Women's participation in the labour market

The Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE have the lowest percentage of women working in the world, respectively 16%, 14% and 12% differing from other Arab countries such as Morocco and Tunisia where the percentage is 26%.

In the MENA countries women struggle to emancipate in the work field despite all the battles they are fighting in the streets and on social media.

On a regional average the percentage of Arab women are low, only 20%, among the lowest in the world. Arab women – except in the Gulf countries – are present in the informal economy, in precarious and contract-free work.

The public sector – administration, education and health – is the one where most women are employed. At the same time, with trade liberalization and openness to foreign investment, in some Arab countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, there is a progressive increase in female labour in two export sectors: manufacturing (clothing industry) and agriculture. Poor and illiterate women work under very harsh conditions and low wages, as for example in the Moroccan region of Souss Massa, which specialises in picking strawberries and tomatoes.

Women in the work sector are forced to be in an inferior condition since the laws that guarantee rights to worker are contradicted and violated from the family’s laws. Even if their juridical condition is more penalised to the one in the western countries, in the last decades female participation in economic and political sphere. Through the study of various cases it has been proved how women have acquired a fundamental role in the Arab Islamic world because it has finally been understood that the emancipation of women in important premise for progress.

The rise of schooling and the possibility for women to access education helped them to be aware of their role in society, which had consequences on choosing to become a mom. The growth in levels of urbanisation and education has led to a decrease in the fertility rate of Muslim women. In fact, in this area, which until recently had among the highest growth rates in the world, there has been a demographic decrease, especially among young educated women in the cities. However, the behaviour of women linked to the agricultural world with respect to fertility is quite different from that of women in the urban context.

Living standards in the region have improved: rapid urbanization and population growth have changed the structure of the labour force, involving women, albeit to a lesser extent than in other regions. Data from the International Labour Organization (ILO) show that the economic activity rate of adult women does not exceed 32%.

Work in the countries of the region is characterised by market segmentation: this indicates the tendency of men and women not to occupy the same jobs. Levels of female participation in employment are very high in the public sector: educated women living in cities tend to concentrate in a few employment sectors, particularly in the service sector, as it offers better opportunities for work-life balance. The limited presence of female labour force in private work corresponds to the almost total lack of protection and protection laws in this sector, where women are subject to a high number of obstacles.

For example, women entrepreneurs face many problems in accessing loans and financing, due to conservative credit policies that do not allow loans to women. In the absence of formal finance, most women entrepreneurs rely on private sources to finance their activities, which is a possible obstacle to the long-term growth of state economies.

Improving the status of women in MENA countries requires action by local governments to reduce gender discrimination and promote women's participation in the labour market.

Translated by Francesca Cioffi

Original version by Valeriana Savino

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  • L'Autore

    Valeriana Savino


    Valeriana Savino è una giovane studentessa di 24 anni. Nata e cresciuta in Puglia. È laureata in Scienze Politiche, Relazioni Internazionali e Studi Europei presso l’Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro”.

    Attualmente frequenta il corso di laurea magistrale in Scienze delle Amministrazioni. Ritiene fortemente che il primo cambiamento necessario per il prossimo futuro sia dare un contributo attivo alla gestione dei servizi pubblici e privati.

    Ha collaborato per tre anni con l’associazione “Giovani nel Mondo” alla promozione del festival delle carriere internazionali. La promozione consisteva nell’organizzare incontri sia in italiano sia in inglese con gli studenti, conferenze con ospiti nazionali e internazionali e fornire informazioni sul festival.

    Da agosto 2019 collabora con l’associazione “Mondo Internazionale”. È autrice nell’area tematica “Diritti Umani” ed “Europa” nell’ambito di Mondo Internazionale Academy. Da novembre 2020 collabora come Policy Analist nell’analisi, ricerca e redazione di politiche pubbliche portate avanti da Mondo Internazionale Hub all’interno di MIPP, l’Incubatore di Politiche Pubbliche.

    È appassionata di diritti umani e di questioni relative all’Europa e non solo. Ascolta podcast per essere sempre aggiornata sul mondo attuale e nel tempo libero leggo libri e guardo serie TV.

    Ama viaggiare, scoprire nuove realtà e mettersi sempre alla prova.


    Valeriana Savino is a young 24 years old. She is born and raised in Puglia. She has a BA in Political Science, International Relations and European Studies at the University of Bari "Aldo Moro".

    She is currently attending the master's degree in Administration Sciences. She strongly believes that the first necessary change for the near future is to make an active contribution to the management of public and private services.

    She collaborated for three years with the "Giovani nel Mondo" association to promote the internationale career festival. The promotion consisted of organizing meetings both in Italian and in English with students, conferences with national and international guests and providing information on the festival.

    Since August 2019 she has been collaborating with the "Mondo Internazionale" association. She is an author in the thematic area "Human Rights" and "Europe" within the Mondo Internazionale Academy. Since November 2020 she has been collaborating as a Policy Analist in the analysis, research and drafting of public policies carried out by Mondo Internazionale Hub within MIPP, the Public Policy Incubator.

    She is passionate about human rights and issues relating to Europe and beyond. She listens to podcasts to keep up to date on the current world and in free time she reads books and watch TV series.

    She loves to travel, discover new realities and always test herself.

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