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Gender

5 Arab women who are breaking down stereotypes and building their countries

Bassam Sebti's picture

There is a horrible old saying in some Arab countries: Women belong to their homes and husbands only. They shouldn’t be educated, work, or have an opinion. This belief, unfortunately, still dominates some areas in the Arab world. But modern, educated, and strong-willed Arab women and men find this saying backward and unfitting.

Women are 49.7% of about 345.5 million people in the Middle East and North Africa region. Some in the West think of these women as zipped up in a tent in the desert, probably beaten up by their husbands, a stereotype many of today’s Arab women fight and prove wrong.

Yes, there are still many barriers remaining in the way of closing the gender gap in the Arab world, but many advances have been made in education, politics, entrepreneurship, labor, and health. Arab women today are entrepreneurs, leaders, activists, educators, Nobel Prize winners, and much more. They are reshaping their societies and building a better road to gender equality and girl empowerment for generations to come.

Here are some of many stories on how women from different Arab countries are reshaping their societies and fighting gender inequality:

Making skills training female-friendly: What pilots from the Adolescent Girls Initiative can teach us

Sarah Haddock's picture
The global jobs crisis has fueled interest globally in how to improve the quality of skills training programs to prepare people for productive employment. The Adolescent Girls Initiative (AGI) has some of the best results to-date among skills training projects that have been rigorously evaluated, so it makes sense to ask what made these pilots successful.

From 2008-2015, we implemented pilots in eight countries, with the aim of supporting young women’s transition to productive employment. The AGI marked the Bank’s first experience working with this population—adolescent girls and young women—on this topic—skills and employment. We learned a great deal lot along the way, which we have collated in an online Resource Guide to share with other teams.

Two models

We tested two main program models—a classroom-based Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) model that delivered job and business skills plus life skills, and a Girls’ Club model that delivered life skills and short livelihood trainings in community-based safe space clubs. Both significantly impacted economic outcomes for young women, though the Girls’ Club model was far less expensive.

In Liberia, for example, the Economic Empowerment of Adolescent Girls and Young Women (EPAG) project—a TVET, classroom-based program—increased participants' employment by 47 percent and earnings by 80 percent. In Uganda, meanwhile, the Girl's Club program raised the likelihood of girls’ engagement in income-generating activities by 35 percent and had large impacts on risky sexual behaviors and the girls’ experience of violence.

A recent meta-analysis of Active Labor Market Policies (ALMPs) suggests that average program effects tend to be larger for females, and that training and other human capital interventions are particularly effective among women. This suggests that both AGI models—classroom-based vocational training and community-based Girls' Club training—should continue to be implemented and tested across a variety of settings.

Lessons learned

So what made the AGI projects effective for young women?

First, AGI worked hard to get girls into the projects and to keep them there—which is challenging in itself, especially for younger girls. We know that attrition from training programs is high, but we don’t really know the magnitude of the problem because so many projects don’t monitor or report individual attendance. When projects do report attrition and disaggregate by sex, they often find young women drop out more than young men and for different reasons. AGI pilots were able to successfully recruit young women and maintained completion rates above 90 percent.

Here are some of the steps AGIs took to recruit young women and retain them: Another key female-friendly feature of AGI projects was their explicit aim to steer women towards more profitable trades. By default, many skills training programs channel young women into traditionally female fields that are often less lucrative and less secure. Breaking down job segregation isn’t easy, but it is possible—and should, arguably, be an objective of projects aimed at improving economic outcomes for women.

Providing girls with accurate information about the returns to various male- and female-dominated trades is a first step. An experiment in Kenya provided such information and was able to get young women to sign up for training in male-dominated trades, but later on they were no more likely to complete training or pursue work in those trades than young women who had not received the information.

Qualitative work in Uganda among women who successfully "crossed over" into male-dominated fields found the presence of male role models early in a young woman’s career was an important factor, suggesting further that information alone isn’t enough.

Here are some things AGIs did to break occupational segregation:
  • Conducted local labor market assessments that intentionally explored market demand in non-traditional trades for women;
  • Included an orientation period to educate participants about their training options;
  • Encouraged women to enter non-traditional trades in groups;
  • Supported participants with mentors, other role models from the community, and careful monitoring for potential unintended consequences.

So what’s the bottom line?

Being intentional about designing and implementing projects that work well for young women requires more planning and resources up front, but the results are impressive—making the investment worthwhile. A single program doesn’t have to do it all—strategies for making training female-friendly need to make sense in the local context.

Forthcoming blogs will explore broader "good practice" lessons from the AGI—not specific to young women—and highlight recommendations for future research and learning.
 

In Bolivia, being female and Indigenous conveys multiple disadvantages

Caren Grown's picture
Florina Lopez spoke movingly about her experience of double discrimination, being both Indigenous and a woman, at the recent launch of the new World Bank Group report, Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century. Lopez belongs to the Panamanian Indigenous Guna people and has spent decades working for Indigenous movements, starting at the community level and now coordinating the regional Network of Indigenous Women's Biodiversity.

She is one of many Indigenous women in Latin America who have dedicated their lives to creating more inclusive societies. While it is important to acknowledge that not all Indigenous groups and not all women have the same experiences, the concept of intersecting identities helps explain the concept of  "additive" or "multiplied disadvantage" (or advantage). Individuals are part of multiple social structures and roles simultaneously, and these structures interact and influence experiences, relations, and outcomes. 

The intersection of gender and ethnicity, for example, can deepen the gaps in some development outcomes. Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-first Century explains that, while Indigenous Peoples' access to services has improved significantly, services are generally not culturally adapted—so the groups they are meant to benefit do not take full advantage of them. In Bolivia, where more than 40 percent of people identify themselves as Indigenous or Afro-descendants, according to the 2012 Population and Housing Census, indigenous women face a higher risk of being excluded. Further, according to a 2014 Perception Survey on Women’s Exclusion and Discrimination, all women feel discriminated against in different aspects of their lives, with Indigenous women particularly affected.
 

How does intersectionality and discrimination play out in education and health?

Access to education in Bolivia has improved considerably in recent years. Today, overall primary schooling completion rates and secondary school enrollment rates are similar for boys and girls. Yet major gender gaps persist among Indigenous and rural students.

In urban Bolivia, females are less likely to finish secondary school than males.  In urban areas, an Indigenous female student is about half as likely to finish secondary school compared to a non-Indigenous male student. But an Indigenous rural woman is five times less likely than a non-Indigenous urban man to complete secondary school (see graph, based on Census 2012):
 


Many factors prevent girls from attaining higher levels of schooling in Bolivia, including domestic care work, early pregnancy, and the need for income.  But girls who persist in secondary and higher education face other barriers:  one in five female students aged 15 to 24 report having experienced discrimination in academic environments: 25 percent of Indigenous women versus 18 percent of non-Indigenous women.

The situation is similar in terms of access to key health services.  According to household survey data (2013), while almost all non-Indigenous women in urban Bolivia give birth with either a nurse or a doctor present, that is the case for only 6 out of 10 Indigenous women in rural Bolivia. While this may be explained in part by Indigenous women’s preferences to use traditional parteras, the difference in access rates may also in part be driven by perceived discrimination. According to the Perception Survey, 20 percent of Indigenous women report having experienced discrimination when seeking care, compared to 14 percent among non-Indigenous.

Investments in education and health shape the ability of men and women to reach their full potential, allowing them to take advantage of economic opportunities and lead productive lives. Limited access to these kinds of investments not only adversely affects an individual’s opportunities, but may have significant costs for entire communities and economies.

Inclusion must be front and center on the development agenda. More and better information—both qualitative and quantitative—is needed to highlight the persistent issue of overlapping disadvantages. This will allow us, ultimately, to do much more to expand every person’s capacity to participate fully and equally and achieve his or her potential. As Florina Lopez said earlier this month, "Without the effective participation of Indigenous women in society, it will be difficult to eradicate the poverty and extreme poverty that we live in."

Chart: Women Earn More in Male-Dominated Jobs

Tariq Khokhar's picture

A recent study in Uganda found that women in female-dominated sectors earned less than half what men did in male-dominated sectors. But women who "crossed over" to male-dominated sectors such as metalwork and carpentry earned almost as much as men. Read more about "Breaking The Gender Earnings Gap" 
 

Where do women most lag men in access to financial institutions?

Masako Hiraga's picture

Where do women most lag men in access to financial institutions?

 


Globally, an average of 65% of men and 58% of women over the age of 15 have an account at a financial institution. However, beneath this 7 percentage point global difference, there are many countries where the gender gaps are much wider. Find our more in the Gender Data Portal and the Global Findex data portal.

 

Aqeela Asifi: Refugee and tireless champion for education

Yann Doignon's picture
Aqeela Asifi is the 2015 winner of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award, recognised for her indefatigable efforts to help girl refugees access education.
Aqeela Asifi. Credit: UNHCR

Aqeela Asifi is the 2015 winner of UNHCR's Nansen Refugee Award, recognized for her indefatigable efforts to educate Afghan girl refugees. She was a guest panelist at the "Managing Displaced Populations—Lessons From Pakistan" discussion with President Jim Yong Kim during his two day visit to Pakistan last week.



Her car broke down during her long journey to Islamabad from Kot Chandana, a refugee village where she lives in the south-eastern Punjab province of Pakistan.

Tired she may be, and notwithstanding a panel discussion on the Afghan refugee situation still ahead of her, she has a story to tell and nothing will stop her.

Her quiet, almost shy demeanor belies her fierce determination: Aqeela Asifi is a refugee, teacher, champion of girl’s education, an inspiration to thousands of her students, and a 2015 winner of UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award.

Her story is one of resilience against all odds.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Afghans, she was forced to flee Afghanistan in 1992 when civil war broke out in the country. She left everything behind: her family, her house, and a job as a teacher in Kabul, and ended up in Kot Chandana, a village in Pakistan, which then hosted nearly 180,000 other refugees. By the early 1990s, more than three million exiled Afghans had crossed Pakistan’s border, putting additional pressure on the country’s infrastructure and social services, notably health services and schools. What Asifi witnessed was a complete lack of learning facilities and opportunities for girls in her newfound community. “When I started living at a refugee camp I saw girls’ education was the most neglected area,” she says. “Girls were not even aware of education and its importance in their lives. They didn’t know anything about books, pencils, and it was then when I realized that this community needed my help.”
 
 

When urbanization is messy, students fall through the cracks

Mabruk Kabir's picture
Student in Urban Slum Learning Center
A student at an Urban Slum Learning Center
in Dhaka. Photo: Mabruk Kabir/World Bank

On a foggy winter morning in Dhaka, 41-year-old Jahid was sipping tea by a roadside stall.

“Life was very peaceful back in my village,” he reminisced, “but there was no work, so I moved to Dhaka. Even if I live in a slum, my children are better off here.”

Jahid is one of the 500,000 people that move to Dhaka city each year. Driven by the promise of economic opportunity as well as poverty in rural and coastal areas, it is estimated that half the population of Bangladesh will migrate to urban areas by 2030. 

The Rocky Road to Urbanization

Urbanization can be catalyst for growth. Density – the clustering of firms and workers – can drive productivity, innovation and job creation. It is the benefits of agglomeration that once drew the country’s most important industry – the ready-made garments sector to Dhaka city.

However, it is the costs from congestion that are now pushing factories away, mainly to peri-urban areas. Why are factory owners leaving?


For starters, the tide of new migrants has overwhelmed urban infrastructure, basic services, as well as the stock of affordable housing – eroding the both the livability and competitiveness of Dhaka city. A recent World Bank report described South Asia’s urbanization trajectory as “messy and hidden” – reflected in the large-scale proliferation of slums and urban sprawl.


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