MALAYSIA - Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has issued a clarion call to Muslim and Western nations to empower women and place them at the heart of the global growth story.
The Prime Minister said governments must confront discrimination against women, which he described as one of the most stubborn inequalities holding back prosperity and hindering development in many countries.
"By educating our girls and women, by increasing their participation in the workforce and by ensuring the highest opportunities remain open to all, we can strengthen our companies, our economies and our prospects for the future," said Najib in his keynote address at the opening of the 9th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) yesterday.
"It is time to put women at the heart of our global growth story," he said, drawing applause from the audience of 2,700 delegates at the Excel London International Convention Centre.
This is the first time the annual WIEF - a Malaysian initiative to showcase business and investment opportunities - is being held in a non-Muslim country, drawing attendance from 128 countries, including the Prime Minister of the host country David Cameron as well as seven other heads of state and government.
The Prime Minister noted the country's progress in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business 2013 Report released on Monday.
"Malaysia has moved up into sixth place, up from 12th last year from 23rd just three years ago," he said, drawing applause.
"Countries should be unafraid to learn from those who are leading the way - and that includes the Muslim world."
The Prime Minister paid tribute to several Muslim countries which showed leadership in empowering women, which he said honoured the founding principles of the religion.
Tanzania, he said, tops the global table for women's participation in the workforce and Indonesia is on par with the European Union.
Najib also paid tribute to Malaysian women, seven of whom lead Malaysian government departments not including Bank Negara, which is headed by Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz.
The Prime Minister admitted that there were Muslim countries where women were falling behind in terms of providing them the right to education.
"It is a right that is being defended so honourably by the inspirational Malala Yousafzai," said Najib, referring to the 16-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist who survived an assassination attempt by Taliban gunmen.
"We owe it to girls like Malala to deliver the best educational opportunities we can," he said.