Informally known as the Davos for Women, the summit convened under the theme "redefining leadership", with some 900 delegates from 88 countries meeting at a luxury hotel in the Egyptian capital to "advance women's economic and entrepreneurial progress worldwide".

Irene Natividad, president of the Global Summit of Women, said one of her main goals was to introduce a "more complex picture of the Arab woman".

"At this year's summit, we want to introduce the delegates to  Egyptian and other Arab women in business who go against the  stereotype of the veiled silent woman who does not participate in a  major way in her country's economy," she told a news conference.

Social issues

The summit has been criticised by experts for focusing on economic issues when many social issues need to be addressed first, particularly in the Arab world.

Lamia Bulbul, a gender expert who consults for international NGOs on women's affairs in the region, said: "When illiteracy is at 60% for women in Egypt, for example, how are women supposed to get into the business world?"

A poll says women do not feel
oppressed in Muslim countries

But Natividad argued that economic progress automatically brings about social empowerment.

"The reason we focus on economic issues is because it underlines all other issues," Natividad said at a roundtable of 44 international female ministers with portfolios ranging from defence to foreign affairs to women's affairs.

"When a woman brings money home to the family, it gives her power. If we increase women's economic participation, many issues will be resolved," she said.

Throughout the three days of meetings and workshops, the business leaders, politicians, NGO officials and researchers are expected to focus on the "empowerment" of women, especially in the region.

Not oppressed

But according to a recent Gallup poll reported by the New York Times on Thursday, women do not feel oppressed in Muslim countries.

The poll showed women from Lebanon all the way to Pakistan set aside their own issues and said Muslim countries faced greater problems, such as violent extremism, corruption and lack of unity.

Among those attending this year's summit are Henrietta Fore, the US under secretary of state for management; My Truong Hoa, the Vietnamese vice president; and 44 female ministers from around the world.