Egypt's Next Challenge: Working with Women to Rebuild the Economy, and a Nation

One month after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, I still can't stop thinking about watching the people of Egypt rise up to demand their freedom. I was especially moved to read the stories of women who stood up to armed thugs in Tahrir Square, throwing off traditional Egyptian gender roles and fighting to be heard. These courageous women stood and chanted and protested side by side with their fathers, brothers, husbands and friends -- risking everything for a better future for their sons and their daughters.

As Egypt works through the next phase of its transition to democracy, I believe the country's success will be determined largely by whether these brave women are given a seat at the table and a key role in shaping all aspects of the country's future.

Everyone knows that one of the first and biggest tasks the new Egyptian government will face is to transition the country's economy into the 21st century. But one of the issues that no one is talking about is the role that Egyptian women will need to play in this changeover. Studies have repeatedly shown that countries cannot compete in today's world without providing educational and economic opportunities for women. A 2008 analysis from Goldman Sachs showed that closing the gender gap in employment in developing countries such as Egypt could push per capita incomes 14 percent higher between now and 2020 than current projections indicate.

In my role as CEO of Tupperware, a company with more than two million female consultants and a business model that has been based on empowering women since its inception, I've been privileged to see firsthand what can happen to individuals, families and entire communities when women are given real earnings opportunities. For Egypt, a nation full of hope and promise, but also one with enormous challenges to overcome, changing the mindset to embrace the incredible influence, perspective and purpose that enlightened, entrepreneurial women can bring to the table is critical.

One country that has done this successfully is Indonesia, which many experts point to as a model for what Egypt might become. Since Tupperware entered the market there, in 1992, we've had more than 100,000 women sign up to sell our products, implying a pent up demand for employment and empowerment that was not being met.

Unlike men in developing nations, women are much more likely to spend most of the money they earn on their families rather than on themselves. We have seen this translate into healthier, better educated children, who can focus on schoolwork rather than work. When I'm traveling, I hear story after story from women about how their economic success has had a snowball effect -- begetting the success of many, many others. More often than not, this raises the standard of living for their entire community and paves the way for the success of the next generation. Recently, I was asked by the Department of Defense to visit Iraq as part of a strategic task force comprised of a few select business executives. While there, I met with many women who want to start businesses but are struggling because of a disturbing increase in violence against women and a government that does not appear to be willing to put women in any significant leadership roles. Iraq's economy is suffering as a result.

As the people of Egypt move forward, I hope they keep in mind that their future depends not just on groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, it may be largely driven by the amount of power they give to the Egyptian sisterhood.