Arab Women: Vital Key to the Uprisings

It is too soon to tell if the Arab uprisings have improved women’s economic conditions, but women represent a formidable economic force that must be included in the re-building process. That was the resounding message at a high level meeting of business women and entrepreneurs in London.

Experts warned against repeating previous patterns where women were expected to retreat from public life after playing a key role in protest movements.

“Arab women have been told before, when they had public participation in revolutionary change, to go back home and focus on domestic issues,” Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International told Al Arabiya. “This is a crucial time for us not to repeat the patterns of the past, to demand a very public role for the Arab woman.”

 The Middle East has one of the lowest female labour market participation rates in the world, about 26 percent according to the World Bank, which is well below the 39 percent rate in low and middle income countries.

Unemployment is also significantly higher among women, even among those who hold degrees. For example, in Egypt, the percentage of women holding university degrees increased between 1998 and 2006, but strikingly, their participation in the economy remained unchanged and their unemployment rate increased, according to a World Bank study.

In the West and Gaza, the same study showed women with higher education accounted for 82 percent of female unemployment in 2007, while among educated men, the rate was only 12 percent. In Jordan, 26.5 percent of educated women were unemployed versus 9.1 percent of educated men.

Read the rest at Al Arabiya