BEIRUT: Despite the efforts of governments across the Middle East and North Africa to bridge gender gaps, successes in this regard have not been matched by increases in women’s political and economic participation, a World Bank report launched in Beirut Friday highlighted.
A press release accompanying the report’s publication stated that although the “region had taken admirable strides over the past four decades to bridge gender gaps, especially in the areas of education and health ... paradoxically, these investments ... have not been matched by increases in women’s economic and political participation.”
“Women enter the MENA labor market at half the average global rate,” it added, noting also that their entry is further limited by a rate of job creation in the region’s private sector too slow to meet the demand of young job seekers.
Speaking at the launch, Tara Vishwanath, the main author of “Opening Doors: Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa,” said, “young women in the region are increasingly and unsuccessfully looking for work.”
The lead economist at the World Bank’s poverty reduction and economic management group in the Middle East and North Africa identified legal constraints in addition to cultural and social norms as persistent barriers to women’s fulfillment of this desire to enter the labor force.
The report, which draws on quantitative economic data, qualitative research and other international evidence to prioritize areas where policy action can further gender equality, emphasizes that efforts to increase the economic and political participation of women must be tailored to each country’s context.
The release of the World Bank report comes a day after the publication of the “2013 Human Development Report – the Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World,” which also highlights the low rate of female economic and political participation.
This report, commissioned by the United Nations Development Project, shows “that the Arab states region has both the highest rate of unemployment and the lowest rate of labor force participation, especially for women,” Sima Bahous, director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States, said.
The report also points out that compared to other regions the Arab states have the lowest female share of parliamentary seats (13 percent) as well as the lowest female labor force participation rate (22.8 percent).
The report highlights the importance of job creation for development in the region, following the widespread social unrest in some Arab countries over the past two years.
“The turmoil in several countries in the Arab states is a reminder that people, especially the young, who are better educated and healthier than previous generations, put a high premium on meaningful employment, on exercising a voice in affairs that influence their lives, and on being treated with respect,” the report says.
The report, which analyzes more than 40 developing countries that have made rapid human development gains in recent times, adds that Arab states could yield a “demographic dividend” if advances made in education can successfully be transformed into employment opportunities for youth. However, failure to do this could lead to intensified economic and social tension, it warns.