IWD in Egypt: challenges, opportunities for women’s empowerment

Nehal Samir
9 Min Read

Sunday 8 March marks the International Women’s Day 2020, which does not only recognise the achievements made by women, but also raises awareness on the obstacles that still stand in their way. To know those obstacles, in Egypt specifically, we should first know where Egypt stands in terms of women’s empowerment politically, economically, among other issues.

According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), the gender ratio in Egypt reached 106.2%, meaning that there are 106.2 males for every 100 females.

Female Education and Labour Force Participation

Education is the key element for all areas of empowerment. According to CAPMAS, the total female school enrolment rate to males in pre-primary education reached 27.7% in 2017-2018, while for primary stage the rate was 101%, for preparatory stage was 94.2%, and 54.6% for secondary education, whether general, technical, commercial, industrial, agricultural. The percentage of females enrolled in higher education was 48.9% compared to 51.1% for males.

Dropout rate in 2017-2018 in primary stage was 0.3% for females compared to 0.5% for males, while it reached 3.0% for females in preparatory stage compared to 3.2% for males in the same school year.

This shows that as girls grow older, their education stops, which of course will reflect on her engagement in the labour force.

Egypt ranked 102nd globally in terms of closing the gender gap in educational attainment, compared to 90th in 2006, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Unfortunately, women’s contribution to the workforce was 15.6% of the total workforce (15 years old and over) compared to 67.3% for men in 2019. Also, the unemployment rate for females was 21.7%, compared to 4.8% for males.

“The percentage of female workers (15 years old and over) was 15.3% compared to 84.7% for males, while the percentage of females working in permanent work was 89.2%, compared to 70.3% for males,” reported CAPMAS.

Talking about women’s employment, Minister of Planning Hala El-Said said on Saturday during the “She Can” event that women in Egypt represent 45% of total governmental jobs, which exceeds the global average of 32%.

Concerning Egyptian women in executive leadership roles, El-Said added that women account for 7.1% of these leadership jobs, which is higher than the 5.4% average in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In terms of women in boards, she said that women represent 12% of Egypt’s bank boards in 2019, up from only 10% in 2018. She noted that 18% of editor-in-chief in national newspapers are women.

Women’s economic empowerment

The second element in women’s empowerment is economic. Economic equality will not only benefit women, but the whole world.

A report from McKinsey Global Institute finds that $12trn could be added to the global GDP by 2025 solely through advancing women’s equality.

In terms of Egypt, a 2012 report by Booz & Company on women and the world of work estimated that if female employment rates were to match male rates in Egypt, it would result in an increase of 34% to the GDP.

Economic growth cannot be sustained without inclusiveness, and women represent an untapped resource in the economy of Egypt, a fact noted in the 2010 World Bank Gender report, as well as in various studies concerned with women’s labour force participation.

The 2010 World Bank Gender Assessment also noted that the traditionally strong relationship between educational attainment and economic participation were weakening, with the over-representation of educated women in a shrinking government sector, and their under-representation in the private sector.

The discriminatory labour market treatment of women, especially in the private sector, is a significant obstacle to their participation and contribution to economic growth.

As a result, differences in income, which include wage and non-wage revenues between men and women, are large.

The WEF’s latest report found that the average income of Egyptian men is about 3.8 times higher than the average income of Egyptian women.

The WEF stated that Egypt has a long way to go and now ranks 140th globally, compared to 108th in 2006.

Economic empowerment encompasses so much more than just wage labour, in order to get the full picture of female economic empowerment, we should also look into women’s financial inclusion.

Women who currently have accounts in Egypt reached 27%, up from only 14% in 2014,

Only about 27% of Egyptian women have accounts, up from 14% in 2014, the Minister of Planning said.

She added that Egyptian women owe 51% of total loans directed to micro-projects, while the percentage of small projects that are directed to women also witnessed a large hike in 2019 reaching 69%, compared to 23% in 2015.

According to Minister of Trade and Industry Nevine Gamea, women own 37% of established startups in Egypt.

No one can deny the efforts the Egyptian government has taken during the last three years to further empower women economically, but there is still a lot to do in terms of the gender pay gap and the high representation of women in the informal sector, bearing in mind that women are breadwinners of many households.

Furthermore, female-headed households in Egypt reached 18.1%, while the percentage of low-income households headed by females was 12.6%, compared to 27.1% of low-income families headed by men, according to the CAPMAS.

Women’s health

In today’s world, healthcare has become an unquestionable human right, yet, women specifically are still kept out of the conversation when governments talk about health autonomy and proper healthcare procedures. Without health, women are unable to participate as active citizens or even attain other facets of empowerment.

The state achieved a middle rank of 85 in the health and survival index, compared to 66 in 2006,” according to the WEF’s latest gender gap report.

So, its apparent that Egypt has been going backwards in the global survival index, however, Egypt has been able to improve the conditions of healthcare seeing that maternal morbidity and mortality has improved, and the percentage of women covered by health insurance has increased drastically.

According to CAPMAS, life expectancy at birth for females is 75.5 years, compared to 73.0 years for males in 2020.

“The percentage of female participants in social insurance reached 71.2%, compared to 40.8% for males, and percentage of female participants in health insurance reached 68.5%, compared to 34.4% for males,” according to CAPMAS.

Women’s political empowerment

Talking about political empowerment in Egypt, Dina Hussein, a member of the National Council for Women, explained that Egyptian women constitute 25% of the Egyptian government, and the glass barrier was broken by appointing the first national security adviser and the first Egyptian judge on a platform in the Economic Court.

She added that the representation of women in the Egyptian parliament increased to 15%, then after the latest constitutional amendments that rose to 25% in addition to the presence of a 20% quota for youth, which women also benefit from.

The WEF highlighted that political empowerment is still low, but is improving, explaining that, the country is ranked 103 in terms of political empowerment, compared to 111 in 2006. Although, there has never been a woman in a head-of-state position.

All in all, Egypt still has a long way to go before achieving complete female economic empowerment and gender equality.

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