Women, Work, and Economic Reform in the Middle East and North Africa

By Harik, Iliya | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1999 | Go to article overview

Women, Work, and Economic Reform in the Middle East and North Africa


Harik, Iliya, The Middle East Journal


Women, Work, and Economic Reform in the Middle East and North Africa, by Valentine Moghadam. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1998. xi + 235 pages. Acronyms and Abbrevs. to p. 238, Refs. to p. 253. Index to p. 258. $55.

Reviewed by Hiva Harik

This volume on women in the labor force during the 1990s is a welcome addition to the increasingly informative literature on women's status in the societies and cultures of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). It is the product of the author's extensive field work, consulting work for international financial institutions, and reliance on statistics from various sources. Of the book's ten chapters, four are thematic, while the rest cover in depth Jordan, Syria, Turkey. Iran, and the Maghrib countries (i.e., Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia). The thematic chapters deal with women's employment, education, mobilization, and the gender contract. The author's purpose is to "examine the ways in which the economic reform process in the MENA region is affecting or is likely to affect the economic status of women, gender relations, and women's empowerment" (pp. 7-8). Thus, in every case study, there are sections devoted to economic liberalization and globalization; employment profiles; gender constraints in employment, training and education; the informal sector; social policies; labor legislation; and practical suggestions for redressing adverse conditions and for reform.

Moghadam's study confirms that women's employment rates in the MENA region remain the lowest in the world, a ranking that has not changed for the last 30 years. Progress in the Middle East East and North Africa has indeed occurred, but does not compare favorably with advancements in other regions. Trying to account for this, the author explains that oil-driven economies tend to under-represent women in the work force; however, because the oil industry is capital intensive, there also tend to be low employment opportunities for men. In order to cope with this difficulty, the author falls back on cultural. educational and legal impediments. Most interesting is Moghadam's description of the status of women in Iran, a country which the media has, for years, portrayed as a prime example of Muslim oppression of women. According to Moghadam's findings, the bad publicity that Iran has received in this respect is due to its cultural conservatism (which imposed a strict code of behavior on women) and stringent moral demands. …

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