Published on Arab Voices

The musings of a woman on gender equality or is it inequality? - Part One

This blog has been written by Shereen Allam, an entrepreneur, adventurer and the founder of two startups in Egypt. She is also the founder of AWTAD, the Association for Women's Total Advancement & Development, a non-profit association in Egypt to help support and empower women entrepreneurs reach their full potential. Shereen also founded BabyBoom, a manufacturing company for baby's clothes and Eco-Tek, an innovative printer cartridge recycling company, where she managed to scale Eco-Tek in a very short period of time. She is the president of AWTAD and mentors, empowers and offers advice to entrepreneurs in Egypt.

After going through the World Bank’s comprehensive study on gender in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, I have to say that gender equality took on a new dimension in my mind.  This study covered all facets of gender equality – or inequality – depending on which part of the cup you are looking at, the half full or the half empty.

Kim Eun YeulI will start here by talking about the situation in Egypt as this is close to my heart. All the facts show that women have taken great leaps in being equal or rather in receiving education up to the university level. But Wait!, do not get very excited – this equality ends there. Fewer women are in the workforce and surprisingly now more than before.  This makes me wonder: are women more demanding in their aims and goals or are they simply not interested in working?

I think we have two types of women. There are those who are in need of economic support and thus are more likely to accept any job, at any salary and under any condition (in my opinion these are the ones that need our attention but this is a whole discussion by itself so I will keep it for later).  On the other hand, we have those who have spent at least 16 years of their lives dreaming of a certain position or goal and if they do not get it, they simply will prefer to stay home or continue to search for their dream rather than compromise.  So economic needs govern the level of equality that women experience because it affects what women themselves accept or do not accept.

Women are further bound by cultural and social rules and regulations that also affect their participation and level of equality.  Women are limited in their choices because society will frown upon women working late at night, in faraway places and even some types of jobs are classified only for men.  To top these natural cultural and social barriers we need not forget the constraints put on women by women.  I think that what hinders the progress of women to participate more equally whether economically, socially or politically are stereotypes not only in the minds of men but in the minds of women themselves.

Are women ready to face the challenges thrown their way today more than ever? Are they ready to challenge society and each other to surmount the facts presented in this World Bank study? Can they use this study as a soul-searching tool to find out how much of the inequality present can be changed by a woman’s own hands and how much has to be changed through motivational programs, such as the one presented in the study about Jordan? Which of these creates mind shifts? 

Young women have brave hearts and dreams as high as the sky and if they learn the facts, they will be able to make tomorrow a better place.  Young men want jobs and although many are jobless and would prefer to get a job rather than give it to a woman, I think they are more ready to agree that either of them getting a job is better than none.  So the mind shift has already started but is our system and society ready for that big leap and is the next generation of men and women? Until the next time we meet, I leave you to ponder a call in the World Bank study – THINK EQUAL!

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