Bridging the Gap : Improving Capabilities and Expanding Opportunities for Women in the Middle East and North Africa Region

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
The International bank of Reconstruction and Development/The World Ban
Northern Africa
Western Asia

Improving gender equality is at the core of the World Bank's work globally and in the region. The Bank has launched the Gender Action Plan (GAP), “Gender Equality as Smart Economics”, a four-year action plan to improve women's economic opportunities through increasing female labor force participation and entrepreneurship. This emphasis is particularly relevant in MENA where female labor force participation rates are only 25 percent on average.

This paper outlines the challenges faced by women in the region, assesses the progress to date, and suggests policy options. It also outlines the World Bank's strategy for improving gender equality in the MENA region. Specifically, the region has initiated a concerted work program on gender and economic inclusion, which includes knowledge products, pilot projects, and gender-focused lending operations.

In Jordan, as part of President Zoellick's Adolescent Girls Initiative, a policy experiment on employment of young female graduates is currently under implementation, addressing the critical constraints that young female entrants face in the labor market. In Egypt, USD 300 million project to foster micro and small enterprise growth introduces a new credit line for disadvantaged women through post office branches in the poorest 1000 villages in the country. An impact evaluation has been initiated to assess the effectiveness of the program.

Despite tremendous progress on human development outcomes in MENA, some gender gaps still remain. Females are still more likely to drop out of school than males. This is an acute problem in low income countries like Yemen but also in some middle income countries such as Morocco. Conditional cash transfer pilots are now being tested to improve dropout rates for girls in primary schools in these two countries.

Gender equality in the economic arena remains a significant development challenge for MENA, and must remain at the forefront of the Bank's strategy in the region.