Gender inclusive economies

While societies in the MENA region are generally supportive of the right of women to work outside the home, bias regarding women’s effective recruitment and integration endures.
Sunday 10/03/2019
An Iraqi physician wears a glove at her practice in Baghdad, on January 29. (AFP)
An Iraqi physician wears a glove at her practice in Baghdad, on January 29. (AFP)

Arab countries still must work towards establishing gender inclusive economies. Bridging the current gender divide is especially critical in terms of employment and economic opportunity.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said: “The MENA region has the largest gender workforce participation gap in the world.

“While men’s labour force participation is generally comparable to that of developed economies in other regions, only about one-in-four women participates in the labour force.”

The rate of female unemployment hovers around 30% in many countries of the region. Among young people, it is even higher — 40-70% in the MENA region, far higher than that of men.

All the more frustrating is that female students’ access to schools and universities, where they outnumber their male counterparts, has not translated to equal opportunity in the workplace.

There are many reasons for this paradox. While societies in the MENA region are generally supportive of the right of women to work outside the home, bias regarding women’s effective recruitment and integration endures.

Part of this is due to legal and regulatory challenges, even in matters such as taxation. A recent World Bank study stated that “the typical economy in that region gives women less than half the legal rights of men.” In the rest of the world, women have attained around three-fourths of such rights.

Women are, for instance, less than half as likely as men in the region to have a bank account. In fact, in the Arab region, 93% of young women (15-25 years old) do not have a bank account — “the highest rate of exclusion in the world,” the World Bank said.

All of this points to the need for a more gender-inclusive approach, which would not only benefit Arab women but all Arab economies and societies.

The IMF said: “The MENA region could have gained $1 trillion in cumulative output (doubling the average real GDP growth) over the past decade if female labour force participation had been raised to narrow the gender gap from triple to double the average for other emerging market and developing economies.”

Ultimately the issue is one of principle. Beyond the economic benefits that more gender-inclusive systems would accrue, ensuring equal rights and opportunities for men and women is simply the right thing to do. Sustainable progress in the Arab world cannot be achieved without it.

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