Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Female entrepreneurship key to Mena region inclusivity.

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Friday, December 21st 2018 à 15:08 | Read 710 times

In 2017, on average, women accounted for a mere 21% of the MENA region workforce. In the face of this low ratio, the experts at the EMNES are pushing for an end to gender discrimination and the setting up of financing schemes for women entrepreneurs. Version française

Female entrepreneurship key to Mena region inclusivity.

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(photo : F.Dubessy)
(photo : F.Dubessy)
Could female employment be the missing pillar of inclusive economic development in the Middle East – North Africa (MENA) region? The premise is corroborated by a report* published by the EMNES (Euro-Mediterranean Network of Economic Studies) while, at the same time, women’s empowerment is one of the key elements in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

According to a study carried out by the World Bank, in 2017, women only accounted for around 21% of the workforce on average in the MENA region, against 50% in the European Union and 51% in OECD countries as a whole. The lowest employment rates are found in Algeria and Jordan, with 15.23% and 13.95% respectively. Morocco (24.96%), Tunisia (24.2%) and Egypt (22.18%) boast the “best” figures, even though there is still a long way to go.

Yet the EMNES document does note “substantial investment in women’s education in the MENA region and a significant rise in their level of education”. Tunisia has seen a seven-fold increase in the number of young women completing higher education between 1985 and 2010. Even better, the number of girls in school and the number of female graduates surpassed those of males in 2016.

Cultural constraints

However, women still have trouble entering the job market. Cultural constraints, coupled with housework, managing the family budget and looking after children, all tasks reserved for women under local social norms – even stricter in rural areas- explain this discrimination. This results in a lack of financial autonomy for women, a deterioration of their social status and, as the report highlights, a weakening of the country’s economic growth, even if the impact remains marginal.

Women who manage to find employment often look for a job in the public sector, which is considered safer and with shorter hours than in private-sector jobs. But government resources are becoming scarcer and the number of available jobs is dwindling.
To boost the number of women in work, the EMNES economists suggest first introducing legislative and administrative reforms to end all gender discrimination and ensure equal rights to economic and productive resources for everybody.

Other appropriate measures include making part-time working more available, encouraging working from home and extending maternity leave. Lastly, the EMNES recommends using suitable financial mechanisms such as micro-finance and crowdfunding to promote female entrepreneurship.

A mere 4.7% of young Moroccan business owners and 5.3% of their Tunisian counterparts are women. This contrasts with 6.1% in Europe, 12.8% in North America and 36.8% even in Senegal (2017 figures).

* Female labour force participation and entrepreneurship : The missing pilar for inclusive and sustainable economic development in Mena ?" - November 2018

Authors : Rym Ayadi is Scientific Director of EMNES, President of the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association and Professor at CASS Business School.

Rim Mouelhi is a member of the Steering Committee of EMNES, Professor at ISCAE Manouba University and a member of LEFA IHEC.


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