Promoting Productive Employment and Decent Work for Women in Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine (Work4Women)
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Difficult political transitions, security challenges, declining oil prices and protracted regional conflicts continue to weigh on the economic prospects of the Arab States region. The rate of extreme poverty in the MENA region rose from 3.8% in 2015 to 7.2% in 2018, it is estimated that the current poverty level in the MENA region is up to 7.9% in 2020, as the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic compounds the forces of conflict and climate change. As the pandemic intensifies the rise in poverty in the region, it threatens to push at least an additional 3 million people into extreme poverty. 
Gender inequality in the world of work is among the most pressing development challenges facing the global community. Women are less likely than men to participate in the labour market, are less likely to find a job, and when they do, women are often subject to various barriers to advancement and wellbeing. Despite having achieved near equal rates of primary school enrolment and a dramatic drop in illiteracy rates for both women and men, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has struggled to translate this into women’s participation in all aspects of political, social and economic life. The Global Gender Gap Report of 2021 ranks the region last globally in the overall index and fifth, ahead of South Asia, on Economic Participation.
The region has the world’s lowest female labour force participation rates, the overall labour force participation rate in the region in 2020 is 47.9%. For women it stands at around 20% The lowest compared to other regions. There is a need for further progress in several interconnected areas to increase the economic participation of women, including improvements required in the legal and regulatory frameworks, enhanced access to skills training, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work (reduce the high cost of child and elderly care, household chores), improved access to decent working conditions, comprehensive social security coverage (maternity and pension), and enhanced access to resources (land, property, finances), to mention a few.
There is an expanding body of research on the business case for gender equality, and it is becoming increasingly evident that it is rational for governments and businesses to promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. Quite simply, equality makes economic and business sense. There is macroeconomic evidence that if women in the MENA region participated in the paid economy on an equal footing to men, the regional GDP could rise by 47 per cent over the next 10 years, adding an extra USD 600 billion in economic impact annually and USD 2.7 trillion by 2025.
For individual businesses the logic of gender equality is compelling. For one, prejudice based on sex can impede the recruitment or promotion of the best candidate for the job; secondly, a diverse workforce brings with it different ideas, and ways of doing things that will propel innovation and therefore make a business more profitable; and in an era of globalization where one’s market may not simply be the locality or even the country where a business is located, diverse workforces are better mirrors of the diverse populations to whom companies are trying to sell goods or services.
Economic security is critical to women’s overall well-being and contributes to educational attainment, health, agency, family stability, and community engagement. To achieve economic empowerment, efforts to expand the scale, type and quality of job opportunities are necessary, as well as facilitating conducive policies and legislations, and ensuring compatibility with family life in terms of maternity, child and elderly care provisions and facilities.
It is against this background that UN Women and ILO have developed a multi-country programme to promote decent employment opportunities for women in Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine by addressing the structural causes of inequalities that women face in the region. While this programme aims to tackle common issues across countries, it will do so by taking into consideration country context specificities.
In line with commitments outlined in the SDGs, and in particular of SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) and SDG 8 (Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all), the strategies will include promoting equitable labour laws and policies; engaging public, private and community actors (with attention to involving men); and reducing the unequal burden of unpaid care work.
Working with a wide range of partners from among the government institutions, the private sector, employers’ and workers’ organizations, and the civil society, the programme will work at three levels, macro, meso and micro, reflected in the programme outcomes:
- Outcome 1: Gender responsive labour laws and related policies in place and effective
- Outcome 2: A gender responsive private sector that attracts, retains and promotes women is supported
- Outcome 3: Gender stereotypes about women and men’s responsibilities concerning unpaid care and household work are challenged
UN Women and ILO bring distinct comparative advantages to the joint programme, having a strong history of promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in the region. UN Women will leverage its global leadership for gender equality and women’s empowerment, its role as UN coordinator on gender equality and women’s empowerment, and its strategic relationships with government institutions and civil society organizations, in particular the women’s rights movement and the private sector through the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs). For its part the ILO has a unique tripartite structure, bringing governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations together, has an explicit mandate to promote decent work for all women and men through international labour standards, and is concerned with the promotion of social justice including gender equality in the world of work.
Egypt, Jordan and Palestine
2019-2023 (60 months)
UN Women and ILO
13 million USD
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
About UN Women
UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide.
Since 1919, the ILO has been bringing together governments, employers and workers of 187 member States, to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. It is the only tripartite agency of the UN.
Sida is a government agency working on behalf of the Swedish parliament and government, with the mission to reduce poverty in the world. Through our work and in cooperation with others, we contribute to implementing Sweden’s Policy for Global Development (PGU).
- Lemonia Fokaidou
Joint Programme Manager
Regional Office for the Arab States
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- Reem Aslan
Gender Technical Specialist
International Labour Organization, Regional Office for Arab States
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