Paris – As women’s rights saw some impressive reforms in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in recent years, the stigma surrounding gender equality still prevails as figures suggest that multiple countries are successfully challenging social and political norms, but economies in the MENA region are falling drastically behind in a maturing world.
In the World Bank’s recent “Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform” report, it highlighted the legal rights of women in contrast to men in the workplace and uncovered that women are allowed three-quarters of the rights as men. Economies in the MENA region received the lowest average global score of 47.37, suggesting that the region’s average economy is disproportionate to at least half of the areas surveyed. Additionally, the region has also had the smallest increase in its average score over the past 10 years, rising a mere 2.86 points during that period.
Despite the region’s encouraging reforms towards marriage and domestic violence, women in the MENA region are faced with multiple economic, political and social obstacles more so than other women across different regions of the world. Whilst tackling gender inequality is no effortless or swift task, the combination of implementing legal reforms as well as a collective effort from society, governments and global organisations, the mindset and attitudes towards the roles of men and women can be reshaped to foster a healthy outlook towards equality.
“If women have equal opportunities to reach their full potential, the world would not only be fairer, it would be more prosperous as well,” said Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank Group’s Interim President.
With many countries in the MENA region focusing on the ‘traditional’ roles of women, access to gaining the appropriate skills and knowledge is limited as well as women’s opportunities to gain business and financial services. Over 90% of Arab women aged 15-25 years old do not have a bank account – the highest figures in the world. Pregnancy, childbirth and after childbirth can also have an impact on women’s ability to participate in the workforce as they are expected to stay home with their children. Other factors impeding women in MENA countries from engaging in the workforce include: low income, poor job benefits, early retirement and sexual and discriminatory harassment. In certain countries, women are subjected to unfair treatment when attempting to obtain a passport, attend university or get a job because permission from a male guardian is compulsory. It is therefore up to policymakers and governments to create policies that will stimulate the reform of these issues that discourage and prevent women from joining the workforce.
Currently, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have said the participation of female labour amounts to 21% and between 40-45% of female youths are unemployed, a large figure considering MENA is the world’s second youngest region. Education for Employment conducted surveys which also found that unemployment rates are high among young women with tertiary educations. 48% of women with bachelor degrees and 40% of women with higher university degrees consider themselves unemployed and are seeking work.
OECD believe the MENA region are collectively losing an estimated $575 billion a year due to the social and legal restraints surrounding women’s access to jobs. The absence of female presence in labour participation has limited the economic growth for the region, therefore in order to relieve some of the economic pressures, integrating women into the workforce can significantly enhance household income by “as much as 25 percent and lead many families out of poverty,” according to the World Bank Report. Furthermore, encouraging female engagement through government strategies and policies will not only increase household income but will also present extended social and economic benefits for the region as a whole.
According to a recent McKinsey & Company report, MENA countries are likely to find themselves more financially stable with female labour participation and “if women were employed at the same rate as men, they would contribute $2.7 trillion to regional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2025, a 47% increase.”
The Francophone Association for Human Rights (AFDH), believes that MENA countries should implement the following strategies:
- Revise current labour laws to ensure the abolition of discrimination towards women in the workforce.
- Ensure a safe working environment for women by enforcing strict laws and regulations towards sexual harassment in the workplace and administer punishments to those found guilty of harassment.
- Re-evaluate maternity and childcare programmes whereby companies support women wishing to work part-time or from home if possible.
- Create training programmes that educate people about gender stereotypes and establish policies that will allow both women and men to thrive equally within both the private and public sectors.
AFDH understands that attaining gender equality demands more than the improvement of legislation. It involves changing the existing attitudes towards social and cultural norms that currently exist in the minds of people. With the help of improved policies, education and influence from international organisations and people within our society, both women and men can flourish together, equally.