1. Women at work and in society: the state of play

In almost every country of the world, women do not have the same opportunities as men to contribute to and benefit from their economic activities (OECD, 2017[1]).1 The Gender Gap Index shows that the global economic participation and opportunity gap stood at 42% in 2018 (World Economic Forum, 2018[2]). Despite its progress towards the greater advancement of women’s rights and equal economic opportunities, the MENA region still faces significant gender disparities and biases in a number of areas related to women’s economic activity. Most countries in the region lie at the bottom of the Gender Gap Index ranking in terms of economic opportunities (World Economic Forum, 2018[2]).

Achieving gender equality in economic activity is not only an end in itself – it can also generate substantial macroeconomic gains. The Mckinsey Global Insititute estimates that equal access to labour markets by women and men could add as much as USD 2.7 trillion to MENA’s gross domestic product (GDP) (Mckinsey Global Institute, 2015[3]).2 The World Bank concludes that gender equality in earnings over the lifetime of the current generation of women of working age could add USD 3.1 trillion in regional wealth (World Bank, 2018[4]).3 The OECD’s Social Institution and Gender Index (SIGI) has consistently shown that the negative association between gender discrimination and income is not restricted to labour outcomes, but can also be linked to discriminatory social institutions.4 Income losses associated with current levels of gender-based discriminatory social institutions are estimated at USD 575 billion in the MENA region (Ferrant and Kolev, 2016[5]).

The OECD has long championed the cause of gender equality. Building on the OECD’s extensive work, the 2013 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship calls on members and partners who adhere to the recommendation to enhance gender equality in education, employment and entrepreneurship (Box 1.1). The recommendation also invites adherents to co-operate with developing and emerging countries to support their efforts to address gender equality, including by “increasing the gender equality and women’s empowerment focus of aid, especially in the economic and productive sectors”. Official development assistance (ODA) for gender equality reached an all-time high in 2017-18, at USD 49 billion of bilateral contributions on average per year.5 This reflects a rapid rise in ODA targeted at gender equality, which has almost doubled since 2012 (when it was less than USD 27 billion). ODA to the MENA region increased by more than twice over the same period (USD 174 million in 2012 against USD 407 million in 2018). Nevertheless, gender-focused aid to MENA’s economic and productive sectors could increase further, as the Beijing Platform for Action priority area of poverty reduction and the economy has one of the lowest shares of gender-focused aid (OECD, 2020[6]).

This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of the data on women’s economic activity and the underpinning social norms in the MENA region. The chapter is divided into four sections: women and education, women and employment, women and entrepreneurship, and women in the family and society. Each section describes the current situation as regards gender gaps and their change over time in the MENA region, and compares them to other parts of the world (where data are available). The chapter also provides an overview of progress and summarises some of the remaining obstacles. It sets the scene for the thematic chapters which follow, which use case studies to highlight how some of those roadblocks are being overcome.

The regional average of women’s literacy rates has increased considerably over the past three decades, from 45% in 1990 to 72% in 2018, and shares of female and male literates among the young (15-24 years) are similar (93% for male youth and 89% for female youth) (UNESCO, 2019[8]). Gender gaps are closing in primary (3 percentage points in favour of men), secondary (5 percentage points in favour of men), and tertiary education enrolment (1 percentage point in favour of women) (UNESCO, 2019[8]). However, one-quarter of young women and one-third of young men still leave school early, though for different reasons6 (Dimova, Elder and Stephan, 2016[9]).

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) sheds light on how 15-year-old boys and girls in some MENA countries perform on core school subjects (OECD, 2019[10]). Although gaps exist in the performance of 15-year-olds between MENA and OECD countries, girls in all the three MENA countries covered by PISA (Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco) outperform their male counterparts in reading tests. It is worth noting that girls in Jordan outperform their national and regional counterparts in terms of mathematical, reading and scientific literacy. In addition, girls in Morocco perform better than boys in science tests (Table 1.1).

Tertiary education enrolment rates for women in the MENA region have increased significantly since 2005, up from 24% to 43% in 2018 (Figure 1.1), exceeding both the regional male enrolment rates and the world average for female enrolment by nearly 3 percentage points. Women in MENA countries are catching up with their male counterparts in terms of educational attainment as well. Female graduates of tertiary education outnumber their male counterparts in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, and the gender gap in Morocco almost closed in 2017 (UNESCO, 2020[11]). In Tunisia, the share of female graduates is 66%, even higher than some OECD countries (UNESCO, 2020[11]).

Across the region, a number of countries have expanded their female talent pool in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). UNESCO estimates that some 34%-57% of STEM graduates in Arab countries are women – higher than OECD countries (UNESCO, 2018[12]; OECD, 2018[13]). Tunisia has the second-biggest female talent pool in STEM in the MENA region in terms of share of female graduates. Among all female graduates in tertiary-education level in the country, more than 37% of them had a degree in STEM in 2016. Transition to the labour market also appears easier for female STEM graduates than for those who specialised in education and/or humanities (Dimova, Elder and Stephan, 2016[9]). STEM skills will be key to opening up opportunities for both women and men in an ever-transforming labour market. It is estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in job types that do not yet exist (World Economic Forum, 2018[14]). Consumers in MENA are demonstrating great enthusiasm for digital technologies, driving the evolution in the digital market.

Though impressive, these advances in girls’ education in the MENA region are not yet sufficient to close gender gaps in economic participation and employment. Over the past decade, girls’ gross secondary and tertiary school enrolment in the region rose by 7 and 16 percentage points respectively, while female labour force participation for the working-age population7 rose by only 0.2 percentage points (Figure 1.2), and the female employment rate rose by 1 percentage point. The four countries under review lie at the bottom of the Global Gender Gap Index ranking in terms of economic opportunities for women (World Economic Forum, 2018[2]). Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan are ranked 135, 139, 140, and 144 respectively out of 149 countries. It seems therefore that increasing the female talent pool does not necessarily translate into increasing the share of women in the labour force or in employment, as the latter also depends on the demand for a female labour force in the market, as well as other constraints. The sections below look more closely at some of the factors involved.

Female labour force participation and female-to-male participation ratios have increased over recent decades, but remain low. As shown in Figure 1.2 and Figure 1.3, while globally female labour market participation has decreased and the gender gap increased over the past two decades, the MENA region has seen an overall improvement in its female labour force participation rate (up by 2 percentage points) and its female-to-male participation ratio (up by 4 percentage points) (ILO, 2019[15]). With the exception of Morocco, the other three countries have seen positive trends for these two indicators since 2000. Nevertheless, women’s economic potential is as yet unleashed. Women in MENA represent nearly 48% of the total regional population of working age, but the female labour force participation rate only stands at 20%, compared to 74% for the male labour force participation rate. Most women in MENA countries remain outside the labour force, meaning that they are jobless and not available and/or looking for a job. Most of them are constrained by a disproportionate burden of unpaid care responsibilities (ILO, 2018[16]) (Section 1.5). By 2030, the MENA region will face a 27% increase in its youth labour force (UNICEF, 2019[17]). Assuming the labour force participation rate for both women and men follows the trend projected by ILO, over the next five years, the MENA countries should expect 10 million new entrants to the labour market, of whom just 2 million will be women (ILO, 2019[18]).

The female unemployment rate is 12 percentage points higher and the unemployment gender gap is 9 percentage points wider in MENA than the world average (ILO, 2019[15]). As shown in Figure 1.4, unemployment represents a regional – if not global – challenge for women and men alike, albeit of different magnitudes. In the MENA region, the ratio of female unemployment is increasing (by 0.5 percentage points since 2000), whereas the ratio of male unemployment is decreasing (by 3 percentage points since 2000), and is relatively unchanged worldwide. Except for Morocco, female unemployment rates have risen in the selected countries over the past two decades by up to 6 percentage points, which is not the case for men. Egypt is the MENA country with the lowest male unemployment rate and the highest female unemployment rate, and hence has the largest gender gap (15 percentage points) of the countries under review. In Morocco, the gap is relatively narrow, standing at 2 percentage points.

As the world’s second youngest region, MENA faces key challenges in providing quality employment opportunities for its young labour force, especially young women. Improving the performance of youth in the labour market is thus essential – not only to the well-being of the younger generations, but also to improve the productive potential of the economy and strengthen social cohesion. However, labour market prospects have continued to worsen in the region since the financial crisis, especially affecting youth without work experience. Youth unemployment, particularly for women, represents a global challenge. As shown in Figure 1.5, women in the 15-24 age group in OECD countries are twice as likely to be unemployed as all women of 15 years and above, although there is almost no youth unemployment gender gap. In the MENA region, 39% of young women (aged 15-24) are unemployed, almost double the rate for young men (23%). Among the four MENA countries studied, Jordan logs the highest unemployment rate for young women (55%, compared to 33% for young men). In Morocco, the gender gap in youth unemployment (Figure 1.5) has almost been closed. However, similar youth (un)employment rates by gender within countries or across countries do not equate to similar conditions for men and women. Relatively low female youth unemployment rates can hide significant under-employment (poor-quality jobs in informal/vulnerable employment) and poor income-support systems for the unemployed, blurring the boundary between unemployment and inactivity.

Despite the growing cohort of educated women, the share of young women who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) is high in the MENA region. NEET concerns persons aged 15-24 years and is a useful indicator, as traditional unemployment statistics often fail to capture the full scale of barriers and challenges that young people face (World Bank, 2016[19]). The NEET phenomenon is a global challenge but is more visible in developing countries, where school-to-work transitions tend to be longer (Quintini and Martin, 2014[20]). As Figure 1.6 shows, despite the universality of the challenge, young women in the MENA region are more likely to be NEETs (42%) than their counterparts worldwide (30%). The regional gender gap (25 percentage points) is also wider than the global average (17 percentage points). However, the MENA region has been witnessing positive trends. Since 2005, the percentage of MENA young women (15-24 years) who are NEETs has decreased by 4 percentage points. Among the four countries under review, only Jordan is seeing an increase in the share of young women who are NEETs (ILO, 2019[18]).

An ILO report notes that MENA women categorised as NEETs are principally inactive non-students (Elder and Kring, 2016[21]). Young men who are NEETs, however, are more evenly spread between the unemployed non-student and inactive non-student categories. Survey results from the same report indicate that globally, family responsibilities and housework are the main reasons why young women are inactive (Elder and Kring, 2016[21]).8 But reasons for young MENA women’s inactivity are numerous, and go beyond the fact that they get married and stay at home. As a matter of fact, less than one-third (30%) of inactive young women in MENA were willing to work, compared to more than two-thirds of inactive young women in other regions (Dimova, Elder and Stephan, 2016[9]) (see Section 1.5).

When women do work, they face significant and increasing gender occupational segregation in the job market. Globally, occupational opportunities do vary for women and men,9 regardless of the development status of the country; these patterns are relatively similar for the MENA region and the entire world (Figure 1.7). For example, as in other regions, MENA women are more likely than men to work as clerical support workers, technicians and (associate) professionals. However, unlike the global pattern, MENA women are more concentrated in agricultural occupations, and are less concentrated in the service and sales workers groups than their male counterparts.

Furthermore, the concentration of gender occupational segregation in the MENA region is higher than the global average and has increased over the past two decades. Figure 1.7 shows that in 2018, total occupational segregation in the MENA region was 57 percentage points. This is much higher than the global average (35 percentage points), but rather close to the average of OECD countries (56 percentage points),10 although with different occupations with a high concentration of women (ILO, 2019[22]). Since 2000, gender occupational segregation in the MENA region has increased by almost 6 percentage points. As shown in Figure 1.7, women are now relatively more concentrated among elementary occupations and skilled agricultural workers, clerical support workers, technicians and associated professionals, and professionals. While MENA women are more likely than men to be concentrated in occupational groups which require higher levels of skills, such as professionals, they are also less likely to be employed in managerial and supervisory positions.

As in most regions, women in the MENA region find it hard to reach leadership positions. As shown in Figure 1.8, the average ratio of MENA women in management is similar to the global average (2.8% versus 3.3%) but lower than the OECD average (by 2 percentage points). In Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia, ratios of women in managerial positions are superior to the global average, but in Morocco ratios of both women and men in management are low (less than 1%) given the large rural economy. However, gender gaps in Egypt (10 percentage points) and Tunisia (4 percentage points) are wider than both the global and MENA averages.

Going further up the ladder, women in the MENA region are also weakly represented among executives. According to the ILO (ILO, 2015[23]), few women hold senior and executive positions in either the private or public sector: they account for 15% in Tunisia, 13% in Morocco, 10% in Egypt, and 5% in Jordan. The highest rate reported globally was 33%. An OECD survey found that, despite progress, the representation of women on the boards of the largest 142 public companies in MENA remains modest, at 5% of all voting board seats (OECD, 2019[24]). Data on women’s participation in corporate life in MENA are limited, due in part to lack of publicly available information and the scarcity of research on this topic in the region, which further complicates efforts to design and implement policies for increasing women’s access to corporate leadership roles.

Sectoral segregation persists in the MENA region, where women are more likely to be engaged in the agriculture, non-market services such as health, social work and education sectors than men. In most regions of the world, agriculture represents the lowest-productivity sector. Globally, the share of male and female employment in agriculture is very similar (Figure 1.9). In the MENA region, women are more concentrated in agriculture than men: 27% of women employed women versus 18% of men. However, there are large differences between countries. In Egypt and Morocco, between half and two-thirds of female workers are concentrated in agriculture, whereas in Jordan and Tunisia a lower share of both women and men are employed in agriculture than the regional average. In the service industry, which has been growing since the beginning of 1990s, the share of both women and men has increased across the region (ILO, 2019[15]). However, as shown in Figure 1.9, women are more likely than men to be employed in non-market service sectors, such as education, health and social work. In Egypt and Tunisia, the education, health and social work sectors absorb 30% and 25% of their female labour force respectively. In Jordan, nearly 50% of the female labour force are employed in education, health and social work, compared with around 10% for men.

Although decreasing, the shares of women employed in MENA’s public sector remain large (OECD, 2017[25]).11 In 2010, half the employees in the public sector in Morocco were women. In other MENA countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, women also account for around half of employees in the public sector (ILO, 2016[26]). Women’s employment in the public sector tends to be approved of by both men and women as it is considered more socially acceptable. It is also associated with higher job security, a safer work environment, and fits better with family duties. The sector also provides higher salaries and benefits for women (see the next section on equal pay), particularly at the local level and certainly for entry-level jobs (OECD, 2017[25]).

Women in MENA in the private sector, like women worldwide, are paid less than men on average. It is estimated that globally, male employees earn on average 16% more than female employees for each hour of work (ILO, 2019[28]). In OECD member countries, the raw gender wage gap12 currently stands at around 14% (OECD, 2018[29]).

Although comparable gender-disaggregated data on wages for the MENA region are very limited, an ILO report sheds some light on the region, compiling data from Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia (ILO, 2019[28]). After accounting for four distorting factors – education, age, working-time status and public and private sector employment – the gender pay gap in Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia ranges approximately between 13% and 28% (Figure 1.10). In all three countries, gender pay gaps are greater when referring to monthly wages than hourly wages – men work longer hours than women, who are more likely to work part time (ILO, 2019[28]). In MENA, among the entire working age population, men are about four times as likely as women to have full-time jobs (World Bank, 2013[30]). It is interesting to note that of the three countries, Jordan has the widest hourly gender wage gap (16%) but the narrowest monthly gender wage gap (17%). Egypt has a slightly smaller hourly gender wage gap (13%), but a much larger monthly wage gap (28%), presumably due to large gender gaps in working hours.

Pay gaps differ between the public and private sectors. Estimates show that in Jordan, men working in the private sector are paid 7% more than women, while women working in the public sector are on average paid 13% more than men (ILO, 2019[28]). In Tunisia, gender pay gaps in the private sector and the public sector stand at around 15% in favour of men and 20% in favour of women, respectively. In the MENA region, as in most countries, women are more likely than men to work in the public sector rather than the private sector (see the previous section), especially when they are well educated. This partially explains the gender pay gap in favour of women in the public sector. Countries in MENA are taking action to address the gender pay gap in the private sector (Case Study 2.7 in Chapter 2).

While occupational segregation stands out as an important factor in the existing gender pay gap in MENA, women do not receive more equal pay in highly feminised occupations. Analysis by the ILO sheds some light on the existing gender pay gaps within each of the occupational categories with different degrees of feminisation (ILO, 2019[28]). The estimates show that higher educational categories receive higher salaries in general, whereas female workers with similar educational attainment as men are paid less in occupations with a higher degree of feminisation. In Tunisia, for example, nearly 70% of domestic workers are female, but on average they receive 30% less pay than their male counterparts. According to the survey, professionals and managers require similar levels of education yet managerial positions are a male-dominated occupational category. In Tunisia and Egypt, female professionals face a wider gender pay gap (over 10 percentage points) than women who work as managers. Furthermore, there is variation in pay parity amongst women in highly feminised industries or enterprises in the MENA region. As in many countries worldwide, women with children usually have lower wages than childless women (ILO, 2019[28]). Maternity leads to a salary penalty which may persist for a female professional, while the status of father has little impact on wages.

Worldwide, informal workers often face a greater range of general and occupational risks, such as injuries and illness, than formal workers (see Annex 1.B for the definition of informal employment). Lack of access to social protection and appropriate risk management instruments pushes many informal workers into income insecurity or makes them vulnerable to income poverty (OECD/ILO, 2019[31]). In the Global South, informality is the norm in employment, ranging from 67% in emerging countries to 90% in developing countries (ILO, 2018[32]). The lack of comparable data over time does not allow for conclusions on regional or global trends, but existing data imply diverging trends depending on regions or countries.

Globally, informal employment is a greater source of jobs for men (63%) than for women (58%) (OECD/ILO, 2019[31]). As shown in Figure 1.11, the MENA region also follows this pattern (70% for men and 62% for women). Lower shares of women in informal employment are often found in countries with lower participation rates of women in the labour market (ILO, 2018[33]). In the MENA region, a large share of employed women work in the public sector, which is more likely to offer formal employment contracts and better access to social protection (see occupational and sectoral segregation above). In countries like Egypt and Morocco, where there is a huge rural economy (based on its share in GDP), informality is often high for both men and women. Statistics show that globally nearly 94% of agriculture workers are informal (OECD/ILO, 2019[31]).

Amongst those employed informally, women in MENA countries are over-represented in the most vulnerable employment categories:13 domestic workers, home-based workers or “contributing family workers”, defined as family farm workers and enterprises under the supervision of a family member (usually a husband or father) (Figure 1.12, and see also Chapter 3). This reflects the global picture, in which female workers are more often to be found in the most vulnerable categories of informal employment (OECD/ILO, 2019[31]). Women in the MENA region are also more likely than their male counterparts to work for themselves or contribute to family work. Within the MENA region, there is some variation among countries in the type of informal employment involving women. Women in Egypt and Morocco are much more likely to be contributing family workers than in Jordan and Tunisia, and there are also 8 times and 4 times more of them than their male counterparts, respectively. This is explained by the importance of agriculture in these two countries. Rural women often support the family farming business, with low (or no) wages and on a part-time and seasonal basis. Men on the other hand tend to occupy more rewarding and higher-skilled positions (EU Public Group on Gender, 2015[34]). In Tunisia and Jordan, despite the relatively small share of agriculture in their national GDPs, women are also more likely than men to work as contributing family workers. Women’s vulnerability in agriculture in MENA reflects the specific constraints rural women face, such as unequal inheritance rights and access to land. For example, women represent 45% of MENA’s agricultural workforce but account for only 5% of agricultural landholders (De La O Campos, Warring and Brunelli, 2015[35]). This restricts rural women to low-skilled agricultural activities, reduces their opportunities for entrepreneurial activities, and exacerbates gender inequality.

In the MENA region, there is high demand for domestic workers (Chapter 3).14 The concentration of migrant domestic workers in the region is especially high in the Gulf countries, while in North Africa the share of migrant workers as a proportion of all workers is below 1.5%. The vast majority of MENA’s domestic workers are informally employed and over 60% of them are female (ILO, 2015[36]).

These workers are highly vulnerable and at great risk of harassment, often sexual. One survey indicated that 10% of female domestic workers interviewed in Egypt complained of sexual harassment, including rape, inappropriate touching and demand for sexual favours (Goździak and Walter, 2011[37]). Another survey of domestic workers conducted by the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD) indicated that almost 97% of them had no job contract and that over 14% claimed to have been victims of sexual abuse at work (Bougeurra, 2017[38]). Young girls in some MENA countries are also sometimes exposed to difficult and even dangerous domestic working conditions (Chapter 3 for details on child labour in domestic work). Governments in the MENA region are taking measures to guarantee minimum standards for domestic workers (Case Study 3.1).

The MENA region as a whole exhibits the widest gender gap globally in terms of early-stage entrepreneurial activity. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) MENA Report 2017, women in the region are only half as likely as their male counterparts to be engaged in total early-stage entrepreneurial activity (TEA)15 (Figure 1.13). Jordan has the widest gender gap, with 26 women engaged in entrepreneurial activity for every 100 men (Kelley et al., 2017[39]). Tunisia and Egypt also have a wide gender gap, with female-to-male ratios of respectively 0.35 and 0.36. Morocco has the highest ratio of the four countries (0.67). In other emerging economies, such as Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia, gender gaps in TEA barely exist (OECD, 2017[25]). While women entrepreneurs face many challenges (e.g. access to information and networks, access to markets and access to assets), access to capital is reported to be the major obstacle for women wanting to start a business in the MENA region (UNIDO, 2017[40]).

Ownership of land and non-land assets, as well as access to the formal economy, are critical for women’s financial inclusion (OECD, 2019[43]). Results from the OECD’s Social Institution and Gender Index (SIGI) indicate that women in Northern Africa face one of the highest levels of discrimination in accessing productive and financial resources in the world: 45%, compared to a global average of 27% (OECD, 2019[43]). Assets are fundamental for entrepreneurs, especially for women in rural areas where a majority of economic activities rely on land. They are needed to physically start a business, can be sold to invest in businesses, and can serve as collateral for loans to help finance the business, However, in all MENA countries, discriminatory legal or customary frameworks governing women’s inheritance rights constitute a major obstacle for potential female entrepreneurs (Chapter 2). In fact, according to the SIGI, widows and/or daughters in the four countries do not enjoy the same legal rights as widowers and sons to inherit land and/or non-land assets (OECD, 2019[43]). In addition, it is common for the family to pressure female heirs into relinquishing their full inheritance rights in favour of male relatives (OECD, 2017[25]). A 2009 study revealed that almost 96% of women in Upper Egypt do not receive their full inheritance share (Legal agenda, 2018[44]). A 2010 survey of 200 Egyptian women indicated that 59% of them did not receive any inheritance (The Caravan, 2018[45]). This echoes a survey conducted in the four selected MENA countries, which found that lack of access to capital was the major obstacle perceived by female entrepreneurs for starting a business (UNIDO, 2017[40]). The situation is particularly daunting for Egyptian female entrepreneurs, 51% of whom report lacking the capital required to start a business. Governments are undertaking a series of legislative and institutional reforms to improve inheritance rights (Case Studies 4.1 and 4.2).

When women lack access to assets, they are more likely to encounter difficulties in accessing formal financial services as well. In all four countries, fewer women borrow from financial institutions than men (Figure 1.14). Despite improved financial inclusion for women and men alike in the MENA region (almost all MENA countries entitle women to equal rights to men to open a bank account and to obtain credit at a formal financial institution (OECD, 2019[46]), only 38% of women in MENA have a bank account, compared to 57% of men. These figures are much lower than the global and OECD averages, where 65% and 94% of women respectively have a bank account.

In all four countries, the gender gaps in the three financial access indicators (financial institution account, debit card ownership and credit card ownership) are still in favour of men, though gender disparities vary from country to country. However, Egypt has made impressive progress over the past few years, with 27% of women now holding an account in a financial institution, up from 9% in 2014 (Figure 1.15). Empirical studies have shown that increased availability of equity and/or debt capital as well as higher leverage have significant positive effects on firm performance of women-owned businesses in the Middle East and Africa region, measured by sales, profits and returns on equity (Baliamoune-Lutz and Lutz, 2017[47]).

In line with the 2013 OECD Gender Recommendation (Box 1.1), to reduce the gender gap in entrepreneurship activity governments should design appropriate responses to market failures, such as reducing the administrative burdens on firms and excessive regulatory restrictions; supporting firm growth, internationalisation and innovation; and developing awareness campaigns, training programmes, mentoring, coaching, and support networks, including professional advice on legal and fiscal matters. They should also ensure equal access to finance for female and male entrepreneurs through actions that influence both the supply of and demand for finance, such as taking steps to improve the knowledge and attitudes of financial institutions; increasing awareness of finance sources and tools among women entrepreneurs; and encouraging more women to join business angel networks or venture capital firms. MENA countries are implementing reforms to enhance women’s access to financial services, access to land and other assets, to enshrine equal principles for investment, and to pay attention to women’s specific needs regarding entrepreneurship (see the case studies in Chapters 2 and 3).

Social protection involves access to health care and income security, particularly in case of old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, work injury, maternity or loss of a main income earner (ILO, 2020[49]). Only a few countries in the MENA region, such as Jordan, have developed coherent national social protection policies (ILO, 2017[50]). Current data are only available for Egypt, which estimate that 37% of its population is covered by at least one social protection benefit.16 In comparison, the world share stands at 45% (ILO, 2017[50]). Incomplete coverage is partially due to low public spending on social protection. According to the latest available data, countries in the MENA region17 spend on average 11% of GDP on education, health and social safety nets, which is lower than the averages for Emerging Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States (19%) and Latin America (14%) (IMF, 2018[51]).

Some progress has been made in the MENA region. The four countries have increased their expenditure on public social protection since 1995 (Figure 1.16). Most MENA countries have introduced or expanded their social protection measures since the financial crisis in 2018 and the uprisings in 2010 (ILO, 2017[50]). Egypt in particular shows a significant positive trend. It doubled its expenditure in 20 years from 5% of GDP dedicated to public social protection expenditure in 1995 to 11% in 2015. While Jordan has reduced its total expenditure in the central government sector since 2005, it is among the very few MENA countries to have developed a coherent national social protection policy (Case Study 2.3). The MENA region as a whole faces additional challenges in achieving universal social protection by 2030 (Sustainable Development Goal 1.3) given the refugee crisis and political instability, both of which continue to undermine an already weak social protection system.

Adequate maternity protection, as well as paid paternity and parental leave, recognise that both mothers and fathers have responsibilities as breadwinners and caregivers, and contribute to achieving a more equitable sharing of care responsibilities, in line with SDG 5.4 on recognising and valuing unpaid care and domestic work. Women who are not entitled to enough income security during the final stages of pregnancy and after childbirth, especially those working in the informal economy, can expose themselves and their children to significant health risks.

Low female labour market participation, high levels of unemployment and high rates of informality all contribute to women’s lower access to social protection in the MENA region, particularly maternity cover and old-age pensions. Worldwide, 45% of women in employment are covered by law under mandatory maternity cash benefit schemes. In terms of maternity benefits, 41% of women with new-borns worldwide receive maternity benefits. Tunisia, the only country of the four with data on the share of employed women receiving maternity benefits, has a rate of 12% (ILO, 2017[50]).

While most countries worldwide have included maternity provisions in their social insurance schemes, in the MENA region most countries provide for paid maternity leave as an employer liability in their labour codes, including Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia (ILO, 2017[50]). Such arrangements may discourage the hiring of female workers, thereby contributing to the low female labour market participation. However, some countries, including Jordan, have implemented social insurance schemes in which contributions are made by employers for male and female employees to finance statutory maternity insurance schemes, “socialising” the cost so it is no longer a direct cost to individual employers (Case Study 2.3).

As regards old-age benefits, 68% of people above statutory retirement age are currently covered by law for an old age pension globally. The regional averages for MENA stand at 47% and 27% for men and women respectively. The effective coverage for older persons in Jordan is 42%, the second highest ratio in MENA.18 However, this covers only 12% of older Jordanian women, compared to 82% of older Jordanian men. Furthermore, only 11% of the female working age population contributes to the national pension scheme, as opposed to 33% of men, meaning that there will be no significant increase in the ratio of women above the statutory age receiving a pension if gender-sensitive actions are not taken (ILO, 2017[50]).

The reasons for incomplete coverage largely relate to the high rates of informality, low female labour market participation and high levels of unemployment, which together negatively affect women’s ability to build up pension entitlements in contributory pension schemes, driving higher levels of old-age poverty among women than among men. However, the countries in the MENA region are taking action to reform their social protection systems. Case Study 2.3 in Chapter 2 looks at social protection in Jordan, including pensions. Box 2.6 looks at maternity and paternity schemes in the four countries.

The MENA-OECD Initiative for Governance and Competitiveness addresses both women’s economic and political empowerment across its different components since the programme is convinced that women’s economic and political empowerment are inextricably linked.19 Women must have an equal voice in decisions about policies that affect their lives. If women are not economically empowered and have a certain level of economic independence, it will be very hard for them to engage in politics and influence those policies. Elements holding women back from joining the economy also hold them back from participating in politics and becoming parliamentarians. Women’s participation in politics can have a positive impact on inclusive growth and women’s economic empowerment. More gender-balanced institutions at the national or subnational level are more likely to include gender considerations in policy reforms, including those related to labour and economic rights.

Countries in the MENA region are increasingly mobilising the potential and talent of women in public life. Having more women involved in decision making in politics is not only conducive to empowering women, but also promotes the adoption of laws and practices that favour women’s economic empowerment, and the implementation of gender-sensitive policies (Case Study 5.1 and Boxes 5.1 and 5.2 in Chapter 5). The proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments is a good indicator of gender equality in decision making, and has increased significantly in the MENA countries since 1990. Some countries, such as Tunisia, have a more gender-balanced national parliament than the OECD average (Figure 1.17). In Morocco and Jordan, 21% and 15% of the national parliament is female, while it was zero in 1997. Progress has also been made in Egypt, where female members currently make up 15% of parliament, compared to less than 2% in 2005. Women currently account for 24% of ministers.

Women’s political participation is becoming more and more common in the region. Many MENA publics express a preference for greater female political participation, including acceptance of a female head of state and the implementation of women’s quotas for elected office. More than 60% of citizens across the four selected MENA countries reported that they were in favour of the introduction of women’s quotas for political offices (Thomas, 2019[53]). Women’s political participation in the MENA region, including the barriers and the opportunities, are well documented in a series of publications in the framework of the MENA-OECD Governance Programme.20

Women in MENA devote disproportionately more time to unpaid care and domestic work than men, leaving them little time for paid jobs.21 In every country of the world, the burden of unpaid care is primarily borne by women. Although the average time per day that women in MENA spend on unpaid care and domestic work is similar to other regions (4.9 hours in MENA versus 4.7 hours worldwide), the regional gender gap is striking – and is the second highest worldwide. This means that unpaid care work is largely done by women (Figure 1.18). The time women spend on unpaid care work accounts for 89% of their working day, leaving them barely any time to work for pay. This is not the case for men, who on average allocate 20% of their total working time to unpaid care work (Charmes, 2019[55]).

In 2018, 606 million women of working age worldwide declared themselves to be unavailable for employment or not seeking a job due to unpaid care work, compared to only 41 million men (ILO, 2018[57]). Full-time unpaid carers represent 42% of the 1.4 billion inactive women worldwide, compared with only 6% of all the 706 million inactive men (ILO, 2018[57]). According to the ILO, globally, 42% of women stay outside the labour force because of their need to care for others, compared to only 6% of men. In Egypt, 65% of economically inactive women blamed care work for their inactivity, whereas 57% of inactive men attributed their inactivity to personal reasons (being in education, sick or disabled). In both Jordan and Tunisia, around 77% of inactive women blame unpaid care work compared with 3% of inactive men (ILO, 2018[57]). In Morocco, the proportion of inactive women varies according to age: it concerns 36% of those who are less than 30 years old, 56% of those aged 45 years old and around 70% of the 30-44 year-olds, taking women out of the job market during the prime years for career progression (High Commission for Planning Morocco, 2018[58]).

Women around the world are also time “poorer” than men. Globally, women spend 84 more minutes working (unpaid and paid work) per day than men. Women in the Arab countries and in Northern Africa work 77 more minutes and 57 more minutes than men on average, respectively. This means that not only do women work more (and for free), they have less leisure time at their disposal and incur greater health impacts caused by excessive and strenuous amounts of unpaid care and domestic work (ILO, 2018[57]). The result is likely to be sub-optimal care solutions and underperformance in paid work.

The ILO analysed data from 23 mostly higher-income countries over a 15-year period (from 1997 to 2012) in its report Care Work and Care Jobs (ILO, 2018[57]). It found that although on average, employed women were spending more hours in paid jobs in 2012 than in 1997, formal or informal, in general they continued to also perform more unpaid care work than men. If the gender gap in unpaid care work has narrowed by 0.2 percentage points since 1997, it is mainly due to women spending less time on unpaid care work than previously, rather than a more equal distribution of work (as the time men spend on unpaid care work has decreased). Estimates show that at this pace, it is likely to take around 210 years to close the gender gap in unpaid care work in these countries. The MENA region, facing a more unequal distribution of unpaid care work, will take even longer to achieve gender equality at the current pace.

In line with the 2013 OECD Gender Recommendation (Box 1.1), measures that improve paid parental leave, good quality and affordable childcare, workplace flexibility and equality in sharing unpaid care responsibilities are necessary for achieving a fair work-life balance, and will therefore help to reduce gender gaps in employment (OECD, 2017[59]). Governments in the MENA region are actively adopting laws and practices to help current and future female workers reconcile work and family (Case Studies 2.1 and 2.4).

Persistent anti-egalitarian social norms limit the role of women in the economy because they perpetuate stereotypes about gender roles. These attitudes undermine women’s agency and freedom to engage in paid work, and in making decisions about their career progression. Stereotypes, norms and attitudes about the role of men and women change very slowly, and have shown less progress in emerging economies than OECD ones (OECD, 2017[59]).

Men in the MENA region mostly support a range of traditional attitudes vis-à-vis women’s rights, and many women express mixed opinions concerning their roles. The 2019 SIGI report reveals that, although attitudes towards women’s role and status are evolving worldwide, some discriminatory attitudes and beliefs continue to prevail in the countries covered by this report. The share of the population that considers it is not acceptable for a women to work outside the home for pay remains high in all four countries, at respectively 34%, 30%, 21% and 19% in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia (OECD, 2019[43]). In line with this, other studies find that the vast majority of men still believe that a woman’s primary role is to care for the household: 87% of men in Egypt and 72% of men in Morocco (UN Women/Promundo, 2017[60]). In Jordan, only 38% of men find it acceptable for women to work in mixed workplaces, and only 26% accept that women can return home from work after 5 pm (World Bank, 2018[61]). In two of the four selected countries, between 46% (Morocco) and 69% (Egypt) of men consider that husbands should have the final say in family decisions (Thomas, 2019[53]).

Such attitudes not only undermine women’s voice and agency – they are often internalised by women. SIGI results reveal that a significant share of women in the four countries justify domestic violence under certain circumstances, ranging from 18% in Jordan to 36% in Egypt (OECD, 2019[43]). Moreover, 77% of surveyed women in Egypt consider that taking care of the family is their most important role (UN Women/Promundo, 2017[60]). All of these attitudes, when taken together, can constitute an impediment to equal gender relations within the household, to women’s ability to work and hence to their economic empowerment.

The wider economic climate in the region – with high unemployment rates, a large and saturated public sector and a sluggish private sector – is contributing to the common belief that men’s access to jobs should take priority over women’s. As the unemployment rate in the MENA region has been increasing since 2008, many men struggle to find jobs and live up to their traditionally conceived role of breadwinner. According to a survey carried out by Promundo and UN Women, 98% of men and 88% of women in Egypt uphold the idea that men should have access to jobs before women when work opportunities are scarce (UN Women/Promundo, 2017[60]).

However, the current economic context and other changes are shaking up traditional gender relations within households and could also increase women’s participation in the labour market (Box 1.2). Although most caregiving tasks are assigned to women in MENA, more than half of male respondents report that they spend too little time with their children and would like to share more daily care-giving work with women (UN Women/Promundo, 2017[60]). Additionally, around half of male and female respondents in Egypt and more than 80% of respondents in Morocco would like to see a paternity leave policy. More than 70% of men in Egypt and in Morocco expected to share their homemaker roles with their working wife. This implies that men are seeking a deeper involvement in the household beyond their traditional role as breadwinners. This, however, is subject to a caveat: men are still expected to remain the main providers and decision makers in the home and women the primary care-givers and organisers of the home. These traditional patterns are usually set in childhood and perpetuated by women and men within their own families (UN Women/Promundo, 2017[60]).

Violence against women affects around one in three women and girls at some point in their lives. It is also an economic issue, carrying significant costs to individuals, households, the public sector, businesses and society. Violence against women and women’s economic empowerment are closely interlinked, but the relationship is not linear. On one hand, violence against women – both at home and in the workplace – hinders women’s economic activity, as it significantly undermines women’s educational and employment opportunities, freedom of choices, income-earning capacity and advancement in the workplace. On the other hand, women’s economic empowerment can both decrease or increase violence, as sometimes men can have a strong backlash against women’s newly empowered status.

Despite the efforts of multiple stakeholders in the MENA countries, various forms of violence against women are still widespread across the region. Globally, it is estimated that 35% of women have suffered from sexual and/or physical violence (García-Moreno et al., 2013[62]). However, the sensitivity of the topic in the region, especially for intimate partner violence, means that data are scarce or incomplete. According to various sources, 48% of Tunisian women (between 18 and 64 years old) declared that they had been victims of one or more forms of violence, the majority being rural victims of intimate partner violence (The Advocates for Human Rights/Mobilising for Rights Associates, 2017[63]). In addition, 54% of Tunisian women reported having experienced some form of violence in the public space over the past four years (Slim, 2016[64]). In Egypt, about 46% of women reported that they had experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence from their spouse and 13% had experienced violence in public spaces (Duvvury et al., 2015[65]). The survey further stated that more than 25% of women had entered marriage before reaching the legal age of 18. In a national survey in Jordan, 21% of ever-married women between the ages of 15-49 declared that they had experienced physical violence (Department of Statistics/ICF, 2019[66]). In Morocco, the prevalence of psychological violence fell from 58% to 49% between 2009 and 2019. In contrast, economic violence rose from 8% to 15% over the same period (High Commission for Planning Morocco, 2019[67]).

Violence in the workplace is one of the main issues that women face in Jordan (ARDD, 2018[68]). Recently, over 50% of Jordanian women (and 73% of Syrian refugee women) informally reported having been sexually harassed in the workplace (Husseini, 2018[69]). Furthermore, around 20 women in Jordan are killed annually for reasons related to so-called family honour crimes.26

Traditional social norms and inequitable perceptions about women’s roles increase women’s risk of being the victims of violence. The previously mentioned study by UN Women and Promundo indicates that there is a strong belief that women should tolerate violent treatment by their spouse to keep the family together. This opinion is not only shared by men (90% in Egypt and 60% in Morocco), but also by women (70% in Egypt and 46% in Morocco). One-third or more of men in the surveyed countries still believe that there are occasions when a woman deserves to be beaten. Street-based violence against women is another very prevalent form of violence in MENA countries. Approximately 75% of male respondents in Egypt and in Morocco used a woman’s “provocative” dress to legitimise their acts. More women agreed with this idea than did their male counterparts. A victim-blaming culture has led female respondents to blame men’s acts on women’s temptation. Furthermore, in cases of rape, about 60% of surveyed men and 48% or more surveyed women believed that a woman who is raped should marry her rapist. Surprisingly, more women than men blame the victim for having been harassed.

A series of legislative advances, sensitisation campaigns, and community initiatives have contributed to raising awareness among women and men alike of the need to stop violence against women in all its forms (Chapter 4: Case Studies 4.4 to 4.7). These actions are having an impact. According to the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) 1995, which was the first to measure attitudes of ever-married women to FGM, only 10% of women wished to end this practice. However, by 2015 this rate had increased to 37.5% (EDHS14) and to 44% in 2017 according to the UN Women survey. This opinion was also supported by 30% of men in 2017 (UN Women/Promundo, 2017[60]).

Participating in economic activities allows women to make positive changes in their lives, with positive ripple effects for their families, communities and societies. Providing women with equal rights and opportunities in education and the workplace is not only an end in itself, but is also a precondition for tapping into their full potential.

As discussed in this chapter, the MENA region has made noticeable improvements in providing equal educational opportunities for boys and girls. Statistics show that gender gaps in school enrolment rates and educational attainment have almost been closed. The share of female STEM graduates in some MENA countries is even higher than OECD countries. Some progress, albeit slowly, has also been made in the labour market. Financial inclusion keeps improving in favour of women. More women participate in decision making in the public realm today than 20 years ago. There is now a public agenda on gender equality and the topic of women’s economic empowerment is prominently present in social debates.

Despite these achievements, MENA countries – as with most countries – still have a long way to go to achieve truly equal economic participation and opportunities. While some challenges are universal (e.g. equal pay and employment segregation), some are specifically prevalent in the region (e.g. domestic workers, unpaid care work and social norms). The opportunities suggest that the MENA countries could seize the growing momentum for reforms, but the scale of the challenges cautions that gender equality cannot be accomplished overnight.

The following list highlights the key obstacles to women’s economic empowerment in the MENA region, especially the four selected countries. The case studies and in-depth boxes in the chapters which follow describe how some of these obstacles are being overcome. The case studies analyse specific recent legislative, institutional and policy reforms for women’s economic empowerment in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. They examine how and why the reforms came about, the actors involved, their implementation and impact, as well as key success factors. They are based on discussions with stakeholders in the countries concerned (methodological details in Annexes A to D). The report also includes in-depth boxes based on desk review that analyse initiatives on women’s economic empowerment, as well as boxes highlighting reform tools for legislators and policy makers.27

  • The unequal burden on women of unpaid care and domestic work. This is one of the primary obstacles to MENA women’s participation in the labour market. Although a sizable number of women, especially young women, want to work, domestic commitments are their biggest constraint.

    • See Case Studies 2.1 and 2.4: reforms for alleviating women’s care burden

  • Informal employment. Though informal work is still prevalent among women and men alike, informal female labourers in the MENA region are the most vulnerable in their roles as domestic workers and in the agriculture sector.

    • See Chapter 3 on decent work for all women, plus Case Study 3.1 on domestic workers in Morocco; Case Study 3.2 on rural women in Tunisia; Case Study 3.3 on women’s access to land in Morocco; and Case Study 3.4 on women refugees in Jordan.

  • Legal barriers, lack of assets and lack of access to formal financial services prevent women from setting up and expanding businesses. In the four countries, discriminatory legal or customary frameworks governing women’s inheritance rights constitute a major obstacle for potential female entrepreneurs

    • See Chapter 4 on inheritance; and Case Studies 2.8, 2.9 and 2.10 all shed light on efforts to empower female entrepreneurs in Jordan and Egypt.

  • Poor coverage by the full range of social protection, especially for women in rural areas. Low female labour market participation, high levels of unemployment and high rates of informality play a role.

    • Case Study 2.3 describes efforts to enhance social protection for women and their families in Jordan; Case Study 3.1 outlines social protection for domestic workers in Morocco; and Case Study 3.2 discusses social protection for rural women in Tunisia. Case Study 3.4 includes information about cash transfer programmes for women refugees in Jordan.

  • Unequal pay. Gender pay gaps can discourage women from entering traditionally male-dominated sectors or occupations. In addition, women with children usually have lower wages than childless women: maternity leads to a salary penalty which may persist for a female professional.

    • Case Study 2.7 discusses one initiative to equalise working conditions for women in Jordan.

  • Poor choice in the occupations or job positions suitable for women. Prominent gender occupational and sectoral segregation continues to undermine MENA women’s participation in the labour market, their career choices and their professional progression.

    • Case Studies 2.1 (flex work in Jordan), 2.2 (gender balance in corporate leadership in MENA), 2.5. (women’s participation and leadership in workers’ and employers’ organisations in Tunisia) and 2.6 (gender-balanced tripartite organisations in Egypt) analyse efforts to broaden women’s opportunities at work.

  • Violence against women and girls. This is still widespread and has a serious bearing on women’s economic empowerment, whether in the public or the private sphere.

    • All four countries are implementing progressive legislative reforms in this area. Case Studies 4.4 to 4.7 report on progress, challenges and impacts in each of the four countries.

  • Social attitudes surrounding traditional gender roles. These affect women’s agency and hamper their economic activities.

    • Countries are taking measures to implement initiatives that encourage the transformation of social norms; see for example Case Studies 4.1 and 4.4, both from Tunisia. Morocco is making efforts to address stereotyping and discrimination, especially in the media sector (Case Studies 5.2 and 5.3).

  • Lack of comparable data. One of the challenges in assessing women’s economic empowerment is the lack of comparable data over time and across the region. Although the governments in the MENA region have made much progress on collecting and analysing gender-disaggregated data, certain gaps remain, notably data on the informal economy, women’s ownership of businesses, and for measuring several of the UN Minimum Set of Gender Indicators and the SDG indicators. Comparability issues also have an impact as reporting on certain indicators in the selected countries is not always consistent with internationally recognised definitions.

    • Chapter 6 discusses initiatives underway to build the evidence base for women’s economic empowerment.

The indicator of status in employment distinguishes between two categories of the total employed, which are: (a) wage and salaried workers (also known as employees); and (b) self-employed workers. The self-employed group is broken down into subcategories: self-employed workers with employees (employers), self-employed workers without employees (own-account workers), members of producers’ co-operatives and contributing family workers (also known as unpaid family workers).

According to the World Bank, breaking down employment information by status in employment provides a statistical basis for describing workers’ behaviour and conditions of work, and for defining an individual's socio-economic group. The OECD, nevertheless, notes that links between informality and development are complex and informality mirrors various development patterns. In effect, analysis of data shows that in countries where the growth performance is largely driven by manufacturing and agriculture, informality may persist or even increase.

The ILO defines informal employment as working arrangements that are de facto or de jure not subject to national labour legislation, income taxation or entitlement to social protection or certain other employment benefits (advance notice of dismissal, severance pay, paid annual or sick leave, etc.).

The OECD 2019 report Tackling Vulnerability in the Informal Economy provided international and operational definitions of the informal economy, informal employment and employment in the informal sector (OECD/ILO, 2019[31]). Table 1.B.1. defines whether a person is in informal employment. Globally, informal employment accounts for more than four out of every five own-account workers, one out of every two employers, two out of every five employees and all contributing family workers.


[68] ARDD (2018), Silent Women. ARDD’s Report on Harassment Problems in the Workplace, ARDD, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/67520.

[47] Baliamoune-Lutz, M. and S. Lutz (2017), “Financing and Performance of Female-Owned Firms in Middle Eastern and African Economies”, SSRN Electronic Journal, http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2907977.

[38] Bougeurra, Z. (2017), Remue-ménage en Tunisie: la condition des travailleuse domestiques en question(s), AFTURD and ACTIONAID, http://www.afturd-tunisie.org/uploads/pdf/publications/5c5227566fa7d964182867.pdf.

[55] Charmes, J. (2019), The Unpaid Care Work and the Labour Market. An Analysis of Time Use Data Based on the Latest World Compilation of Time-use Surveys, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---gender/documents/publication/wcms_732791.pdf.

[35] De La O Campos, A., N. Warring and C. Brunelli (2015), Gender and Land Statistics. Recent Developments in FAO’s Gender and Land Database, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4862e.pdf.

[66] Department of Statistics/ICF (2019), Jordan Population and Family Health Survey 2017-18, Department of Statistics, Amman and ICF, Rockville, https://www.dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR346/FR346.pdf.

[9] Dimova, R., S. Elder and K. Stephan (2016), “Labour Market Transitions of Young Women and Men in the Middle East and North Africa”, Work4Youth Publication Series 44, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/documents/publication/wcms_536067.pdf.

[65] Duvvury, N. et al. (2015), The Egypt Economic Cost of Gender-Based Violence Survey (ECGBVS) 2015, Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), Cairo, https://egypt.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/Costs%20of%20the%20impact%20of%20Gender%20Based%20Violence%20%28GBV%29%20WEB.pdf.

[21] Elder, S. and S. Kring (2016), Young and Female - A Double Strike? Gender analysis of school-to-work transition surveys in 32 developing countries, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_emp/documents/publication/wcms_447495.pdf.

[34] EU Public Group on Gender (2015), Thematic Brief. Gender, Agriculture and Rural Development, https://europa.eu/capacity4dev/public-gender/documents/thematic-brief-gender-agriculture-and-rural-development (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[5] Ferrant, G. and A. Kolev (2016), “Does gender discrimination in social institutions matter for long-term growth?: Cross-country evidence”, OECD Development Centre Working Papers, No. 330, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jm2hz8dgls6-en.

[62] García-Moreno, C. et al. (2013), Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence, World Health Organization, https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/85239/9789241564625_eng.pdf;jsessionid=BA7FE453E3CC05C1F8ECE9C0CB3165E9?sequence=1.

[42] Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (2019), GEM 2018/2019 Women’s entrepreneurship report, Global Entrepreneurship Research Association, London, https://www.gemconsortium.org/report/gem-20182019-womens-entrepreneurship-report.

[37] Goździak, E. and A. Walter (2011), Urban Refugees in Cairo, Institute for the Study of International Forced Migration. Georgetown University, http://issuu.com/georgetownsfs/docs/urban_refugees_in_cairo (accessed 18 May 2014).

[67] High Commission for Planning Morocco (2019), Communiqué du Haut-Commissariat au Plan à l’occasion de la campagne nationale et internationale de mobilisation pour l’élimination de la violence à l’encontre des femmes, https://www.hcp.ma/Communique-du-Haut-Commissariat-au-Plan-a-l-occasion-de-la-campagne-nationale-et-internationale-de-mobilisation-pour-l_a2411.html (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[58] High Commission for Planning Morocco (2018), Morocco in Figures, https://www.hcp.ma/file/209124 (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[69] Husseini, R. (2018), More than half of women seeking workplace legal counsel have experienced sexual harassment, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/%E2%80%98more-half-women-seeking-workplace-legal-counsel-have-experienced-sexual-harassment-%E2%80%98 (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[73] Husseini, R. (2017), Despite promises, shelter for victims of ‘family honour’ remain unopened, The Jordan Times, 18 July 2017, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/despite-promises-shelter-victims-family-honour’-remain-unopened (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[49] ILO (2020), Social protection, accessed 20 April 2020, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/social-security/lang--en/index.htm.

[28] ILO (2019), Global Wage Report 2018/19, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_650553.pdf.

[18] ILO (2019), ILO modelled estimates, Employment by sex and age, https://www.ilo.org/shinyapps/bulkexplorer16/?lang=en&segment=indicator&id=EMP_2EMP_SEX_AGE_NB_A (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[22] ILO (2019), ILO modelled estimates, Employment distribution by occupation, https://www.ilo.org/shinyapps/bulkexplorer12/?lang=en&segment=indicator&id=EMP_2EMP_SEX_OCU_DT_A (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[15] ILO (2019), ILO modelled estimates, Population and labour force, https://www.ilo.org/shinyapps/bulkexplorer24/?lang=en&segment=indicator&id=EAP_2WAP_SEX_AGE_RT_A (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[57] ILO (2018), Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_633135.pdf.

[70] ILO (2018), ILOSTAT, https://www.ilo.org/shinyapps/bulkexplorer2/ (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[32] ILO (2018), Informality and Non-Standard Forms of Employment, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---inst/documents/publication/wcms_646040.pdf.

[33] ILO (2018), Women and Men in the Informal Economy. A Statistical Picture, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_626831.pdf.

[16] ILO (2018), World Employment and Social Outlook. Trends 2018, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_615594.pdf.

[50] ILO (2017), World Social Protection Report. Universal Protection to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_604882.pdf.

[26] ILO (2016), Women in business and management. Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and North Africa, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---arabstates/---ro-beirut/documents/publication/wcms_446101.pdf.

[36] ILO (2015), ILO Global Estimates on Migrant Workers. Results and Methodology. Special Focus on Migrant Domestic Workers., International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_436343.pdf.

[23] ILO (2015), Women in Business and Management. Gaining Momentum. Global Report, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_316450.pdf.

[27] ILO (2008), International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC), Rev.4, International Labour Organization, Geneva, https://unstats.un.org/unsd/publication/seriesM/seriesm_4rev4e.pdf.

[51] IMF (2018), Opportunity for All: Promoting Growth Jobs and Inclusiveness in the Arab World, International Monetary Fund, Washington DC, https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Departmental-Papers-Policy-Papers/Issues/2018/07/10/Opportunity-for-All-Promoting-Growth-and-Inclusiveness-in-the-Middle-East-and-North-Africa-45981.

[39] Kelley, D. et al. (2017), Global entrepreneurship monitor 2016/2017 report on women’s entrepreneurship, Global Entrepreneurship Association (GERA), Babson College and Smith College, https://www.gemconsortium.org/report/gem-20162017-womens-entrepreneurship-report.

[44] Legal agenda (2018), Denying women inheritance is a crime subject to imprisonment, http://legal-agenda.com/en/article.php?id=4259 (accessed on  July 2019).

[3] Mckinsey Global Institute (2015), The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth, https://econpapers.repec.org/paper/esswpaper/id_3a7570.htm.

[6] OECD (2020), Aid Focussed on Gender Equality: A snapshot of current funding and trends over time in support of the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, https://www.oecd.org/development/gender-development/Aid-Focussed-on-Gender-Equality-and-Women-s-Empowerment-2020.pdf.

[24] OECD (2019), Corporate Governance in MENA: Building a Framework for Competitiveness and Growth, Corporate Governance, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/2a6992c2-en.

[56] OECD (2019), Enabling Women’s Economic Empowerment: New Approaches to Unpaid Care Work in Developing Countries, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/ec90d1b1-en.

[10] OECD (2019), PISA 2018 Results (Volume I): What Students Know and Can Do, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5f07c754-en.

[46] OECD (2019), “Restricted access to productive and financial resources”, in SIGI 2019 Global Report: Transforming Challenges into Opportunities, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/6498ea10-en.

[43] OECD (2019), SIGI 2019 Global Report: Transforming Challenges into Opportunities, Social Institutions and Gender Index, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/bc56d212-en.

[52] OECD (2019), Social Expenditure Database (SOCX).

[13] OECD (2018), CO3.2: Gender differences in university graduates by fields of study, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/els/CO3_2_Gender_differences_in_university_graduates.pdf.

[29] OECD (2018), Gender wage gap, https://data.oecd.org/earnwage/gender-wage-gap.htm.

[1] OECD (2017), 2013 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264279391-en.

[41] OECD (2017), SME and Entrepreneurship Policy in Canada, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264273467-en.

[59] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264281318-en.

[25] OECD (2017), Women’s Economic Empowerment in Selected MENA Countries: The Impact of Legal Frameworks in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia, Competitiveness and Private Sector Development, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264279322-en.

[7] OECD (2016), 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264252820-en.

[31] OECD/ILO (2019), Tackling Vulnerability in the Informal Economy, Development Centre Studies, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/939b7bcd-en.

[20] Quintini, G. and S. Martin (2014), “Same Same but Different: School-to-work Transitions in Emerging and Advanced Economies”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 154, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jzbb2t1rcwc-en.

[64] Slim, K. (2016), The gender-based violence in public spaces in Tunisia, CREDIF, https://maghreb.unwomen.org/fr/ressources-medias/publications/2017/01/la-violence-fondee-sur-le-genre-dans-l-espace-public-en-tunisie#view.

[63] The Advocates for Human Rights/Mobilising for Rights Associates (2017), Tunisia: Women’s Rights Joint Stakeholder Report for the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, https://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/tunisia_upr_april_may_2017_review.pdf.

[45] The Caravan (2018), Parliament amends inheritance laws to tackle gender discrimination, http://www.auccaravan.com/?p=7315. (accessed on  January 2020).

[53] Thomas, K. (2019), Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, Arab Barometer, https://www.arabbarometer.org/wp-content/uploads/AB_Women_August2019_Public-Opinion_Arab-Barometer.pdf.

[71] UN Women (2018), Avievements Report 2018. Egypt Country Office, UN Women, https://www2.unwomen.org/-/media/field%20office%20egypt/attachments/publications/2019/06/achievement%20report%20final%20for%20web%207-8-2019.pdf?la=en&vs=5258.

[72] UN Women (2018), Bureau Multi-pays pour le Maghreb, Rapport d’activités ONU Femmes, 2017-2018 (in French), UN Women, https://maghreb.unwomen.org/-/media/field%20office%20maghreb/documents/publications/2019/rapport%20onu%20femmes%20maghreb%202017-2018.pdf?la=fr&vs=2749.

[60] UN Women/Promundo (2017), Understanding Masculinities. Results From the International Men and Gender Equality Study (IMAGES) - Middle East and North Africa, UN Women, https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/publications/2017/images-mena-multi-country-report-en.pdf?la=en&vs=3602.

[11] UNESCO (2020), Education: February 2020 release (database), http://data.uis.unesco.org/Index.aspx?queryid=144 (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[8] UNESCO (2019), UIS.Stat, http://data.uis.unesco.org/ (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[12] UNESCO (2018), How women are transforming the Arab world’s start-up scene, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/start-up-middle-east-arab-women-transforming-entrepreneurship/ (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[17] UNICEF (2019), MENA Generation 2030, https://www.unicef.org/mena/reports/mena-generation-2030.

[40] UNIDO (2017), Promoting Women Empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development in the Middle East and North Africa Region, https://www.unido.org/sites/default/files/files/2019-10/MENA_REPORT_Eng_interactive-1_0.pdf.

[54] World Bank (2020), World Development Indicators (database), The World Bank, Washington DC, https://databank.worldbank.org/reports.aspx?source=2&type=metadata&series=SG.GEN.PARL.ZS (accessed on 20 April 2020).

[61] World Bank (2018), Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, World Bank, http://dx.doi.org/10.1596/30947.

[4] World Bank (2018), Unrealised Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings, The World Bank, Washington DC, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/29865.

[19] World Bank (2016), “Egypt’s Youth Outside Work and Education”, MENA Knowledge and Learning Quick Notes Series, Number 162, The World Bank, Washington DC, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/454531482235681892/pdf/BRI-MENA-Knowledge-Notes-series-PUBLIC-QN-162.pdf.

[30] World Bank (2013), Gender at Work, The World Bank, Washington DC, https://www.worldbank.org/content/dam/Worldbank/Event/Gender/GenderAtWork_web2.pdf.

[48] World Bank Group (2018), The Global Findex Database 2017 Measuring Financial Inclusion and the Fintech Revolution, World Bank Group, Washington DC, https://globalfindex.worldbank.org/sites/globalfindex/files/2018-04/2017%20Findex%20full%20report_0.pdf.

[14] World Economic Forum (2018), The Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum, Geneva, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2018.pdf.

[2] World Economic Forum (2018), The Global Gender Gap Report 2018, World Economic Forum, Geneva, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2018.pdf.


← 1. The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) network on gender equality defines women’s economic empowerment as women’s capacity to contribute to and benefit from economic activities on terms which recognise the value of their contribution, respect their dignity and make it possible for them to negotiate a fairer distribution of returns.

← 2. MGI’s 2015 report, The Power of Parity, maps 15 gender equality indicators in 4 dimensions for 95 countries, under 3 scenarios (“business-as-usual”, “full-potential” and “best-in-region”) (Mckinsey Global Institute, 2015[3]). Estimates of potential economic gains quoted in this chapter equal the incremental 2025 GDP in a scenario where gender parity for each country on the 4 dimensions included in the model is completely achieved (i.e. the “full-potential” scenario), as compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

← 3. The World Bank’s 2018 report on the cost of gender inequality focuses on the losses in national wealth due to gender inequality in earnings (World Bank, 2018[4]). Instead of measuring losses from inequality as annual flows (the GDP approach), this approach measures losses in human capital (the wealth approach). This is done by measuring lifetime losses in earnings. It accounts for human capital (measured by earnings), as well as produced capital coming from investments in assets and natural capital such as land and natural resources. The report covers 141 countries. Estimates of losses from gender inequality in labour markets based on human capital wealth are substantially larger than those based on GDP alone (USD 2.7 trillion against USD 3.1 trillion in MENA) because wealth is larger than GDP.

← 4. SIGI measures gender-based discrimination in social institutions across 180 countries. It covers four dimensions: discrimination within the family, restricted physical integrity, restricted access to financial and productive resources, and restricted civil liberties.

← 5. Statistics based on Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members’ reporting on the Gender Equality Policy Marker, 2017-2018. Creditor Reporting System database, March 2019: http://www.oecd.org/dac/financing-sustainable-development/development-finance-data/gender-related-aid-data.htm.

← 6. According to the 2016 ILO report, Labour Market Transitions of Young Men in the Middle East and North Africa (Dimova, Elder and Stephan, 2016[9]), the most frequently cited reason for leaving school early among young men was a general lack of interest in studying (33.1%), followed by a failed examination (26.0%) and a desire to start working (21.4%). Young women, on the other hand, were much more likely than young men to have been influenced by the prospect of getting married (26.4% compared to 0.1% of young males).

← 7. The working-age population is commonly defined as people aged 15 years and older, though this varies from country to country. Statistics used in this report cover people aged 15 years and older.

← 8. ILO calculations based on ILO SWTS data in 26 countries (35 surveys in 2012-13 and/or 2014-15).

← 9. Occupation groups adopted in this publication are in line with the latest International Standard Classification of Occupations 2008 (ISCO-08), which classifies all jobs into 10 major groups at the highest level of aggregation. For more information please see: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/---publ/documents/publication/wcms_172572.pdf

← 10. The data used here for the OECD average only cover 28 European Union countries. Total gender occupational segregation of the OECD is higher than the global average mainly because proportionately more women work in service, sales and clerical support positions, and more men work as craft and related trade workers.

← 11. According to the OECD’s 2017 publication on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Selected MENA Countries (OECD, 2017[25]), labour market dynamics in the region over recent decades have not favoured female labour force participation. On the one hand, the number of available public sector jobs in the region has declined with the structural adjustment policies initiated in the 1980s. On the other, this decline was not compensated for by a sufficient increase in jobs in the private sector – the MENA region has the world’s lowest private-sector investment contribution to growth – and the majority of the region’s investments were directed to low-skilled and capital-intensive sectors in which women’s participation is lower.

← 12. The OECD definition of gender wage gap is the difference between median earnings of women and men relative to median earnings of men. Data refer to full-time employees on the one hand and to self-employed on the other.

← 13. Vulnerable employment refers to the sum of contributing family workers and own-account workers. This is because they are the least likely to have formal work arrangements, are the least likely to have social protection and safety nets to guard against economic shocks, and often are incapable of generating sufficient savings to offset these shocks – thus the most likely to fall into poverty (OECD/ILO, 2019[31]).

← 14. Domestic workers are employed to work in other people’s homes, providing a range of domestic services, including cleaning, cooking, washing clothes and dishes, shopping, caring for children or the elderly, sick or disabled, gardening, driving and security (ILO, 2018[33]).

← 15. Total early-stage entrepreneurial activity represents the percentage of the adult working-age population (18-64 years old) who are either nascent or new entrepreneurs (Kelley et al., 2017[39]).

← 16. Defined as the proportion of the total population receiving at least one contributory or non-contributory cash benefit, or actively contributing to at least one social security scheme.

← 17. Specifically for this data, MENA refers to the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

← 18. These data refer only to the Arab states, which include Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, The Palestinian Authority, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

← 19. For more details on the programme, visit https://www.oecd.org/mena/competitiveness.

← 20. The MENA-OECD Governance Programme is a strategic partnership between MENA and OECD countries to share knowledge and expertise, with a view to disseminating standards and principles of good governance that support the ongoing process of reform in the region. The programme’s work on gender equality is available at: https://www.oecd.org/mena/governance/gender-equality-in-public-life/.

← 21. Unpaid care and domestic work refers to non-market, unpaid work carried out in households (by women primarily, but also to varying degrees by girls, men and boys), which includes both direct care (of persons) and indirect care (such as cooking, cleaning, fetching water and fuel, etc.). These activities are recognised as work, but typically not included in the System of National Accounts or – in the case of activities like fetching water/fuel – are theoretically included but often not well documented or accounted for (OECD, 2019[56]).

← 22. According to the Communiqué from the Moroccan High Commission for Planning on the occasion of the national and international mobilisation campaign for the elimination of violence against women. A survey was carried out between February and July 2019 and covered the entire national territory, with a sample of 12 000 girls and women and 3 000 boys and men aged 15 to 74. https://www.hcp.ma/Communique-du-Haut-Commissariat-au-Plan-a-l-occasion-de-la-campagne-nationale-et-internationale-de-mobilisation-pour-l_a2411.html (accessed in December 2019).

← 23. Ibid.

← 24. According to Arab Barometer’s surveys (Thomas, 2019[53]), for example, in Algeria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Tunisia and Yemen, citizens living in urban areas expressed lower acceptance of a female head of state than citizens living in rural areas. In Yemen and the Palestinian Authority, no significant difference was found when it comes to husbands and wives’ decision-making power at home when comparing people with higher and with lower level of education.

← 25. The latest country to be surveyed in the MENA region is Lebanon, where young people expressed slightly more equitable attitudes towards gender norms.

← 26. Honour crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonour upon the family (Husseini, 2017[73]).

← 27. Table 1 at the start of this report contains an “at-a-glance” summary of all the themes of the case studies and in-depth boxes.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.



The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.