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Stress on women's role in economy

By Debasree S. / 22 September 2003

DUBAI - Despite comparing favourably in indicators like education, fertility, life expectancy and per capita income with the rest of the world, women in the Middle East and the Nothern African (Mena) region are found woefully lacking when it comes to economic participation and political empowerment.

A Mena Development Report "Gender and Development in the Middle East and North Africa: Women in Public  Sphere" that was released yesterday as part of the WB-IMF Annual Meetings, has highlighted that Mena's labour force participation is significantly lower than in the rest of the world and lower than what is  expected on the basis of the region's fertility rates, educational levels and the age structure of the female population.

The document that was distributed alongside a seminar on the issue of women's participation in the public sphere in Mena, analyses standard measures of labour market, discrimination such as wage gaps and job segregation that suggest differential treatment of women, preventing them from joining the labour force in large numbers. 

It notes that "gender roles and dynamics within the household are shaped by a traditional gender paradigm with four elements.

The paradigm presumes that women will marry (early), and that their most important contribution to the family and society will be as a homemaker and mother.

Households will be headed by men who have jobs that allow them to provide for their families and that women will depend on men for support. Finally the man's responsibility for supporting his wife and family justifies his control over his wife's interactions in the public sphere."

The report also chalks out a new gender agenda, highlighting the need for the political and social empowerment of women so that they can play a crucial role in the political decision-making and development process of the country.

Eminent personalities involved in the field of gender and development from the Mena region also analysed the findings and recommendations of the report.

Shaikha Lubna Al Qassimi, the Chief Executive Officer of Tejari FZ-LLC, Middle East's premier electronic business to business marketplace that social perceptions of women in society and their role as care givers, the centrality of the family and various forms of social control imposed on them in Islamic and Arabic societies were key to their inadequate representation in the public sphere.

She noted that a majority of women in these societies were held captive by such social perceptions and recommended greater access to education as a method of social reform. She pointed to the findings of the report which said that in 2000, the public spending in the UAE on education was to the tune of 1.9 per cent of the total GDP and 2.5 per cent of the total GDP in health.

Elaheh Koulaei, the head of the Irano-Libya Parliamentarian Friendship Group in Iran highlighted the importance of shattering gender stereotypes and promote their involvement in socio-political activities.

Abdou Filali Ansari stressed the need to remove barriers that lay in path of women's active participation in labour force and in the political sphere, through a change in social attitudes.

Labour market regulations underscore and support this paradigm in indirect ways.


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