The socio-cultural barriers and lack of awareness on the need for schooling stand in the way of Arab women getting educated and employed, according to some opinion leaders in education.
“Cultural traditions in the GCC region influence a women’s participation in education. There is no denying that there are more women getting educated in the region. Still, the perceptions of women being employed have not changed and there are still restrictions on various jobs Arab women can do,” said Dr Serra Kirdar, Director, Muthabara Foundation addressing a session on Women’s Education.
“Even though majority of the students enrolled in the schools and universities in the region are girls and they are the highest graduates, they are under represented in various fields. For many men in the region, a women’s education is rather a need at the time of marriage. People in the region think that higher education for woman increases her chances of remaining unmarried, though studies have shown otherwise. Education is a part of a woman’s life and the effect of it will be seen in her day to day activities throughout,” she said.
Women are under-represented in many professional areas like oil and gas, and construction which are the booming sectors in the GCC. Even the very few native women employed in the field do clerical jobs.
“Women are disproportionately affected by poverty. More than 1.4bn people live in extreme poverty and majority of them are women. These women are responsible for the children and elderly. UN has found that women owned just one percent of the world’s titled land in 2008. Women earn only 10 percent of the global income,” said Lone Jackson, Director of ExxonMobil Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative.
She also stressed that women’s economic potential is largely untapped. Studies show women’s incomes are more likely than men’s to go for food, education and medicine. Women make up less than 30 percent of the labour force in some countries and are often concentrated in low-paying jobs
“Education is the most powerful tool to help women lead and act,” she said. Meanwhile Dr Jane T Benbow, Chief of Party, Education Reform Project in Egypt, and Senior Research Director, American Institutes for Research, stressed equal opportunity for boys and girls in education.
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