Lagging Far Behind: Women’s economic Empowerment in Egypt

The path for women emotional independence is hindered by corporate hurdles in private and public sectors

Egypt ranks low in gender equity compared to other countries worldwide.  The 2016 Global Gender Gap Index, which measures disparities between men and women across countries, ranks Egypt at 132 out of 144 countries worldwide. Women have significantly lower participation in the labor force than men (26% vs 79%), while Official data and reports say that women’s participation in the Labor power does not exceed 22%, which is one of the lowest in the world.

Egypt is listed among 13 Arab countries, which don’t have laws mandating equal pay, while Morocco and Algeria guarantee equal pay by laws.

Work to Break the Slave-Master Cycle

Great Feminist theorists including “Simone de Beauvoir” and “Bernard Shaw” have stressed that one of the key reasons which paves the way for a woman emotional independence and her ability to stand up for her rights against her husband abuse is gaining her “wherewithal to her subsistence”. Typically, once a person has his own ability to work and produce, he begets his own spectrum of freedom which lets him stand against his abuser, because he is financially free, so he does not need to be submissive to any other entity outside his own.

The concept of the freedom of women from their husbands’ abuse, coincides with Marx’s “communist manifesto” concept when he called for labor globally to revolt against their capitalist masters by calling for their rights. So that as, the labor is submissive to his capitalist in the workplace, the woman is submissive to her master in both workplace and at home.

Women in Arab countries are an underutilised economic force, with only 24% working outside the home – that’s among the lowest female employment rates in the world

Unpaid Work Forces Woman to Accept Low Wage Jobs

Women and girls continue to perform the large majority of domestic and care work, requiring significant levels of time and energy.

Time poverty is a major reason why women have a greater presence in the informal economy, leading them to choose home-based work, work that does not require travel, part-time or flexible work, or self-employment where they can choose their own hours. Although these strategies allow women to balance the “double burden” of household and paid work, they also lead to lower incomes and opportunities over women’s lifetimes.

The New women foundation released a study titled “The value of women’s unpaid housework in Egypt”, which revealed that the total work burden for working women in Egypt exceeds that of men, the difference is that the greater part of working men work is paid work (91%) while the greater part of women’s work is unpaid housework (46%).  Added to this, 48% of working women in Egypt, do work in the informal Sector. Moreover, 63 % of women in  the  informal  sector  are  unpaid.

62 percent of women who carry out unpaid work on family-owned land and businesses are based in Upper Egypt, while 35.4 per cent are in the northern provinces of the so-called Lower Egypt. Only 1.9 per cent of women working without pay for the family are in the capital, Cairo, as well as Alexandria and the Canal region. According to a study titled “My Rights  … What rights?”  Released in April 2016.

Working Women are the toiling masses of the Egyptian Community

Mr Khaled Ashmawy, stated in his research on the working women in the MENA region, that since 2014 only around 0.7% increase in the employment rates were for women, due to the “general economic patriarch thought”, besides such women working under “hard if not worsening work-related conditions” compared to their male counterparts.

As well, he drew an important hint to the fact that most working women in Egypt, resort to work in the public sector, especially those “married and educated”, while the number shrinks significantly for women working in the private sector in the formal sector, so that women in Egypt mostly work either in the informal sector, hence not legally recognized by the state  and deprived of all their insurance entitlements, or work in the public sector with its shameful low income level in the consistent rise of inflation with the surging currency value, so that women in the public sector have no option for “self care” as the report states.

Regarding women in the informal sector, Dr Ghada Waly, the minister of social solidarity, stated in al Masry al Youm  – Egyptian daily Newspaper – that women represent around 60% to 70% of the labor in the informal sector in Egypt “responsible for the breeding of their own families”; around 30% in the urban areas while 70% in the rural areas, for example, around 50% of the employed women are in the agricultural sector, which is known to be “part of the female daily chores in our culture, while not seriously considered a source of her economic independence at all”, as the Social Research Center mentions.

Constraints to women’s economic participation: Sexual Harassment, Gender-Based Violence and low paying

Furthermore, in the online report, “where there is no respect at work”, Ghada Barsoum, an assistant professor at the department of public policy and administration at The American University in Cairo, stated that working women face high levels of sexual harassment performing mainly low quality jobs of either administrative or contractual work; while normally as it is globally known, the glass ceiling is erected towards women.

Other challenges, range from business owners’ suspicion of the woman abilities to balance her work and life in accordance once she is committed, assuming that women are mono-tasked creatures, especially if the woman is pregnant following the legal motherhood liabilities the owner will have to pay after her baby-delivery which adds extra costs to his business, “still fearing that she might not resume her work after he pays all her motherhood entitlements”; a matter which makes hiring women a risk, although this problem can be mediated by a written binding-contract, but such a threat does not mount to not hire her at the first place.

And even if the woman refused to be corporate-employed for all such hurdles and sought to protect herself by being her own boss, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) in 2012, stated that women in Egypt face the most stringent laws when coming to obtain a bank loan because their “seriousness is doubtful” to functionally operate in a business from the “Frontline creditors”, leading to having only 24% being self-employed although there are speculations that the figure is to jump to 30%, however still it is amongst the least globally for self-employed women due to this invalid suspicion.

How to re-wire the social and economic map for working women based on other nations?

Reducing the barriers that women face to participating in the workforce and increasing their productivity and earnings gives them a greater chance of succeeding as wage workers, farmers, or entrepreneurs.

The matter of sexual harassment can be easily diminished by applying the “whistle blowing” concept, so that the victim is free and secure to report her accident in secrecy, by applying related-procedures held by the Human resources department in accordance with the legal department to protect the vulnerable employed by catching the harasser red-handed.

Secondly, Argentina is not a developed country, but it has the privilege of employing women to work only 20 hours a week balancing from their social insurances and other employee entitlements, including providing a flexible scheme for working women.

Other nations which excel in minimizing their gender gap globally are the three Scandinavian countries, because by helping the woman to balance her domestic chores, they intelligently allow the father to take a parental leave following the 50-50 parenthood concept while performing the child rearing activities; a matter which is required in our countries because they will allow the woman to have more quality time for herself; let alone achieve “work-fulfillment” by having a sustainable career since this is her right, even religiously she should have  an independent portion of husbandry income for her own, but now it’s otherwise.

Also, the micro-funding concept is a solution to many women working in the rural areas since they provide funding with no interest rate in return or when the profit is secured, while flexing the stringent laws and regulations.

A final call has to be for wealthy entrepreneurs, to play their social responsible role towards their communities by sponsoring a project led by a woman in the rural areas or Upper Egypt, in return for a governmental tax reduction or VAT alleviation.

A Researcher and Writer at Wlaha Wogoh Okhra

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