How Does Gender Discrimination Hinder Arab Women's Progress In The Workplace?

Published March 1st, 2021 - 12:00 GMT
How Does Gender Discrimination Hinder Arab Women's Progress In The Workplace?
Rates of participation in the work force amongst Arab women in the last 30 years are showing significant progress. (Shutterstock: Hyejin Kang)

Despite increasingly higher education levels over the past several decades, Arab women continue to report high levels of social and legal challenges when it comes to taking part in the job market.

According to data released by the World Bank on the rate of women's participation in the labour force during 2020, numbers from the Middle East and North Africa- MENA between 1990 - 2020 showed persistent progress, one that seems to have been interrupted a few times over the years, but highlights overall progress.

The report benchmarks Qatar and the UAE as the two highest Arab countries in terms of female participation in the workforce, with numbers ranging above 50% of the country's population.

However, numbers drop severely in a few ranks as we watch rates in the remaining Arab countries rank around 30% and 20% for the most part, which speaks of dangerous realities. According to figures provided by the UN's International Labour Organization, the rate for women's participation in the labour force has only increased by 4.5% during the last 10 years.

These numbers are highly attributed to the many challenges women face in the work environment, particularly the discrimination they face on different levels.

While women are still suffering as a result of traditional gender roles and social constraints that tend to limit women's choices to doing unpaid housework as housewives or a number of low-paying jobs where no progress can be made, legal challenges are still a major issue highlighting discrimination against women in the career world.

For instance, the gender pay gap is still particularly wide in the MENA region.  A report by the World Economic Forum shows that the Middle East and North Africa has been amongst the lowest performing regions in the world in terms of closing the gender pay gap, with about only 60%.

Additionally, even in countries where women's participation is making progress, women seem to be deprived from being in leadership roles. A 2020 report by McKinsey revealed that women make up only 6.8% - 10% of senior managers across Egypt, KSA, and the UAE.

On the bright side, Jordan has a global lead in terms of the percentage of female managers with 62% of all managers in the country, according to the International Labor Organization.

Moreover, short maternity leaves available for Arab women, and the lack of paternal leaves that keep women in charge of their newborns have been regarded as one of the legal challenges women have yet to face in order for them to score better positions in the workplace.

Luckily, more and more Arab governments are realizing the need to amend laws in this regard, so they help achieve a better level of equality for women in the region, especially that it eventually helps serving national economies and supporting the different business sectors.

What other practices or barriers do you think are there in the MENA region, slowing down women's progress in the workforce?

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