Women play a critical role in the region’s economy

The empowerment of women in the workplace is an issue that Middle East countries need to prioritise in the process of developing their economies.

Among the most pressing challenges facing the Middle East is the participation of women in the workforce. As The ­National reported yesterday, a survey has found that about half of Arab working women were dissatisfied with their pay level and 56 per cent were pessimistic about their prospects for promotion.

The empowerment of women is an issue that regional countries need to prioritise. One important reason that some economies, including Egypt, have been failing is because of the gender gap in the workplace. According to the International Monetary Fund, Arab women continue to suffer from low representation in the workplace, making up only 21 per cent of the workforce, compared to a global average of 40 per cent. When it comes to senior and director-level positions, the survey found even lower representation of women: 6 to 8 per cent in managerial jobs, and 4 to 6 per cent in leadership roles.

There are many reasons behind this shortfall. Low pay, across the board and in comparison to men’s wages, is one of the many factors that keep Arab women at home. A recent study from the International Labour Organisation showed that women in the region earn between 20 and 40 per cent less than men – although some of this could be attributed to the fact that women don’t always receive allowances if their husband receives one.

There are also some cultural barriers, such as the lack of informal networking opportunities for women. Arab women, like all women, also face difficulties balancing work and home duties, forcing many to drop out of the workplace.

Addressing these issues must be part of the process of unlocking the economic potential of regional countries, particularly at a time when many of them see unemployment rising and growth falling under political pressure. Structural adjustments should be made across the region, inside and outside the workplace, to help women juggle the responsibilities of their careers and families.

The UAE can provide many lessons to the region, particularly when it comes to female participation in the workforce in general and in leadership positions in particular. As this country has shown, if women are given the same opportunities as men, the whole of society benefits.

Published: May 27, 2014 04:00 AM

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