American Univesity of Beirut

Not ONLY About Business: Economic Empowerment should be for Dignified Work for Women in the Region

​​Women’s labor force participation in the Mashreq countries remains among the lowest in the world and is likely to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the State of Mashreq Women report. This report, published by World Bank, states that annual economic growth would be increased by 1.6 percentage points in Iraq, 2.5 points in Jordan, and 1.1 points in Lebanon by 2035, should these countries released constraints to women’s participation in the market. The report was launched last week in an online webinar where authors stressed that Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan all rank very low in terms of women’s unemployment across the world. 

At present, women across the Arab MENA region are drastically underrepresented in the workplace. In fact, the region has the lowest female labor force participation rate in the world, and many parts of the region have widespread exclusionary structural barriers precluding women's access to work and /or limiting women's experiences of dignified careers and in leadership roles.

The report provides a data-driven picture of women’s access to economic opportunities in the region. It highlights four major areas that need intervention:

  1. Stronger economic growth
  2. Effective policy action to close legal gaps
  3. Promotion of more egalitarian attitudes
  4. Access to quality childcare, and the provision of safe transportation

According to the report, only 26 percent of women work in Lebanon. 

The report largely made the case for how the gendered wage gap, among other discriminatory practices, hinders economic growth. However, little was said to unpack the gendered discrepancies between working men and women. Also, little was done to move beyond the economic growth model as an incentive for women’s economic participation. 

"It should not be about the business case only, we need to direct our efforts, in partnership with the employers, toward more dignified work for women. Economic growth must not be the only aim and at any cost," Dr. Charlotte Karam, Director of the Center for Inclusive Business and Leadership (CIBL) for Women at the Gender Mashreq report launch on Tuesday. CIBL for Women is the first gender center at the American University of Beirut launched in 2019 as an interdisciplinary regional driving force, committed to advance inclusive workplaces and dignified work opportunities for women, across the Arab Middle East and North Africa (MENA). CIBL for Women seeks to work with employers in the public, private and non-profit sectors to create inclusive and empowering workspaces and give a greater share of voice and the agenda for women throughout their careers. Led by Dr. Karam, CIBL’s work is based on decades of world-class research on the barriers for gender equality in the workplace and the needs for responsible business across the region.

Dr. Karam’s intervention in the panel focused on recommendations to address the data deficit, “we do not know enough about the heterogeneity and nuances of the situation of women in different sectors and areas. There is a lack of local, contextualized data.” To fill this gap, Dr. Karam and the team at CIBL are working on their inaugural project called the Knowledge is Power (KIP) Index – launched through generous funding from the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) – which will be the region’s first indigenous measure of women’s economic participation designed to empower decision makers within regional organizations. Based on quantitative and qualitative data including the lived formal work experiences  of women in 11 countries, the KIP Index will be launched this Fall as a foundational reference to improve the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women in the formal sector.

The KIP Index will be an organizational-level measure of women’s recruitment, retention and promotion across the Arab MENA. Arming employers to develop and implement better and more gender-inclusive practices and HR and organizational systems, starting with the 18 million formally employed women across the Arab MENA region.

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