Table of Contents

  • As the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes ever more urgent. One of the most vulnerable yet resilient groups are women. The pandemic has highlighted the fundamental role of women worldwide in responding to one of the most challenging crises of our lifetime. While women have been fighting at the forefront of the pandemic as health providers, they have also been the most affected by its consequences. They have taken on the lion’s share of the care burden, are more vulnerable to being side-lined from the formal labour market and are victims of increasing gender-based violence. The crisis has also widened pre-existing gender gaps in pay, skills and leadership.

  • For years, the MENA-OECD Competitiveness Programme and the ILO’s Decent Work Agenda have built the evidence base for enhancing women’s economic empowerment and developed specific tools to move this agenda forward.

  • At a moment when many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are looking to accelerate economic growth and build more stable, open societies, enabling women’s economic empowerment holds one of the keys. If women were to be as equally involved as men in labour markets, the MENA region could see its gross domestic product (GDP) boosted by as much as 47%. This report reveals that change is underway across the region. It presents 24 detailed case studies of recent legislative, policy and institutional reforms to support women’s economic empowerment in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. The report draws out some of the common factors behind the success of these reforms and their implementation. Despite the challenges some countries face, some of which are exacerbated with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the report asserts that progress can be nurtured further through targeted, inclusive and co-ordinated policy actions.

  • Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia have demonstrated their commitment to accelerating women's economic empowerment through a number of deep reforms. The four countries are aware that creating societies that are more inclusive will lead to more competitive economies. Indeed, unleashing women’s potential can have significant economic benefits; if women were to play an identical role in labour markets as men, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions could see its gross domestic product (GDP) boosted by as much as 47%. Hence, empowering women economically is not only the right thing to do – it is also the smart thing to do.

  • Gender equality in economic activity can generate substantial macroeconomic gains. This chapter provides an overview of women’s economic activity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, focusing on Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. It reveals some areas of progress, especially towards achieving gender parity in education, and representation in decision-making positions. Yet, for the majority of women in MENA, significant improvement in education is not translating into more economic empowerment. The chapter investigates the status of female labour force participation in MENA, including aspects reflecting women’s economic activity such as unemployment, occupational segregation, earnings, working condition, and entrepreneurship, including critical enabling factors such as access to assets and finance. Finally, the chapter looks at how conditions for women at home and in society undermine their agency and freedom of choice. These include restrictive and discriminatory norms and practices, unpaid care work, and difficulties in balancing work and domestic demands.

  • Ensuring that women have access to decent work is critical for women’s economic empowerment and the sustainable and inclusive growth that countries badly need. This chapter analyses recent reforms and initiatives in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia aimed at enhancing women’s labour force participation and providing them with decent work opportunities. The chapter is organised around four themes: (1) equality in the workplace, looking at efforts to increase flexible work, close gender pay gaps, increase women’s corporate leadership roles and give them freedom of choice over their sectors and working hours; (2) social protection reforms and actions to ensure women have decent maternity and childcare coverage to improve their work-life balance; (3) social dialogue and collective bargaining reforms to increase women’s participation and leadership in worker and employer’s organisations to ensure better working conditions; and (4) specific measures to encourage women entrepreneurs, including access to finance and investment.

  • Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development calls on countries to “leave no one behind” and to target support towards the most vulnerable groups in society. In the MENA region and worldwide, there has been a shift from addressing the situation of women overall to targeting different groups of women, recognising that women are a heterogeneous group. This is a positive evolution since vulnerable groups of women may require targeted approaches and specific legal reform efforts. This chapter outlines recent reforms and initiatives in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia to improve the protection and economic empowerment of vulnerable groups of women, in particular domestic workers, rural women and refugee women. The chapter features in-depth case studies from Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, as well as several boxes that highlight relevant initiatives. The chapter concludes with some policy recommendations drawn from the lessons from the case studies and research.

  • Recent reforms on the labour and economic front to enhance women’s economic empowerment will have little impact if restrictive social norms and discriminatory legislation continue to hold women back. This chapter analyses the recent reform efforts and initiatives taken by Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia to address restrictive social norms and discriminatory legislation regarding women’s position in the family and in society. Countries have taken action on equal rights in inheritance, marriage and nationality, and are beginning to tackle the high rates of violence against women and girls, though there is still a way to go.

  • Previous chapters have outlined the areas where reform is still needed in order to advance on women’s economic empowerment in the MENA region. This chapter examines the key actors in the reform process – parliaments, the media, national human rights institutions and civil society organisations (CSOs). It reviews how they have contributed to the law-making process in the region, from drafting gender equality legislation through to implementation and enforcement. It draws on case studies in this chapter and from throughout the report to draw out lessons and recommendations.

  • The case studies and interviews conducted for this publication testify to the numerous legal, policy and institutional reforms underway in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia to support women’s economic empowerment. However, they also underscore the complex matrix of factors involved in ensuring that reforms are implemented and that they lead to social change. This chapter analyses the preceding chapters in the report and draws out 10 factors that have contributed to the success of the initiatives described.