Let’s close the Mideast gender gap in less than 129 years

For as long as I have lived, I have hoped that my children will grow up to experience true gender equality

Yara al-Wazir
Yara al-Wazir
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For as long as I have lived, I have hoped that my children will grow up to experience true gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum, this is unlikely as it will take an estimated 178 years to close the gender gap around the world.

Particularly focusing on the Middle East, if the Middle East continues to progress at the rate it has done so for the past ten years, the region will achieve gender equality in 129 years. I don’t think this is good enough – I believe that if the region is tactical in its focus and stringent with its fiscal and monetary policies to incentivize women, men, and the private sector, that it will be able to close the gender gap in our current lifetime. Women make up half of the region’s population, but in the region are limited to 22 percent of the labor market, making them one of the most under-tapped economic resources.

The tactical focus in the early stages of closing the gap must be on maximizing female participation in the labor market. To do this, full advantage of the impact of the digital revolution on the macroeconomic landscape must be realized.

The digital revolution is automating manufacturing jobs and streamlining administrative processes – both industries are large employers of women. As such, naturally women must adapt to this digitization and adapt their skills accordingly. By 2050, the World Economic Forum predicts a sharp decline in job roles related to administrative office, manufacturing, and arts and entertainment industries. Simplistically, there will be one new STEM related job for every man who loses his job, but only one STEM related job created for every 20 women who lose their jobs. With the decline of the availability of the positions, and the rise in demand for STEM related roles, women must use this as an opportunity to develop the right skills in the right areas to enable them to become key players in the future’s economy.

The good news is that women are recognizing the skills that are needed to close the gender gap in a world driven by technology. The bad news is that the sociopolitical enablers that can encourage female participation in the region are still lacking.

On the one hand, governments are participating heavily in creating strong role models for women by including women in politics, which the UAE set a strong example by employing more female cabinet members than any other time in history. On the other hand, focusing on labor market participation, the metric that has an incredible opportunity for improvement, there is plenty to be done. The metric can be tackled in two ways: fiscal policy changes as well as changes that impact sociocultural expectations.

The power that governments have to incentivize women to remain in the labor market, and namely in STEM-related industries and roles, is greater than many realize

Yara al-Wazir

Government improvements with regards to fiscal policies that incentivize employers to hire women and policies that encourage women to remain in employment are severely lacking. The power that governments have to incentivize women to remain in the labor market, and namely in STEM-related industries and roles, is greater than many realize. The public sector accounts for over 25 percent of the labor market in several countries, therefore the role that governments can play to actively accelerate closing the gender gap is grossly underestimated. The government has the upper hand in tailoring fiscal and monetary policy to incentivize women, society, and private sector employers to help close the gender gap. Incentives can be in the form of offering reduction in business and trading taxes, improvement of provision of monetary support for domestic help for families with dual careers, or even provision for part-time and flexible working hours for state-employees.

With regards to sociocultural expectations, the incentives are as simple as providing opportunities for flexible work hours, remote working locations, maternity and paternity leave. These are policies that can be put in place by both public and private sector.

Recognizing the impact of the technology revolution early on is key to providing the momentum to embracing the economic diversity it brings and actively work to close the gender gap. By creating a highly skilled female workforce, it is inevitable that this will translate into improved political and economic participation.

In the Middle East, women already surpass men when it comes to graduation rates in STEM-related subjects, according to data by UNESCO. Women in the Middle East have already identified the opportunities of digitization, what they need now is support to address the leak in the pipeline that transports women from education to participation in the labor force.


Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir


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