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Going the extra mile for equality
Despite a slight improvement in gender equality, women make up just 15 percent of the working population in some Gulf states.
March 4, 2010 2:49 by Aarti Nagraj
Women’s rights in the MENA region have improved modestly over the last five years, according to a report released by human rights group Freedom House on Wednesday. In “Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress and Resistance”, 15 of the 18 countries surveyed recorded some progress in jobs, education and politics. The most significant progress was in Kuwait, Algeria and Jordan, according to the report.
However, the report said that there is still great inequality in this region, compared with elsewhere in the world.
“There are more women entrepreneurs, more women doctors, more women PhDs, and more women in universities than ever before,” Jennifer Windsor, executive director of the group, said in a statement. “However, many roadblocks remain for women pursuing careers,” she added. For instance, while women in Saudi Arabia can earn law degrees, they are not permitted to appear in court on behalf of their clients.
According to figures presented by Fatima al-Shamsi, secretary general at the UAE University at a conference last year, the total number of women participating in the GCC work force stands at between 15 to 24 percent, with Kuwait and Bahrain at the highest level. Qatar came next with 18 percent and the UAE followed with 15 percent. Last month, Saudi’s deputy Labor Minister Abdul Wahid al-Humaid told Arabic daily Al-Watan that the official unemployment rate for Saudi women stood at 27 percent, an increase of 2 percentage points from February 2008.
Despite the high unemployment rate, steps are being taken to encourage more women into work.
Earlier this year, the Kingdom’s labor ministry officials said that a new department had been formed to monitor the employment of women. The ministry said that it was trying to create more jobs to help women work from home, and that officials were also meeting representatives of private companies to encourage them to open women’s sections.
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