PROBLEMS FACING FEMALE PARTICIPANTS IN THE EGYPTIAN LABOR FORCE
- Published: Saturday, 04 August 2012 00:52
- Written by عبير الفقى باحث بمعهد البحوث والدراسات الافريقية
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Egyptian women are a very important part of society and they represent almost half of the population. By January 2005, the number of females in Egypt amounted to 34.18 million, accounting for 48.3% out of a total population of 70 million, according to data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. This figure indicates that the participation of women in society assumes an unrivalled power.
During the past few years the Egyptian Government has taken great strides to improve the status of women to give them more economic empowerment, particularly in the case of rural women and those who have to support their families alone. In order to lower the female unemployment rate, the state is making huge efforts to raise the competitive ability of women in the labor market within the economic, specialization and globalization programs
Statistics show that the participation of women in the labor force has increased significantly from 18% in 1994 and 21.4% in 1999, to 22.6% in 2004. In 2003 female contribution to economic activities reached 13.3% compared to 44.9% of males. Women make up 25% of the total workforce in the government sector with 60% of female employees in the Ministry of Economy, whereas the percentage in the Ministries of Transport and Defense has decreased. 14% of women in the private sector work mainly in tourism, social insurance, education, research fields, health service, planning and finance and 12% in the public sector. 57% of female workers are employed in the agricultural sector in rural areas compared to 34% in urban areas and their intermediate educational level is higher than that of men. About 50.000 employed females are trained annually.
By 2003 the number of workers between the ages of 15-64 reached 18.1 million with 58% in rural areas and 42% in urban areas. Working women in the 20-35 age bracket has increased – an indicator of their need to work – whereas the number of working women in the higher age bracket has decreased.
The biological stages of women, such as pregnancy affect women in their choice of jobs and career performance because as mothers, women may need to take extra leave from work to nurse their babies or deal with family and home commitments.
These factors indicate that women’s chances of working or participating in the labor market are affected by domestic, regional and global changes in the work scene. This presentation deals with the current status of women in the Egyptian labor force and discusses the reasons why women choose to work and what obstacles they face in the workplace.
2. What kind of labor market do women want to participate in?
2.1 Current situation of women
By 2004 the active labor force in Egypt reached 21.2 million, a 10% increase from 2000, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics. The percentage of women participating in the labor force increased from 21.4% in 1999 to 22.6 in 2004. The percentage is low due to the fact that a large number of Egyptian women choose to stay at home to take care of their families.
Table: The development in women’s participation in the labor force 2002-2004)
Year Labor force size % Number of females % %
2002 19.88 43.4 21.8
2003 20.36 45.3 22.2
2004 21.18 47.8 22.6
2.2 Women’s contribution to the public sector
Women prefer to choose working in public and governmental sectors because their position is stable which gives women a feeling of security. Women working in the industrialized public sector have been particularly affected by the national privatization policy. Unemployment is one of the negative results of privatization for both women and men but women were the first victims of privatization especially in the public sector which used to offer them a social safety net. The consequences after privatization were the following:
- Increase in unemployment, especially among women due to the lack of hiring women in the private sector because they are considered unstable elements in the workplace.
- Decline in the standard of living and deterioration of the situation of women.
- Priority for a profit-based economy without considering the situation of workers, especially women who lose job opportunities.
-Closure of factories as a result of privatization policies, which lead to a decrease in women’s contribution to labor in high-skilled fields rather than low-skilled fields.
In general women have a higher education level than men in the public industrial sector and achieve higher grades in secondary and higher education except at university level. 42% of male workers in the industrial public sector have a poor standard in reading and writing having studied to intermediate level only and many do not have any educational certificates at all.
2.3 Women’s contribution to the private sector
Women’s contribution to the private sector show some increase in the catering, mechanical, accounting and computer industries which indicates that women are choosing to enter non traditional work fields. In the past women have tended to enter low-paying jobs such as education, society and cultural organizations. However, in certain private sector industries employers are reluctant to hire women. These attitudes lead employers to view women as an unstable element in work and are concerned that women will leave their jobs at any moment, due to their special nature or family circumstances. For example, women make up only 48% of the workforce in the tobacco industry. The percentage of women working in banks and the stock market is now 23% which shows an improvement in recruitment.
2.4 Women’s contribution to small enterprises
The participation of women in small enterprises is considered to be a positive impact on privatization. The Government grants small business loans to women who want to participate in the labor market. This does not mean that both men and women have the same opportunities, because these women face many difficulties in this field starting with the lack of information to start up their business and the high interest rate on the loan. Well established giant corporations have easier access to information and have wider communication networks which lead to better opportunities in the markets than smaller enterprises which lack information and the power to influence the market.
Usually smaller groups do not have access to information, resources and policy making because the strong pressure groups usually stand against the setting of new rules, in order to protect their own interests from the quality and low prices of products of small investors. Also women in small enterprises face difficulties in providing the required guarantees for the governmental and non-governmental organizations which give them the loans. These women need more support through small credit programs to qualify women for this kind of business and to offer different choices of loans, based on what kind of business they want to start and how to help them plan and choose the business. But It should be noted that there are social welfare associations that are seriously striving to help Egyptian women start small businesses to generate revenue and increase their chances of financial independence. Such programs have helped the participating women to gain more self-confidence and acquire skills and have increased their role in the family through better participation in family decision-making.
3. Why do women want to work and participate in the labor market?
3.1 Economic needs
For a large number of women, going out to work has become an economic need, but working outside the home has also helped women to become more self-sufficient and has freed them from many domestic chores. The participation of women in the labor market has a significant impact on developing their personality and helps them to achieve economic and social independence. Employed women increase their chances of choice on the social and family level, gain more personal independence due to earning their own income, and decide either to marry or remain single. By being employed, women are no longer a burden to their family but on the contrary they might even be a great help to their family.
In general we can say that women’s paid work has increased both their social and life choices in addition to giving them self confidence. All these are considerable positive impacts for entering the labor market. Despite these positive elements, there are some gender obstacles which can underestimate the effect of women’s paid work, for example at work women may receive a lower salary than men in the same job position and at home they may face prejudice by having to give all their wage or part of it to their family to allow them to go out to work.
3.2 Health improvements for women
Women are also encouraged to enter employment to take advantage of the health care benefits in the work place. Private health treatment in Egypt is very expensive whereas government hospitals are of a poor standard therefore women can benefit from the medical insurance offered to employees and their families.
The State has been increasing its efforts to improve health facilities for women to increase their chances of joining the labor market. According to the last statistics from The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, by 2003, the number of females at reproduction age reached 5.5 million compared to 5.3 million in 2002. The total fertility rate reached around 331.8 births per 1000 women at reproductive age, a decrease of 2% from 2000. In 2004 the number of family planning centers available to all women throughout Egypt rose to around 5.700 compared to 5.300 in 2000. The use of contraceptives by females at reproductive age increased from 56.1% percent in 2000 to around 60% percent in 2003.
The percentage of pregnant women benefiting from motherhood and childhood care services rose from 156.6% in 2002 to 164.2% in 2003.The percentage of mothers benefiting from post-natal health care services rose to around 2.3% in 2003, (2.3% of rural mothers to 1.1% of urban mothers). The maternal mortality rate fell from 7% for 10.000 live births in 2002 to 6% for each 10.000 live births in 2003.
3.3 Job and career satisfaction
As women have better educational opportunities today many aspire to go up the career ladder. By working outside the home, women have acquired new skills and experiences that have lead them to gain a feeling of self-satisfaction and psychological maturity. Although there have been improvements in women’s employment in general, the pay structure for women in the private sector has not been clearly defined and women still work predominantly in low-level and low-wage jobs and tend to be economically dependent on men.
One of the main reasons for the low participation of women in supervisory positions in Egypt is the widespread belief that women are not suitable for leadership positions and lack the personal characteristics that qualify them for these jobs. Although there is not sufficient evidence to support this supposition, men still tend to hold leadership positions as executives or team players in both private enterprises and government sector. In cases in which women have attempted to reach high management positions, many have faced discrimination from their fellow male colleagues.
Another form of discrimination is that of women workers who discriminate against other women. Some women do not want to be subordinate and work under the supervision of another woman on the basis that they lack leadership abilities, do not manage situations with understanding and are not as serious about work as men. Society in general believes that men should take the leadership roles, and a man who works under the supervision of a woman is considered to be inferior.
Certain high position jobs require women to have a degree of freedom of movement to travel away from their workplace. Time constraints also put a burden on women which makes them reluctant to assume high positions or to complete specific vocational training. These requirements restrict women from seeking a job because they go against the customs and traditions in society so they prefer to have stable and secure jobs and are not eager to change or participate in workshops or training courses. Often women choose to have a job only for the security and privileges that come with the position but they do not necessarily want to progress in their careers.
4. What career fields do women choose?
4.1 Women in judiciary power
The representation of women in high-level positions is still low in Egypt compared to developed countries. Women’s participation in the legislative authority is considered a major indicator of a country's political maturity and a way to measure the change in a country to an open political culture endorsing women's rights not only to vote but also to stand in elections.
Currently the number of women serving as members in the Egyptian People's Assembly does not exceed 13, only 3% of the 454 members of the Assembly. On the other hand, the Shura Council includes 18 women members, which is 6.8% of the total of 263 members.
It was not until recently that women have assumed top positions in the Judiciary. In 2004, it was estimated that out of a total of 1912 members, 72 women worked at the State Prosecution Service (SPS) as well as at the Administrative Prosecution Service (APS). APS has 436 women prosecutors out of a total number of 1726 and for two consecutive sessions a woman has been at the head of the Service. SPS and APS women members participated in supervising the 2000 parliamentary elections. Most recently, a woman became a member of the Supreme Constitutional Court - the highest post in Egypt.
4.2 Women in the diplomatic and consular corps
Women occupy several positions in the diplomatic and consular corps. In 2003 there were 165 women diplomats compared to 146 in 2001. The position levels of women are shown in the following table:
Position levels 2001 2003
No. % No. %
Ambassador 37 25 34 20
Minister plenipotentiary 17 12 26 16
Counselor 23 16 15 9
First secretary 18 12 17 10
Second secretary 12 8 19 12
Third secretary 18 12 12 7
Diplomatic attaché 21 15 42 26
Total 146 100 165 100
4.3 Cabinet posts
Women in Egypt have assumed the post of cabinet minister as far back as the early 1960s. The first woman cabinet minister was Dr. Hikmat Abu-Zeid, who took up the social affairs portfolio in September 1962. Since then, one or two portfolios have been assigned to women in all cabinets. Currently, Egypt has two women cabinet ministers: Minister of Manpower and Immigration - Aisha Abdel-Hady Abdel-Ghany and Minister of International Cooperation - Fayza Abul Naga.
4.4 Top management positions in the civil service
Women occupying top management positions in the civil service are estimated to have reached over 2.000 in 2004, 25.7% of the total civil servants in that category. Top management positions are divided into first under-secretaries, under-secretaries and director generals. Of the total number of women in top-management positions, 22% work in the finance sector; 17% in the culture and information sectors and 11.5% in the fields of education, research and youth organizations.
Table: Percentage of women in top management positions (2004)
Total % Women in Top Management Positions
First under-secretary 366 12.8
Under-secretary 1727 21.9
Director-general 5822 27.6
It is interesting to note that the least number of women occupying top management positions occurs in local councils, tourism sector (31.5%), agriculture (15%), transport, communication and civil aviation (14.6%). The information and culture sectors have the greatest number of women occupying top management positions (44%) followed by the insurance and social affairs sector (32.7%).
4.5 Limited acceptance of women
Certain fields of work have only been made accessible to women recently, such as the judiciary, police force and defense sectors. Women have been appointed recently to certain posts for the first time such as: Judge in the Supreme Constitutional Court, President of the Administrative Prosecution Authority, Head of a local council, village “Omda”; however some other posts are still resisting cultural changes like governor, rector of a university, or even a judge in civil courts.
Most Egyptians agree that women have the right to serve as leaders in certain government and political positions, except for some very top positions. For a long time public opinion has doubted the abilities of the male members of the public council. How would they react to the opinions of women members?
Similarly, there is a general agreement that women have the right to become ministers. Some say that women should be given portfolios such as Minister of Social Affairs, but not in” tougher” positions like Minister of Interior or Minister of Defense. A female prime minister seems out of the question in the minds of most, including many women! The main reason given for this statement is that a woman’s nature is too emotionally sensitive to stand up to the strains and pressures of the job.
Similar reasons are given for justifying that women are not capable of serving as “Omda” in rural areas where customs and traditions prevent women from dealing with the public.
5. Women in the Egyptian Legislation
5.1 Women’s constitutional rights
The current Constitution issued in 1971 provides equality between men and women in all fields, whether political, social or economic. Article 8 of the Constitution provides that the State shall ensure equal opportunities for all citizens." Moreover, Article 40 of the Constitution is more explicit. It reads, "Citizens are equal before the law. They have equal rights and duties without distinction regardless of their sex, origin, language, religion or belief."
More specifically, equal opportunity and equality before the law are provided by law in the areas of the right to education, the right to work and to hold public office, political rights, social insurance, ownership of property and the right to obtain bank loans. However, as will be explained the implementation of such laws is limited or constrained by cultural, economic and social barriers.
Article 10 of the Constitution on the protection of motherhood and childhood makes a commitment to ensure this protection and states that, “The State shall guarantee the protection of motherhood and childhood and care of young people and provide them with the appropriate conditions for the development of talents.
Article 11 of the Constitution on the dual role of women in society as wife and working woman stipulates that, “The State shall reconcile the duties of women towards the family and work in society and their equality with men in all fields of life, political, social, cultural and economic life without prejudice to the provisions of Islamic Sharia.
5.2 Egyptian Labor Laws
All Egyptian laws and statutes provide the principle of equality for all citizens with respect to the right to work. Article 13 of the 1971 Constitution gives all citizens a constitutional right to work without discrimination between men and women. In addition, Articles 10 and 11 of the Constitution oblige the State to protect mothers and children and to reconcile between women's duties towards their families and their work in society.
The Civil Servants System administrated by Law No. 47/1978, the Public Sector Employees System promulgated by Law No. 48/1978 and the new Labor Law No. 12/2003 contain provisions to help women working in the government, the public sector and private sector settle their duties towards their families with their work responsibilities, in accordance with Article 11 of the Constitution. These laws determine the following rights and privileges:
• The right of a husband or wife to unpaid leave to accompany his/her spouse working abroad for a period of not less than 6 months whether on secondment basis or otherwise. The law obliges the administrative authority to grant the request of the spouse in all cases (Art. 69, Law No. 47/1 978 and Art. 71, Law No. 48/1978).
• The right of the female employee to take up to two years unpaid leave to look after her child. Such unpaid leave is granted three times during the employee's period of service. During the leave, the State either pays its quota of the social insurance subscription and that of the female employee or pays her compensation equivalent to 25% of her salary at her option. This is considered a recognition of the importance of the role of women in providing care to their infants and an indicator that the laws are in favor of working women and helping them to manage their financial burdens if they decide to temporarily provide full-time care for their infants in accordance with the Constitution and the law (Art. 70, Law No. 47/1978 and Art. 72, Law No. 48/1 978).
• The right of women to a paid maternity leave for a period of three months. Such a leave is not deductible from the due annual leave (Art. 71 Law No. 47/1978 and Art. 72, Law No. 48/1978
• Labor Law No. 137/1981
This law determines the basic rules governing labor relations and the duties of both the employee and the employer. It applies to employees in the private sector and the public sector in matters which are not specifically addressed under Law No. 48/1978. The Labor Law also determines the rules governing the employment of women to secure their constitutional right to work without any discrimination between men and women performing the same job and facilitates the performance of their duties towards their families and children without suffering any prejudice or deprivation of any of their rights as workers as follows:
• By requiring the application of all provisions governing employment without discrimination to men and women performing the same job, without prejudice to the rules governing the employment of women and granting them certain privileges or protecting them from the doubts or mistreatment of employers (Art. 151 of the Law).
• By prohibiting the employment of women between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m., except in certain types of work, the nature and circumstances which include l night time work, such as hotels, restaurants, theatres, hospitals, cinemas, airports, tourist and airline offices and during official holidays. This exception applies also to female executives filling senior posts. In these cases, employers are obliged to provide the necessary guarantees for the safety, protection and transportation of female employees. (Art. 52 of the Law, 10) and Ministerial Decree No. 23/1982).
• By prohibiting the employment of women in work harmful to their health or morals or in strenuous jobs. As defined by Ministerial Decree No. 22/1982, these jobs include working in bakeries, underground work in mines and quarries, stevedoring, soldering, working in bars and gambling casinos, etc. (Art. 153 of the Law)
• By granting a female employee who has served the same employer for at least 6 months, the right to a fully paid maternity leave of 50 days provided this leave is not granted for more than three times during her period of service. In all cases, it is required for a female employee to take leave for the 40 days following her confinement. (Art. 154 of the Law),12
• By granting a female employee two fully paid half-hour rest breaks daily to breast-feed her infant during the 18 months following her confinement (Art. 155 of the Law)
• By granting a female employee employed by an establishment having not less than 50 workers the right to one year's unpaid leave to look after her infant
• By requiring an employer who employs more than 100 women in the same place to establish a nursery or to participate in one if the number of women working in his organization is less than 100.
It is clear from the above that there is no difference between the rights of women working in either public or private sectors, except where public sector female employees are entitled to unpaid leave of up to two years three times during their period of service. In the private sector, the maximum duration of leave for women is only one year with 50 days for maternity leave compared to three months in the public sector
The Egyptian Government has issued these laws and legislation to encourage women to join the labor market and this has allowed them to combine the roles of mother, head of the family and career woman. However, there are many obstacles to the application of these laws. For example, labor laws give women the right to work part-time to allow them to carry out their family responsibilities but many women are unwilling to make use of this right as it creates greater problems for them. Some employers even create obstacles for women to prevent them from working part-time or even transfer the person to another department not related to the employee’s abilities.
Even though women are apparently accepted in the commercial sector, in practice this is different. In some cases, employers have used these privileges as an indicator for dismissing women from a work position and women are often deliberately refused employment by male employers. Some organizations are reluctant to appoint women and avoid advertising jobs in which women are predominant.
The Egyptian labor market is regulated by the new unified Labor Law No. 12 for 2003 and comprises 257 articles that address all the legal aspects within it. The new law aims at increasing private sector involvement and achieving a balance between the rights of employees and employers. Amongst the most important issues that the new law addresses is the right of an employer to fire an employee along with the conditions pertaining to this action, as well as granting employees the right to carry out a peaceful strike in accordance with procedures prescribed in the new law.
Although Labor Law No.12 of 2003 gives men and women equal rights and duties in the workplace there are certain concessions that deal specifically with female workers’ rights and duties. Women’s ability to perform the duties in public office is no different than that of men, although there are certain jobs that are not suitable for women because of their physical nature. The Law is a subject for concern with respect to the Committee’s issue No. 23 that reduces maternity leave benefits from the existing statute and also lowers the present standard for provisions of child-care services in the workplace.
Labor Law No. 12 of 2003 referring to female workers’ rights
Article 70/71 A working woman has the right to unpaid leave to care for her child to a maximum of 2 years, 3 times during her career.
Article 71 A working woman has the right of leave with full pay for 3 months after delivery and on 3 occasions throughout the duration of her career.
Article 72 The authority may permit the employee to work half days in return for half the wages owed to her. In this case she is allowed half the scheduled holidays and sick pay.
Article 88 Gives all employees (male and female) the same work conditions without prejudice to gender. All provisions regulating the employment of workers apply to women workers without discrimination once the work is similar to that of men.
Article 89 The designated Minister should issue a decree determining the cases, jobs and occasions for which women should not be employed during the period between 7pm and 7am.
Article 90 The designated Minister should issue a decree determining which jobs are unsuitable and morally harmful to women as well the jobs in which women should not be employed.
Article 91 A woman having spent 10 months in the service of an employer is entitled to maternity leave of 90 days with full wage payment including the period preceding delivery and after on submission of a medical certificate indicating the likely date of delivery. A woman is not required to work during the 45 days following childbirth.
Article 92 The employer is prohibited from discharging the female worker or terminating her service during maternity leave. The employer may deprive her of her rightful compensation during the leave period or recover the amount paid by him to her if it is proved that the employee has worked during her leave with another employer.
Article 93 In addition to the determined rest period, a woman nursing her child has the right , during the 24 months following childbirth, to 2 extra half hour periods of breastfeeding which are counted as working hours and do not result in a wage reduction.
Article 94 Subject to Article 72 of the Child Law, a female worker in an establishment with 50 or more employees is entitled to a leave without pay for a period not exceeding 2 years to care for her child, no more than twice during her work period.
Article 96 An employer who engages 100 female workers or more in the same establishment is required to provide a nursery school or assign a nursery school for the female workers’ children according to the conditions and terms determined by the designated Minister.
It is therefore evident that, on the one hand, the government introduced rights for women, but on the other hand, reduced the application of these rights. According to article No 91 of the new law, a female having spent ten months in the service of an employer shall be entitled to a maternity leave of 90 days. In old law No 137 of 1981 it was six months employment with maternity leave of 50 days. This is the only benefit in the change of the new law. The following examples show the limitations of the rights provided by the new law:
Article No 94 of the New Unified Labor Law demands that the employer who has 50 employees or more should give childcare unpaid leave for not more than 2 years and for not more than two times during her time in service. The old law provided childcare unpaid leave for not more than one year and for not more than three times during her service time. However, the law does not consider an organization with less than 50 employees therefore women are not given their lawful rights.
Likewise, article No 95 of the new law obliges an employer having 5 female employees or more, to affix a copy of women‘s work order in a visible place. In the old law the number of employees was one or more. There is no clear reason in the new law behind the increase in the minimum of female employees to five. What could be of the harm of having a copy of women working order for less than five women? This appears to be taking advantage of working women as the law deprives those women from even gaining some awareness about their work right
While the constitution guarantees equal hiring and firing and equal pay for men and women, serious discrepancies exist in reality. There are still wide gender gaps in income. According to the United Nations Development Plan (UNDP) estimates in 2000, the average earned income of women was US$2.003 while that of men was US$ 5.227. The majority of women workers in the private or informal sectors lack healthcare, pensions or other stable and subsidized benefits. Labor laws give certain benefits to working women but employers often react to such laws by placing obstacles on promotions for women, hiring women on a temporary basis, or firing them when they marry or become pregnant in order to avoid these costs.
Although the above laws comply strictly with the principles of equal opportunities and equality before the law, in practice, economic, social and cultural barriers prevent the implementation process demonstrated as follows in the next part.
6. What elements affect women’s participation in the labor force?
“If you teach a girl you are teaching a woman. If you teach a woman you are teaching a country”
Egypt has a long history of limitations in the education of women. Eventhough education in Egypt is free and compulsory for girls and boys up to the age of 15 there is a general lack of enforcement of these regulations. Although the education of women is considered to be very important, most Egyptians believe that the Egyptian educational system does not have the capacity to provide anyone, men or women, with an adequate education. While many Egyptians feel positive about the recent efforts to expand adult literacy programs they do not consider the public school system to be efficient.
Wealthy families send their children to private foreign schools and universities, while poor families prefer to educate sons in the hope that they will support the family in later years. Poorer families also need the income from a daughter’s salary to pay for any additional school costs. In rural areas there is a marked gender gap in education. The primary cause of the gap concerns economic pressures which may force families to withdraw students, usually daughters, from school to provide additional family income. Also, early marriage in rural areas is the basic factor in the female school dropout rates.
In the 1996 report for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) the Egyptian government emphasized increasing educational opportunities for girls, particularly in rural regions. Education is one of the most important means of empowering women and providing the knowledge and skills necessary to participate effectively in the development process. Illiteracy among women (43.8% in 2005) is being dealt with through new educational methods of societal education that have opened up many opportunities for girls at different educational stages.
By 2004 the total number of students enrolled in pre-university education reached approximately 16.3 million. In 2004/5 the total enrolment rate in all the categories of pre-university education totaled 90.1%. The total female enrolment rate of 90.3% showed higher levels to those of male enrolment at 90% for the same year
Women now make up the majority of all students enrolled in higher education. The past few years have witnessed the narrowing of the qualitative gap between males and females. In 2003/2004 the total number of enrolled students in university and higher education reached 2.02 million approx. There has been an increase in the percentage of females enrolled in university education which has now reached 49% of the total number of students. In 2004/05, there was an emphasis on developing school curricula, improving women's representation in educational establishments and providing health and social care during various educational stages.
Table: Educational level percentage of employed women and men in 2003
Year Education level % of women % of men
2003 Intermediate 29% 27%
2003 University 21.3% 13%
Women in Egypt have played an important role economically since the 1960s. In 1998 women comprised 30% of workers in the formal economy, a small segment of which comprises a professional class of female doctors, lawyers, and business people. During 1998-1999, women made up 22.1% of the labor force; 35% were employed in agriculture; 9% in industry and 56% in services.
6.2 Decrease in illiteracy percentage
Illiteracy rates over the past three years show a decrease for both males and female. This reflects government efforts to spread awareness of the importance of education through the implementation of illiteracy programs.
Table: Evaluation of illiteracy rates (+15) over the period 2003-05
Year (as at 1st January) Males(+15) Females(+15)
2003 22.0 47.0
2004 20.4 45.8
2005 18.3 43.8
The following chart illustrates the different educational levels of women in the labor force:
Table: Labor force distribution according to educational status
Educational status Labor force size Number of
females Female % of total number
Illiterate 4.62 1.196 26.5
Read and write 3.799 0.23 5.1
University and post university 3.46 0.99 21.9
Despite the fact that the illiteracy rate of employed females is greater than male workers, the percentage of females who hold an intermediate degree is 29% compared to 27% for males. The percentage of female workers that hold university degrees has increased to 21.3% whereas the percentage for males is only 31%.
Despite the fact that public education for girls in Egypt started in the mid-nineteenth century, female illiteracy in the country is higher than in Gulf States countries which only introduced education for women in the mid-twentieth century. These factors and the Egyptian reform program that includes the release of workers from the public sector for retraining have affected women’s participation in the labor market and placed them in a subordinate position
6.4 Home and family obligations
Family responsibilities can be a negative element for women participating in the labor force in Egypt and seen as the main obstacles deterring women from taking employment outside the home because of the extra responsibilities. In most households there is an unequal division of domestic chores as few Egyptian men help their wives at home – a characteristic developed from childhood. It is also easier for women to have a successful career if somebody else deals with their housework and helps them to resolve family problems. In general, men do not believe that helping their wives at home benefits the family in general. Although men may agree to their wives going out to work to bring additional income to the family, not many husbands fully understand the career ambitions of women. Women often suffer from the conviction that home and family obligations are solely their own responsibility.
6.5 Society and culture
Society and culture have strong influences on women participants in the labor force regarding family upbringing. In the Middle Eastern culture, including Egypt, women have a subordinate role to men. When women enter a male patriarchal society, they face many prejudices. Men are brought up to be the strong partner and protector while women are supposed to be the career and emotional supporter in the family. Working women face many psychological barriers which create a lack of self-confidence and assertiveness and a lack of ambition or motivation. Men with their negative attitudes add to these psychological obstacles through sexist attitudes, disrespect, prejudices and envy. Unequal treatment by supervisors, colleagues or even a husband could upset women not ready to work in the labor market or even make them leave. Also judging working women based solely on their gender and not their performance or achievement at work is counted as another challenge for women.
7. Problems facing women participant in the Labour force
7.1 The effect of social elements on Egyptian women
There is some justification in the argument that Egyptian women are being discriminated from joining the labor market. Those critics who prefer women to stay at home claim that women want to compete with men in the workplace which increases unemployment for men. Even though state laws have given women many equal rights in the workplace in reality they still hold lower positions than men. Recent data shows that most women still work in traditional professions and that their work is affected by their roles as mothers and housewives. It is therefore important that employers follow the legal and legislative rights in order to give women the right chances to be successful in their job.
These facts are the result of a number of overlapping elements:
i. Social upbringing, customs and traditions, culture and social practices which lead to the discrimination of women that dictate their roles.
ii. Social upbringing affects women’s ability to contribute in a productive and creative way and influences women to have negative attitudes and prevent them from expressing themselves clearly. They are not seen as decision-makers but in the traditional sense as housewives.
In the past decades, there has been a positive development for Egyptian women but there continues to be a lot of discrimination towards women’s rights compared to men’s rights starting inside the family and going through to the community which usually dictates the traditional norms for women. In general boys are given authoritative rights at an early stage in life at home and in society whereas girls grow up in a subordinate role. These role patterns are a result of long-standing traditions, religion, national law and media perceptions.
7.2 Work environment problems
Sexual harassment in the work place is a violation of the rights of women to work in a safe and healthy environment. Regardless of progress made in gender equality sexual harassment of women continues to be a violation suffered by great numbers of women.
Sexual harassment occurs to women at all levels of work, from domestic servants to high-level positions and the harasser could be an employer or colleague. Many women victims put up with damaging physical and psychological effects of harassment because taking action could be damaging, especially in environments that do not provide moral and practical support.
In Egypt, this kind of problem is rarely mentioned because most victims often feel ashamed and embarrassed and worry that they will be accused for what happened, therefore they prefer to keep quiet. Employers have used it also as a tool to discharge women who may be seen to be competing for power at work. Even women victims who want to react are prevented from doing so and prefer to leave work instead of revealing what happened to them.
Sexual harassment is viewed more as a personal problem and many deny the problem even exists, partly due to the discomfort of facing the reality and partly because of Egyptian society’s taboo of sexuality. Egyptian women have been conditioned to view male domination and sexism as “normal.” Behavior such as suggestive language or gestures and subtle advances are often accepted as part of the male human nature. Men offenders continue to harass, confident that the women will be too embarrassed to react openly.
Although the Egyptian constitution and labor law do address women’s equality and therefore sexual harassment to some extant, there is no specific legislation that addresses sexual harassment in the workplace. If it is made a condition of employment it could create an intimidating, hostile or effusive working environment. At present, addressing the problem is very difficult due to the lack of reliable statistics and data and the absence of sufficient good quality services for women’s problems. Most data on critical gender based abuse is often labeled as private.
7.3 The impact of the media on the image of women
How the media portrays women is very important and greatly affects gender roles and the views of society. A girl’s upbringing and schooling plays a very important role in this matter. The images of girls and women as portrayed in primary school textbooks are an initial guide to the future social values and cultural rights of females in society that give children the stereotype images of women that influence their future. These textbooks show a clear division in the roles, status and qualities of the child and completely marginalize the role of girls from the roles of boys who are shown as the intellectuals and decision makers. These textbook images do not show women in political, cultural or creative fields but weaker than men. This creates a feeling of inferiority in women and they feel that they do not have any rights except those decreed through traditional heritage
The media plays an important part in promoting the role of women, women’s issues and women’s awareness of their rights, roles and duties in society and should help them to enhance their self-esteem. However when we look at the Egyptian media, we see that this has not been carried out successfully due to the culture, customs and traditions in the country that prevent the media to discuss specific issues regarding women.
- Although the Egyptian media has tackled many different issues relating to women in the past decade, there should be more media interest on current topical issues regarding women. It is important to include discussions on neglected traditional issues such as the development of women's capabilities and the investment of their energies for the benefit of society. There appears to be a huge gap between what the media portrays and the top priorities of women, therefore more emphasis should be given to the needs and problems of the higher echelons of women in major cities as well as the fertility and productive role problems of rural women.
7.4 The policy of privatization on the status of women workers
The Egyptian privatization policy has caused fundamental changes in the national economic system and has led to the burdens of women, especially for the poor rural families. The private sector does not provide the same facilities for all women in all fields. Furthermore, the private sector in Egypt had not been sufficiently developed to accommodate the dominance of the labor force in Egypt between the sexes .and does not abide by the Egyptian Constitution regarding gender equality in employment.
Those critics who try to justify isolating women from the workforce claim that women want to compete with men and attribute the present increase in social problems such as extremism, delinquency and drug addiction to the detachment of women from the family and home. However, a recent study noted that the implications of the phenomenon of unemployment are caused by the changes in society that leads to extremism. The relationship between unemployment and crime could be exist also there is a link between the high population and unemployment and the need to raise the intellectual level of women's education and work.
7.5 Women and poverty
The ability to work is the only asset of many poor women and provides women with income to meet material needs, reduce social isolation, and impart a sense of dignity and self-worth. By creating job opportunities efficient labor markets directly contribute to poverty reduction.
The figure for people living under the lower poverty line in Egypt reached 16.7% in 1999/2000, which shows that 10.7 million individuals are unable to meet their basic food and necessities. Using the upper poverty line, the number increases to 20.7 million in 90/91, at an annual increasing rate of 3% during (90/91-99/2000), which is higher than the population growth rates during those two periods: 2.25% and 2.1% annually.( )
7.6 Work and Family Responsibilities
The majority of women, especially married women contribute to their household budget. While half of married women contribute from their salaries to the household budget, almost half of female wage workers contribute all their monthly salary to the household. The decision of how much to contribute is taken by the women themselves except in some cases of unmarried women where the father decides on the amount of the daughter's contribution and some married women where the husband makes the decision. The contribution of women wages is very essential to most households. Unmarried women usually give their contribution to their mother while married women contribute the money directly to the house. The majority of both unmarried women and married women keep a portion of their monthly income for themselves to spend on clothing and transportation.
- Women and unmarried women in particular transfer some of their home activities to the labor market in the form of hiring servants or organized services. Female labor has become an important factor for the household income. It improves the living conditions of double earning families and provides a barrier against economic instability and high levels of male unemployment. As women become more economically independent and contribute more to family they gain more powerful relationships within the household which makes them more librated and improves the social status of women.
This leads to the assumption that participation of women in the labor force is affected by social and traditional gender roles as well as economic factors. When household income/ wealth is above a specific limit, this assumption is right, but if household income falls below that limit, only economic factors dominate the decision to join the labor force. Women below that level are pressed by economic hardships and expected to work more than those above it.
There is universal agreement that in most, if not all, developing countries the traditional role of women is primarily for the reproduction of the family and caring for other family members. Families under the poverty level increasingly depend on the supplemental income of the secondary workers, which is usually the wife or the children if they are at the right age for work. Domestic work remains the responsibility of women even after joining the labor market and working long hours. That puts an added burden on women and it is one of the reasons why they reduce the long working hours when basic needs are met.
In urban areas in Egypt, male and female heads of households work full time and are considered the primary wage earners in a family. Their income is the main source for the family budget. Sometimes a full time job income is not enough for the family needs so the wife is forced to participate in the labor market to support her husband and family. Sometimes the husband also has a second job to cover the family’s basic needs.
Women in Egypt devote nearly all their income to their family and still have to be under the gender role in the society. This makes the cost of their participation in the development process very difficult. With an increasing need for income, women tend to move towards the service sector where they chose certain type of low standard and low paid job. Their willingness to accept these conditions reflects their need and their perception of limited social support. Women who have a higher income bracket in urban and industrialized areas hire domestic staff to allow them time to work outside the home.
Women’s role at work should be considered just as important as their role in the home. In order to address the problem of general unemployment, critics have called for women to remain at home in order instead of participating in the labor market. However, a more successful solution to unemployment would be to create more employment opportunities for both men and women through the expansion of projects so that women can become important pillars in the economy.
For the majority of women their family duties are of primarily importance yet, at the same time, family circumstances can be the reason for women refusing to enter the labor market or affecting their performance at work. Women are not too keen to participate in the labor market if it increases responsibilities outside the family. Working women are forced to assume responsibility caring for their family. In many cases, they receive no help from the husband, who is conditioned from childhood to believe that household chores are exclusively a women's responsibility.
Many women cannot adapt to multiple roles. When women have dedicated full-time attention to caring for a family and raising children, they may find it hard to break away from this routine and become independent in the workplace. Where women do return to work after a temporary leave of looking after their family, the period can lead to inefficiency in job performance as women may have lost the work techniques and therefore need to be retrained.
This paper has shown that the illiteracy rate for women in 2000 was 56.2% and the unemployment rate for women in 2000 was 22.7% of the total unemployment of males and females. Female graduates suffer from the highest unemployment rates. Education in Egypt does not necessarily improve job opportunities for the average graduate and intermediate education does not produce the right marketable skills to improve the earning prospects of graduates. Prevailing traditions and norms in Egypt are a main challenge in preventing the increase of efficient training.
Most women postpone their career path and leave work after they get married or even take different types of leave in order to look after their family. Often women choose to have a job only for the security and privileges that come with the position but they do not necessarily want to progress in their careers. There are women who are unwilling to move from their stable positions and may not always accept new forms of training, nor accept to travel to other locations or change their workplace.
By 2004, the total labor force in Egypt including men and women was estimated at 22 million. Economic circumstances are factors that drive women either to enter the work market or not. Women also suffer from economic inequalities with men in the same society. They tend to be poorer than men in the same socio-economic conditions. Women at home play an important role in supporting the household's income and improving living standards. Nevertheless, women at home are neither paid nor included in the national income budget. This leads to underestimation of women's contribution to the development process of the national economy. At the household level, whether this contribution is appreciated or not depends on the educational and culture attainment of the family, religious and moral values as well as the legislation regulating female /male relationship.
Not enough women go into leadership posts and the majority of working women do not reach senior posts except after the age of 55. Even when they do they stay for a short time or are promoted close to retirement age so that they do not have the full opportunities of their careers and therefore women feel incapable of carrying out their functions. This indicates that promotion opportunities to high posts are not open to working women except near the end of their working careers. This also tells us that women spend the greater part of their working life in public offices without performing any leading role. Thus the formation of a trained and qualified cadre of women to fill high offices and assume leading responsibilities becomes essential.
Women, who have tried to reach high management positions, have been discriminated by their male colleagues. However women do discriminate against their own gender and many women refuse to take orders from women in higher position because they do not respect their authority
Women in small businesses need support through small credit programs and a greater choice of repayment loans. Ensuring that women and men have equal opportunities to generate and manage income is an important step towards realizing women’s rights at home, at work place and within society. The Government should provide low-interest loans, financial management training and equal opportunity to women engaged in small businesses.
Legislature has addressed women’s circumstances and issued privileges to reconcile women in their work and duties, however, employers too often sidestep the law. Ensuring that women and men have equal opportunities to generate and manage income is an important step towards realizing women’s rights, lessening discrimination against women and improving conditions at the workplace in the home and in society. However, the Egyptian government does not provide women with legal aid to help them understand or protect their working rights.
Children’s rights are also more likely to be realized when women fully enjoy their social and economic right. Working women need a day care nursery during working time to enable them to perform their work. Although the labor laws stipulate that the employer should provide nurseries where the number of workers is over 100, not all adhere to this condition. All these factors may contribute to women delaying the age of marriage therefore resulting in lower reproduction rates and the delay in childbearing, which may affect their health and biologically state.
Although by law Egyptian women enjoy equal employment opportunities that are sometimes greater than those available in many developed countries, in practice it would be fair to say that equality has not been widely achieved and there are still problems in the implementation of the country’s labor laws.
Specific laws that deal with sexual harassment or such acts which insult women in work place are necessary so that women do not continue to suffer in silence. Sexual harassment has to be recognized as an offence not as a reflection of how women’s role and status is perceived by society any change will involve a shift in attitudes towards women as well as their increased participations in work force. Women victims of abuse at work place need legal aid services to overcome multiple consequences of harassment in a way that empowers them to rebuild their lives and relationships. The Government should collect and analyze regularly data on gender based violence and make the information readily available to the public.
School textbooks are responsible for stereotyping women as wives and mothers, making it difficult for children to perceive women as successful career women. The media is a powerful means to influence the ideas of people and society however it is not used effectively in Egypt to deal with women’s issues. The media needs to be the information channel for more political, legislative and economic issues to amend the lack of equal opportunities between women and men, correct misconceptions, increase social awareness, inform women of their rights while working, change the negative image of itself and their responsibility to the community with an aim to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals set out in 2004.
The Government should facilitate public debates through the media, syndicates and universities on women’s working right and issue a code for gender justice in the work place to improve labor conditions and create a working environment free of sexual harassment, abuse and intimidation. This comprehensive strategy should be addressed to employers and designed to become integral to the management policies of public, private and non-governmental organization Awareness of women’s role in society is not only the responsibility of the government but also of the families. Society consists of families and they in turn consist of individuals, therefore everyone has a role and responsibility towards community.
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