By: Razanne Chatila
In the wake of country reconstructions and faltering economies, findings in the latest report from the World Bank illustrate the number of Middle Eastern women in the work force are at half of the global level falling at 25 percent.In an article from Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), out last week it stated that “not only would more employed women stimulate economic growth, but a more inclusive labor market has also been thought to encourage political participation among women.” At the same time IPS also notes how the World Bank is warning that Middle Eastern and North African countries are falling behind on bringing more women into the workforce.
In the report it notes some of these discrepancies is based on the regions norms and customs that emphasis the strict ideas of women’s role in society, however it also noted the diversity of the region and how there is a lot of other factors at play. Some of these include as IPS states, is “low-wage, export-oriented industries such as textiles are one typical way through which women have entered the workforce in developing countries. But during oil booms, academics have found that economies tend to shift away from female-heavy ‘traded’ sectors and instead towards male-dominated non-traded sectors, such as construction and retail.”
However, despite having an economy of this manner, Mayra Buvinic, a senior fellow with the U.N. Foundation said, “The benefits of educating girls are many, and I believe families in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region are aware of that.” Another factor that adds to these low numbers is the lack of need seen by many women to work. In Kuwait for example, subsidies for food or electricity account for as much as 20 percent of government spending. These types of vouchers typically lower household costs, which makes working outside of the home less attractive for women, as it can in turn be accompanied by additional costs. At the same time, however, one of the more prosperous economies in the region, Saudi Arabia has been seeing some of the lowest unemployment figures with women employment in the private sector also doubling in the last year, according to the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Labor.
Saudi Arabia is really pushing to help its citizen obtain employment and recently this has also included women. Labor minister, Mofraj al-Haqbani said in a press conference in Riyadh this past Tuesday that they have about one million individuals who are a part of the unemployment program called Hafez and 87 percent of these numbers are women. To make employment even easier, the government introduced new rules last year that made some retail jobs such as lingerie and cosmetics for women only. Also they have sent tens of thousands of women on scholarship abroad, alongside men to improve their job prospects.
“Gender diversity today is no longer a corporate responsibility charter but a sound business practice, with numerous studies clearly pointing out the direct co-relation between diversity and profitability of companies globally,” said Sanjay Modi, managing director India, Middle East and South East Asia, of Monster.com.
More governments need to continue to improve employment opportunities for both the men and women of their countries. Not only will it allow for a more diversified pool of employees but also a more profitable market in the long-run.