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Women in the Workforce in the MENA Region

Female workers face many known and unknown dangers. We have no chance to help more women join the workforce in the MENA region without drastic measures.

According to a McKinsey report, women in the MENA region contribute only 18% of the GDP and represent 24% of the workforce.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 by the World Economic Forum, the MENA region has the worst Economic Participation and Opportunity gap at 60.9%. According to the same report, the progress is so slow that it’d take 142.4 years to close that gap. In the Political Empowerment sub-index, women’s Political Empowerment is 12.1%, the lowest worldwide.

There’s more:

According to the World Bank, women make up 48% of the population in the MENA region. Genuinely, they’re the other half of society. Yet, their potential is still largely untapped.

What do the numbers say, the challenges, and how do we change the situation? Let’s see.

The Numbers According to the World Bank.

We looked at the latest statistics from the World Bank, and here’s a short list of some important statistics:

  • Men dominate the workforce: the labor force participation rate for women is 19.8% compared to 73.2% for men.
  • Women are less secure in their jobs than men but vulnerable employment witnessed some improvement in the last two decades. The current rates are 24.9% for women and 24.5% for men.
  • Men dominate the political arena: women occupy the least amount of parliamentary seats at 18.3%, compared to the 25.6% global average.
  • Fewer women hold managerial positions than men: out of eight MENA countries, women’s representation in senior and middle management positions is 31.1%.
  • Men use technology more than women: men use the internet to pay bills or buy goods more than women. MENA women are among the least to use the internet to buy something.
  • Women do more free work than men: women do unpaid domestic and care work in all MENA countries more than in any other region in the free world.
  • According to the data collected between 2010 and 2020, men own more businesses than women. It may imply that it’s harder for women to start a business than men.
  • It’s hard for women to open a bank account: 38% of women and 56.8% of men own a bank account, lower than the global average. Also, it may mean that it’s harder for women to live on their own without being married.
  • Women are less illiterate than men: the adult literacy gap between men and women is 12.4%, below the global average.
  • More men own a house than women, either separately or jointly.

Challenges to Women’s Empowerment in the MENA Region

Women empowerment in the economy and politics affects the global GDP positively. One only needs to consider the United Arab Emirates as a microcosm for the bigger MENA macrocosm as an example. However, for the region to reach those higher development levels like Western Europe, we’ll need to overcome devilish challenges.

For starters, cultural and religious norms allow men to inherit twice as much as women. In the context of culture, a working woman is an anomaly since women must stay home to raise the children. Imagine how hard it’s for women to attain a high political and economic position.

It’s not only difficult to change a culture, but it’s also expensive. Hundreds of women’s rights and equality organizations are working tirelessly to that end. However, it may take human resources, investment, and technology to help women enter the workforce. Educating and training women to join the employment is challenging enough. But first, social and cultural changes must take place.

Solution Proposals

Understandably, any society thrives when both genders have equal rights and freedom to live and work. In the MENA region, the gender gap breaks the equilibrium. Thus, men must work extra hard to provide for their families, and women waste their potential by staying at home. It’s not a fantasy because most developed countries have this equilibrium already.

The balance will help the economy grow as both genders work together to achieve economic prosperity. And women will fulfill their roles as the other half of society. As a result, the MENA region will become an active player in the world’s economy.

Researchers suggested several ways to achieve equality and close the gender gap. It’s still a long way before women’s empowerment reaches maturity. So, here are a few ways to help more women join the workforce in the MENA region:

  • Raising Awareness

The media plays a crucial role in raising awareness about the women in the workforce in the MENA region issue. Music, movies, and art could shape public perception to some extent. Furthermore, public figures could also make a change by campaigning for the cause.

  • Legal Reforms

Policymakers are catching up by criminalizing harassment in the workplace. Still, women in the MENA region enjoy fewer legal privileges than their male counterparts. Women can’t own land, open a bank account, or travel without a male custodian, so updating the laws would help.

  • Involving More Men

Women can’t work alone on achieving gender equality, and they need men working with them. On the other hand, men should help close the gender gap. Either by joining women’s rights organizations or supporting working women. The gender gap isn’t a women’s problem, and it concerns both genders.

In a nutshell, men overwork to compensate for women’s absence from the workforce. The workload will divide between both genders, and the production will increase. It boils down to equilibrium, the idea that both men and women are equal human beings capable of fulfilling and doing arduous jobs.

Countries in the MENA region are wasting valuable human resources by excluding women from the workforce. The data also shows that countries with a high percentage of women in the workforce are developing at faster rates. If you put two and two together, it’ll be more evident that it’s a matter of time until women play more significant roles in politics and the economy.

It’ll be a gradual change, it may take decades of dedicated work, but it’s inevitable. Women’s exclusion from the workforce in the MENA region impacts the economy negatively, and the data prove it.

In conclusion, let’s extend an invitation to all women and men who want to accelerate the progress. By joining the MENA Women Business Club in partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), the Development Agency of Italy, UN Women and FAO, you stand a better chance. You can connect, network, and grow in a welcoming, encouraging environment.

Join today and get the tools, connections, and resources to help you overcome your current situation and succeed despite the odds.

25, May, 2022