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Mind the gap: Lack of Arab women in the workplace

Sophie Ghaziri

Published: Updated:

Women in the Arab world continue to suffer from low representation in the workplace. This week, Arab businesswomen gathered in London to promote and highlight the role of their gender in Arab economies. Discussions focused on how women need to penetrate the professional sectors, and how education is the key to ensuring that this takes place.

Educating women does lead to their success, but it also helps combat traditional and cultural mentalities.

Due to the recent upheavals in the region, some Middle East economies have taken a turn for the worse. Low wages are one of the many factors that keep women at home. An easy way out is to get married.

First and foremost, education for young girls needs to become more accessible

Sophie Ghaziri

“It’s about unlocking the economic potential of countries, particularly at a time when many countries see unemployment rising and growth falling under pressure,” Justine Greening, British secretary of state for international development, was quoted as saying by Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Also at the London conference, Lord Green, UK minister for trade and investment, urged international and regional employers to hire women and provide them with better prospects. “A huge, untapped reservoir of talent and energy lies in women, and we really can’t afford to ignore it any longer,” he told participants.

Breaking down stereotypes

In the Arab world, people seem to trust men more, since they are not used to seeing women in the workplace as often. This is a stereotype that the media can help break down by highlighting successful Middle Eastern businesswomen, something that is not often done. The problem is traditional mentalities in Arab societies, with parents prohibiting daughters from working alongside men, and using a religion as a form of manipulation.

Young girls in the region need female role models. This will stir aspiration and imagination in the younger female generation. Instead of feeling like they have to hold back on pursuing a career due to parental pressure, religious views or cultural values, they can finally take the leap of faith and break into male-dominated professions such as economics, entrepreneurship, science and law.

Some young women have taken the region and the world by storm with their academic achievements; a Yemeni economics expert, Manahel Thabet, was recently selected as part of the World Genius Directory representing Asia for 2013.

Making a difference

First and foremost, education for young girls needs to become more accessible, and a culture of equality needs to be implemented, starting at the government level. Discrimination on the basis of gender should be abolished, with women being given the chance to excel and break patriarchal barriers.

Women in the Middle East and North Africa have $3,300 less disposable income than men, representing one of the largest financial gender gaps in the world, according to Euromonitor. “The main factor is the low rate of female employment in the region. In 2012, the female employment rate in [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries was only 44 percent of the economically active female population,” Euromonitor analyst An Hodgson told Al Arabiya English.

Employing women will not only contribute economically, but will empower them at a time when the spirit of revolution is sweeping the region. It will also break the mind-set of “women belong at home.” It is high time for women in the Arab world to be acknowledged and recognized.

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Sophie Ghaziri is a Shift Editor at Al Arabiya English. She has previously worked as a producer, presenter and a writer at the BBC, Al Jazeera and she was Head of English at Future News in Lebanon for 2 years. She can be followed on Twitter on: @sophieghaziri

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.