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Addressing Barriers to Women’s Economic Participation in the ESCWA Region

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Discussions and ongoing debates on Arab women’s rate of economic participation, which is lower than any other region of the world, have emphasized the failure to turn educational gains of the past decade or so into increased participation in the labour force. The present study offers a new reading of current data and key indicators on women’s employment and education attainments to identify structural barriers that have impeded the process of fostering women’s employment. The study draws attention to current economic policies that fail to take women’s needs and concerns into account and examines the long history of reactionary policies in the region that reflected shifting paradigms but were not based on a long-term and strategic vision to empower women economically. The study challenges the prevailing argument that the mismatch between women’s skills and labour-market demands accounts for their low economic participation, and contends instead that the socialization process is responsible. The study highlights the critical role that early years education can play in fostering women’s employment. It offers a panoramic view of weak government commitments to adhere to international labour standards aiming to enhance gender equality in the world of work, and warns that in the absence of protective regulatory and organizational measures, women’s opportunities in the labour market will remain limited. Therefore, the study calls for a multidimensional framework to remove barriers to women’s economic participation that intersects with the significant challenge of high unemployment, especially among youth.