Lack of women in Middle East workforce hinders growth

Saudi women sit in a stadium to attend an event in the capital Riyadh, in this September 23, 2017 photo, commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the kingdom. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2017

Lack of women in Middle East workforce hinders growth

LONDON: Women in the Middle East now outnumber men in universities but this isn’t translating into jobs — curbing the benefits of the “demographic dividend” that fuels economic growth.
Almost all girls in the Middle East and North Africa now attend school, and more women than men go to university, according to the World Bank, but women’s participation in the workforce stubbornly remains among the lowest in the world.

The demographic dividend refers to an acceleration of economic growth as the working-age population expands relative to the non-working-age. But without enough women, its impact will be muted in the Middle East, experts said.

“The demographic dividend is not going to be as good as in Asia,” said Tiziana Leone, assistant professor in demography at the London School of Economics. “If they want the benefit of it then you need more gender parity.”

Lack of access to contraception is a hurdle keeping women from the workforce, according to a report by the United Nations’ Population Fund (UNFPA) released on Tuesday.

Poorly educated women in rural areas especially lack the means to plan when and how often they fall pregnant.

Barely a quarter of women in the region are in employment, but with sharp variations. Rates of women’s employment are lower in conflict-hit places such Yemen, Gaza and Iraq compared to the Gulf states and Iran.

The legal and social barriers hampering women’s access to jobs and careers in the Middle East and North Africa is costing the region an estimated $575 billion a year, the OECD said this month.
Such barriers include needing a guardian to travel as in Saudi Arabia or laws requiring permission from husbands or fathers to work, common in Egypt, Jordan and Libya.

A recent survey of attitudes in the region, by the UN Women agency and Promundo found more than two thirds of respondents believed a woman’s primary role should be caring for the household, while at least half the women surveyed also saw this as their most important duty.

Better investment in contraception and sexual health care and equality for women in the workplace could encourage more women into the workforce, according to the UNFPA report. “Poorer countries with large or emerging youth populations that reduce gaps in sexual and reproductive health care and promote gender equality also have the potential to reap and maximize a demographic dividend,” the report found.

In parts of the Middle East, change is already happening.

“Gender relations are changing,” Bessma Momani, a non-resident fellow at Brookings Doha Center think tank, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Children as status symbols has definitely gone down ...it used to be if you had 10, 12 children that was your status symbol as a woman, now education and careers have become the new status symbols.”

The types of jobs women do must also change, experts say. In the Middle East and North Africa only 17 percent of women have jobs in the non-agricultural sector such as engineering and finance, according to the World Bank, while the region has the lowest proportion of female entrepreneurs in the world.

Overcoming these obstacles and tackling underlying gender inequality are crucial to progress, the UNFPA report found.

“Without a greater and equitable engagement of women, the demographic dividend will remain an elusive objective,” it said.

- Thomson Reuters Foundation


Saudi-led group reinstated as builder of Bulgaria gas pipeline

Updated 16 September 2019

Saudi-led group reinstated as builder of Bulgaria gas pipeline

  • Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court announced that the Saudi-led group’s main competitors for the project had dropped a legal challenge relating to the award
  • Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz had initially chosen the Saudi-led group — made up of Saudi Arabia’s Arkad Engineering and a joint venture including Switzerland’s ABB

SOFIA: A Saudi-led consortium was definitively reinstated on Monday as the builder of a new gas pipeline through Bulgaria, intended to hook up to Gazprom’s TurkStream project.
Bulgaria’s Supreme Administrative Court announced Monday that the Saudi-led group’s main competitors for the project had dropped a legal challenge relating to the award.
The latest development brings to an end a long-running tussle between the Saudi-led consortium and its competitors for the project, a consortium of Luxembourg-based Completions Development, Italy’s Bonatti and Germany’s Max Streicher.
Bulgaria’s state gas operator Bulgartransgaz had initially chosen the Saudi-led group — made up of Saudi Arabia’s Arkad Engineering and a joint venture including Switzerland’s ABB — to build the 474-kilometer (294-mile) pipeline.
But Bulgartransgaz later decided to strike the winner off the tender for failing to supply documents needed to sign off the contract.
Instead it accepted the offer of the second-placed consortium led by Completions Development.
However, Bulgaria’s competition watchdog ruled in July that the operator should honor its previous commitments and sign a contract with the Saudi-led group.
The watchdog’s verdict was subject to a final appeal in the courts but the Supreme Administrative Court announced Monday that the appeal had been withdrawn, meaning that the Arkad-led group has now been definitively reinstated.
Bulgartransgaz is in a hurry to complete the pipeline as soon as possible in a bid to enable Russian gas giant Gazprom to hook it up to its TurkStream pipeline after it becomes operational at the end of this year.
Bulgaria, which is heavily dependent on Russian gas for its domestic needs, has been repeatedly criticized by both the EU and the United States for failing to diversify both its gas sources and its delivery routes.
The Balkan country hopes to start receiving Caspian Sea gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz field as well as liquefied natural gas from various sources via terminals in Greece through a 182-kilometer (113-mile) interconnector expected to be ready by the end of 2020.