and North Africa region, the gap between male and female participation in the labour force over the past decade was almost triple the average gap of the emerging market and developing economies," she added.
She claimed that if this gap had simply been double instead of triple, the gains for the entire region, the Gulf countries included, would have been enormous —almost $1trn in output, amounting to annual gains of about 6 percent of GDP.
Lagarde added: "Given the stakes, the time has come to break down the obstacles and attitudes that hold women back — and in doing so, damage economies and degrade societies.
"We know how this can be done. By making sure that all girls have access to quality education. By removing restrictions on the economic role of women - their mobility, their participation in certain sectors, their property rights. By enshrining the principle of equal pay for equal work. By giving mothers and fathers real choices through appropriate parental leave programs and quality child care."
In her speech, Lagarde delivered an upbeat message on economic prospects for the Gulf region.
She said non-oil GDP growth in the Gulf region continues to be strong — above 5 percent.
Separately, Lagarde urged the Kuwaiti government to implement its national development plan and not leave it on the shelf.
“To the extent that the plan advocates diversification of the economy, education of the best possible quality for all and investment of public funding in infrastructure for the country, we applaud it. But it needs to be implemented,” she said.
“We are not advocating austerity. What we are saying is that the policy makers will be well-advised to spend public funding in areas that are good for its economy going forward. Which means investing in infrastructure, education, health and housing, rather than expanding the public service and letting public wages out of sensible control.”