Economics Gender Issues in Labor Force Structure Term Paper

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ECONOMICS

Gender Issues in Labor Force Structure within MENA Countries

The women in the Middle East and Northern part of Africa have for decades constituted the subject of fierce international debates. On the one hand, there are those who argue that severe breaches of human rights occur against the MENA women, whilst there are others, including actually some of those particular women, who argue that they are in fact extremely happy and would not want to change their social status. Aside of raising children and making household decisions, the females in most oriental countries do not have a say in political, economic or otherwise issues of national interest. Most of the arguments in favor of human rights infringements are forwarded by the western civilizations, which have limited to non-actual experience in the region. And most of the arguments against the Middle East come from lack of proper understanding of the region and its culture and traditions.

Facts about Working Women in MENA

The women in the western and highly economically developed countries have found their freedom in working outside the home. This right gives them the opportunity to be financially independent -- a long sought privilege. In order to make an objective parallel, one could look at the labor force conditions of the MENA women. Some important facts could be summarized as follows:

43% of the working women in Middle East and North Africa have never been subjected to gender discrimination in the workplace employment opportunities for women have significantly improved throughout the past recent years, as argued by 67% of the 1,515 working MENA women interviewed in a survey conducted by Bayt.com the promotion opportunities and the professional formation opportunities have also increased, with more and more top managerial positions being occupied by women more and more women enter universities and get high education in order to form successful careers most women work in order to get a sense of accomplishment, but also to gain financial independence (Travel Pod, 2008)

1.3 the Public Sector

Despite these significant improvements however, the women's participation rates to the total labor force in the MENA countries remain among the lowest ones at global levels -- an average of 28% and levels as low as 15% in West Bank Gaza or even 11% in Saudi Arabia. And furthermore, despite the gender inclusive employment practices within private economic agents, the states remain the largest employers of women. Otherwise put, the largest percentage of working women in the Middle East and North Africa is encountered within the public sector. But aside being the main employer of the female gender, the governmental efforts have also had another effect upon the gender structure of the MENA labor force. In this order of ideas, the authorities in the Middle East and North Africa have intensified their financial investments in education and healthcare. These efforts generated a twofold impact -- first of all, they improved living conditions for the MENA women (including an increase in life expectancy); and secondly, they stimulated their desire to work. The increasing investments in the public sector, also materialized in increasing wages for the female employees working for the MENA governments, have further enhanced the number and enthusiasm of working women. "The rate of participation of women in the labor force has grown at a remarkable speed in recent decades. Most MENA countries have considerably improved the status of women, as a result of larger public spending on health and education. With these investments, the life expectancy of women in MENA countries has increased. At the same time, women's aspirations to contribute to economic growth have expanded and their ability to earn incomes improved" (Gurria, 2007).

1.4 Hiring Policies

The hiring polices can be succinctly revealed in a growing focus on providing more work for women. Employers in the public and private sectors place an increased emphasis on the benefits of hiring women. Probably the most notable of these benefits is the financial economy, as women are paid less than men. Furthermore, the employment of women is also associated with an additional step in the developmental process and the action significantly improves the reputation of both employers as well as overall country or even region. The hiring practices differ from one country to the other. In Saudi Arabia for instance, the government became increasingly involved in the gender structure of its labor force and decided to reduce the 21% unemployment rate among women (the unemployment rate only considers the unemployed women who want to work and are actively seeking to be hired, and does not include the unemployed women who do not want to work nor are they looking for jobs). In order to address the matter, the Saudi Arabian government launched an initiative to help 200,000 women get jobs; they mostly collaborated with organizations to get women hired in positions such as wedding-hall employees, nutritionists, governesses, secretaries, receptionists, tailors, amusement park employees, cooks and caterers, photographers of beauticians. Additional support will be offered in the form of training programs (Akeel, 2005).

1.5 Factors in Female Participation to Labor Force

As mentioned before, despite the efforts towards improving working conditions for the women in the MENA region, much remains yet to be resolved. The nature of the issues to be addressed is varied, some problems coming from the cultural field, whereas others coming from the educational or economic field.

Cultural Factors

In terms of culture and traditions, the MENA women have historically been confronted with few responsibilities and were even legally banned in some regions from working outside the household. This generated two effects that are today difficult to remove. First of all, there was the created idea of male superiority and the interdiction on women getting jobs. Some men still find it impossible to part with this misconception. Secondly, the centuries-old culture has negatively affected the self-confidence of women and some of them refuse to work outside the household.

Educational Factors

Education has also played a crucial part in the labor force gender structure in the MENA countries. For decades, girls, and then women, were prevented from entering educational institutions and programs of educational formation. Then, as the doors to these opportunities were opened, the prospects of actually getting hired remained the same. The women in Saudi Arabia were for instance asking themselves "Why spend so much money educating us and not give us an opportunity to contribute back to society?" (Akeel)

Economic Factors

Considering that the cultural and educational barriers are beginning to be removed, the question remains as to why the gender structure in the MENA countries continues to be off-balanced? The most eloquent answer is given by the economic barriers which affect the overall labor force in the Middle East and North African states, but most probably the women as they are yet an unformed market and extremely sensitive to modifications. First of all, there are several financial institutions that refuse (or are required to refuse by law) to grant loans to women. Since they do not have this possibility, some women choose to not work. Then, employment opportunities are generally low in the MENA regions, not just for women, but for the entire labor force market. Third, despite the investments in the public sector, the state is yet unable to offer adequate childcare conditions, which continue to force women to stay at home and care for their offspring.

1.6 Suggestions for Improvements

The process should commence in early childhood with equal educational opportunities and the attribution of equal values to both genders. It should continue in the family and end in the workplace, with the presentation of equal employment opportunities and equal remuneration mechanisms. At a more specific level however, it is necessary to address the economic problems (mostly those of the private sector) that hinder the development of female employment. "The development of the private sector as a whole is a vital factor for growth in MENA countries. While investment climate reforms are being implemented and investment flows are surging in the region, it is crucial to leverage the benefits of these flows. The role of business organizations and investment promotion agencies is an important one in helping to support the integration of foreign direct investment into the host country" (Gurria).

References:

Akeel, M., 2005, Women's Employment Initiative, Saudi-U.S. Relations, http://www.saudi-us-relations.org/newsletter2005/saudi-relations-interest-01-27.html last accessed on May 13, 2009

Gurria, a., November 2007, MENA-OECD Women Business Leaders Forum and Business Forum, OECD, http://www.oecd.org/document/53/0,3343,en_2649_34529562_39686389_1_1_1_1,00.html last accessed on May 13, 2009

2008, Interesting Facts about Working Women in the MENA Region, Travel Pod, http://www.travelpod.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=10225 last accessed on May 13, 2009

2. Globalization in the Middle East and North Africa

Globalization can be succinctly defined as the totality of economic, technological, social, cultural or political forces that transcend boundaries to influence other international regions. The forces of globalization emerged from within the United States, which has often been blamed for its immense desire to impose its values worldwide; ergo the occurrence of the terms Americanization. But aside this accusation of forcing the American ways… [END OF PREVIEW]

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