MENA region pays the price for gender gap in youth unemployment

Published May 25th, 2015 - 09:52 GMT

As youth unemployment runs rampant in the Middle East and North Africa, more governments are attempting to address one of the underlying issues — the lack of women in the workforce. 

The Associated Press reported government officials are changing their attitudes about the key problems facing employment in the MENA region, which faces the highest youth unemployment rate at 29.5 percent. The rate is especially high around women, with the gender gap three times higher than in most developing economies, according to the International Monetary Fund.  

Omar Kutayba al-Ghanim, co-chairman of the World Economic Forum conference in Jordan, said the Middle East's GDP would improve by $1 trillion — 6 percent — if the gender gap were to be reduced by a third.

“When you talk to government officials about this, they are a lot more turned on to these issues, and I think they acknowledge the size and significance of these issues,” Al Ghanim told the AP on Friday. “As compared to five years ago, I see a lot more attention, which is great.”

While a large percentage of women in the Middle East receive an education, many of them don't seek jobs after graduation as there are still cultural barriers that discourage women from working. 

Another cause of unemployment is skills learned in school not transferring to the workforce. Al-Ghanim said more governments need to invest in infrastructure projects that can put young people to work, a challenge especially for countries facing conflict and low oil prices.

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