Across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, the progress that has been made to improve gender diversity is remarkable, but it is clear that the percentage of women in certain sectors needs to improve. The key to the Arab world’s progress thus far has been education, which could well be the region’s success story and the key to its future prosperity.
Haifa Fahoum Al-Kaylani, founder and Chairperson of Arab International Women’s Forum (AIWF) told 7Dnews, that for many Arab women, education has given them many opportunities. Education has helped move gender equality forward in the region, it has lifted families out of poverty and broken the cycle of under-privilege, deprivation and disenfranchisement. “However, although many women are educated across the MENA region and globally, this is not necessarily translating into employment in these heavily male-dominated sectors,” explained Al-Kaylani to 7Dnews.
“The MENA region has quadrupled the average level of schooling since 1960, halved illiteracy since 1980 and achieved almost complete gender parity for primary education,” said Al-Kaylani, while maintaining that in almost every MENA country, more women are graduating from universities than men. In some countries, the ratio of women to men studying at university is 2:1; and in most Gulf countries, around 60% of university graduates overall are women.
Al-Kaylani has identified six types of intervention necessary to bridge the gender gap and push through further progress for women. These include promoting financial incentives and support for women; promoting literacy in technology and improving infrastructure; creating economic opportunities for women; capacity building; building on advocacy to reshape cultural attitudes and inspire women’s own self-belief; and much-needed reform in laws, policies and regulations that impact the lives of women, children and societies overall.
Al-Kaylani believes that gender parity can certainly be achieved by strengthening normative and legal frameworks impacting working women, ensuring decent work and progression opportunities for women at all levels and in all sectors. Simply increasing female labour force participation and eliminating discriminatory barriers could raise productivity by as much as 25% in some economies.
“This requires serious political will and the collaborative efforts of all stakeholders – including, most importantly, women and young people themselves – to integrate gender perspectives in labour and economic institutions and programmes at local, national and global levels,” she added.
Mona Al-Moayyad, Managing Director of Bahraini YK Al-Moayyad & Sons Company noted, the region is witnessing an exciting growth of networking organisations, online web communities, publications, entrepreneurship training and mentorship initiatives, as well as funding competitions specifically targeted at women entrepreneurs with a special focus on those in tech innovation and social enterprise. The impact of gender-based barriers on women’s inclusion in the workforce is evident in the low rates of female-led entrepreneurship in the MENA region.
“Amongst the most serious barriers are women having higher levels of domestic responsibility, lower levels of education, lack of female role models in business and public service, fewer business-orientated networks in Arab communities, lack of capital and assets, and lack of confidence in women’s abilities to succeed in business, entrepreneurship and professional life,” Al-Moayyad told 7Dnews.
In rural Arab communities that rely heavily on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and livestock, women and young girls typically lack regular, viable, decent employment. They face hunger and malnutrition and have poor access to health and education. Fatma Al-Zahraa Aglan, agricultural specialist at Agricultural and Food Global Practice at the World Bank told 7Dnews, “Although gender inequality varies considerably across regions and sectors, there is evidence that, globally, women benefit less from rural employment, whether in self- or wage-employment, than men do.”
Aglan believes, it is essential to bring women together with key stakeholders, the private and public sectors and civil society to make that difference, advance the momentum, push growth and progress forward, support each other and their important efforts to build bridges and build business between Arab and international markets – which is key to securing a peaceful and prosperous Arab future.
According to Aglan, every MENA economy has at least one restriction on the type of work a woman can do. Morocco is the only country where it is prohibited by law to discriminate against women when giving them access to credit. Morocco and Djibouti are the only countries that legally mandate equal remuneration for equal work and non-discrimination based on gender in hiring for jobs, and Algeria legally mandates equal remuneration for equal work. “All MENA countries are in dire need of a review of their policies and laws in order to accomplish women’s sustainable development in various fields,” she said.