Although Women position in the labor market of the MENA region has improved in the past few years, female participation is the MENA region is still ranked as the lowest in the world (World Bank 55). Many reasons behind that lag were highlighted in the readings. Even though several structural reforms took place, the phenomena of female limited participation persists. Thus it seems that the problem does not lie in the demand side of female labor or the structure of the institutions, as much as it lies in the supply side. In other words, women’s decreased participation is accounted to the prevalent stereotypes, social and cultural norms in the region. Such norms that are holding many women from being active in the labor market had prevailed for so long, shaping both employer and women expectations of the labor market demands- making occupational segregation by sex in the MENA region inevitable.
Progress and gender diversity varies significantly from country to country and tends to reflect how women are viewed in a region’s society. The gender gap index, which examines “the gap between men & women based on economic, political, education & health criteria”, is an effective measure to benchmark the national gender gap of each country. According to the Global Gender Gap report 2013 by the World Economic forum, the gap exists the most in Arab countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and many other countries. This paper will attempt to prove that this gap is mostly accounted to the prevalent cultural norms in the MENA region.
Gender stereotypes and cultural norms have lead to discriminatory occupational segregation based on gender. Women are expected to work in certain occupations that are “gender appropriate”- limiting their options in various job fields (Assaad, 5). Unfortunately, what is dictating what gender appropriate is and what is not, is nothing but a set of stereotypical believes of what women can or cannot do, should or should not do. The culture entails that women should mainly be housewives, cut from social life and involved in familial and childbearing responsibilities, which is burdensome and time consuming. Thus when a woman joins the labor force, most of the time minimal productivity is expected on her behalf- the employer automatically perceives that the fact that she decided to have multiple roles in the society will hinder her performance on the job.
Moreover, even if women are willing and capable of making the balance between household activities and job tasks, the societal expectation of women de-motivates them to supply their labor power. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, socialist revolutions passed through many large areas in the Arab world that emphasized the role of women in social and economic development. The Arab woman became ““the lawyer, the doctor, the engineer, the cabinet minister, the ambassador, the judge, the police officer, the paratrooper as well as the nurse, the teacher and the social worker”...