First Published: 2017-10-11

Discriminatory laws cost MENA countries billions
Legal, social barriers hamper women's access to jobs and careers, costing states in Middle East, North Africa region billions of dollars each year.
Middle East Online

LONDON - Women in the Middle East and North Africa are better educated than ever before, but legal and social barriers are hampering their access to jobs and careers, costing the region billions of dollars a year, experts said on Wednesday.

Just under a quarter of women in the region are in employment - one of the lowest rates in the world, said the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD).

The region also has the lowest proportion of women entrepreneurs, according to an OECD report which examines barriers to their employment in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

Nicola Ehlermann, an OECD expert on the region, said girls' education was encouraged but professional aspirations were not.

"If these countries were to use the full potential of the women they invest in educating they could gain massively," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The OECD estimates gender-based discrimination in laws and social norms costs the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region $575 billion a year.

Following the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, a number of countries incorporated gender equality into their new or amended constitutions.

But strict rules around family relations mean women do not share the same rights as men to make decisions, pursue professions, travel, marry, divorce, inherit or access wealth.

In Egypt, Jordan and Libya, women must still get permission from their husbands or fathers to work, the report said.

Unfair inheritance laws also put women at a disadvantage if they want to start a business or ask for a loan.

Ehlermann said labour laws that restrict women's working hours and the sectors they can work in, and social expectations that they shoulder the housework and childcare, impact women's choice of jobs and employers' decisions to hire them.

"We need the men on board. Responsibility for income and managing the house should be shared," said Ehlermann, the report's author.

Fears of sexual harassment in the workplace or on public transport is another factor that deters women from seeking work.

The report urged MENA countries to update their labour and family laws, improve women's access to finance and develop policies to help them fulfill their potential.

Gabriela Ramos, OECD chief of staff, called for countries to embed gender equality in all their laws - and enforce them.

"Gender equality is not only good for women, it's good for businesses, it's good for sound economies and it's good for happier societies," she said.


Saudi to carry out nuclear power deal with or without US

Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Air strikes hit Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire effort

US approves $1 billion in Saudi defence contracts

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Israel ministers welcome US appointment of 'friend' Bolton

Turkey says EU statements on Cyprus 'unacceptable'

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed