Gender Justice: Employment Gaps in the Arab World

By Younis, Ahmed | Harvard International Review, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Gender Justice: Employment Gaps in the Arab World


Younis, Ahmed, Harvard International Review


When we are young we see change as a sweeping phenomenon, a roaring avalanche of paradigm shifts and situational changes that overwhelm the "status quo" into relinquishing its unjust usurpation of power. Such ideas do not rest far from the line demarcating dreams and reality. As we grow into our understanding of power dynamics, we realize that there are times when the stability of the SUMS quo allows for more advancement in gender equality than the rush of chaotic change. It can be argued that the Aral world is unfortunately an example of such a phenomenon at this stage of its spring of revolutions. The Arab world has seen significant advancements in gender equality over the last 30 years, leading commentators to worry about how the Arab Spring would affect this progress.

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Two-thirds of countries in the Arab world have more women than men enrolled in universities. This is a direct result of the leadership of individuals such as Shaikha Mozah hint Nasser, Founder and President of the Qatar Foundation, who among other distinctions is likely the global social entrepreneur with the largest and most diverse portfolio of initiatives. The plethora of smart, philanthropic, and entrepreneurial endeavors under way in the Arab world give much reason for positive hope for the future.

A discussion or gender Inequality in education in the current environment of the Arab world, however, is incomplete without a concurrent consideration of employment and economic opportunity. A closer analysis of the reasons behind the Arab revolutions, the current educational gender gaps, and the early economic policies of various revolutionary governments show that the Arab Spring may not bring the justice Arab women have been looking for. In fact, one could argue that in the countries where there were no revolutions there was more advancement for the situation of women than in those nations that witnessed revolutions. Surely this would be an unfair statement without the proper context, but when approaching the discussion of opportunity gaps in the Arab world, the spring of change does not necessarily contribute to gender equality.

Demanding Dignity for Women

Before diving into an assessment of the situation of women and girls within the context of the Arab Spring, it is important to articulate a foundational point. There is great injustice towards women in most parts of the world. This injustice manifests itself in innumerable ways but permeates the reality in which girls and women live, as well as the avenues they are offered in their effort to stay alive and improve their wellbeing. Articulating this foundational point is important for two reasons.

First, there is no magic cultural wand that exists anywhere in the world that brings equality and dignity to women and girls. Only comprehensive, scalable, and sustainable programming that incorporates elements of global differentiation more organic than merely "localizing" content will overcome this global phenomenon.

Second, much of what negatively affects women and girls also ails the rest of society in less measurable and obvious ways, be it in the realms of economics, education, health, or any other area of life. The situation of women and girls can often serve as a litmus test for what is happening in other sectors of society and communal life; if women and girls are oppressed and disadvantaged it is likely that other groups such as young men and boys are similarly situated. Projects such as the Nike Foundation's Girl Effect work to spread an understanding of the exponential growth in development that can be achieved when programs across the world are focused specifically on the advancement of the status of girls.

Gender Disparity

                                            Men   Women

World Illiteracy for Men and Women          40%     60%

World Chronic Hungry for Men and Women   33.33%  66.67%

Summer Institute of Linguistics and The World Food
Programme, 2013

Photo Courtesy Reuters

Note: Table made from pie chart. 

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