Increased education does not necessarily translate into building the skills necessary for the workforce, even if that education has historically been the key to jobs. Moreover, regardless of education or training, it may be that social or other changes must be made for that training to yield more jobs.
The persistent workforce gender gap in the Middle East and Northern Africa, for example, is not the result of lack of education among women; it may, however, reflect the need to change training and may show the effects of the region’s customs on women’s training and suitability for the modern workplace.
In May, the Financial Times reported similarly gloomy figures in a story on women in the Arab Awakening entitled “Employment: Job market participation is lowest in the world” (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/849ec948-99bc-11e1-8fce-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1weamdLeH). The story said only 25 percent of working-age MENA women are believed to be in the labor market.
Despite substantial progress in female literacy and education levels, with roughly equal male and female school enrollment, women’s participation in the labor market is the lowest in the world, the article said.
This coincidence of low employment and high education rates points up a key problem in dealing with this issue; women are not suffering because they are not educated, but are suffering in part because their education is not suited to the private-sector jobs the region needs to grow. In addition, social customs can make it difficult for women to work outside the government.
A lack of private-sector opportunities, and more family-friendly public-sector practices make government jobs more attractive for women. In Egypt, for example, the public sector provides 56 percent of urban opportunities for women, according to the Financial Times article.
Likewise, in the United Arab Emirates, according to figures cited in a November article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/17/world/middleeast/17iht-M17-WORK.html?pagewanted=all), 77 percent of women have university degrees, but only 15.2 percent participate in the workforce, frequently going to the public sector. Eighty-nine percent of Qatari women have college degrees, according to the same cited research, and the 30 percent employment rate is high for Gulf Cooperation Council countries, but most of those women work in the public sector.
This concentration of women in public-sector jobs may not be sustainable—or what the region needs—and, some say, has steered female students toward humanities programs that are not as useful in the private sectors as others.
An executive with a Dubai mentorship program was quoted in the New York Times piece discussing youth unemployment in the region, saying students need to change their preference for government employment and need to be trained to become entrepreneurs.
The Economist has struck a similar note, calling in a September piece on Egypt’s “youth bulge” for broad education reform, particularly in Egypt. Legions of unemployed graduates there, the magazine said, are coming out of an education system students say teaches skills geared to the past, when graduates easily went into government jobs (http://www.economist.com/node/21528435).
However, on top of any changes in training, analysts say social attitudes must also change, given the prevalence of traditional gender roles and patriarchy. Women may be held back, at least in the formal economy, because work may expose them to travel at night or work with men or other conditions that go against the region’s values or practices.
Readers may be interested in the following World Bank publications:
· “Job Creation in a High Growth Environment: The MENA Region,” by Mustapha K. Nabli, Carlos Silva-Jáuregui and Sara Johansson de Silva (http://go.worldbank.org/EX0YFDUJ00);
Responses received to this post via social media:
One response to this Wiki topic has been received from the JKP's Twitter audience. Twitter user @Pauline_RoseGMR said another factor contributing to the problem is that poor women lack chances in education, and cited a UNESCO paper exploring gender issues in youth skills development.