|Per capita income in the Middle East and North Africa could have grown substantially more had women had greater access to economic opportunity. This would have significantly enhanced the development and welfare of countries and families in the region, according to the authors of the Gender and Development in the Middle East and North Africa. The situation of women in the region presents a unique paradox: decades of heavy investments in social sectors have improved women's health and education; above all they have reduced illiteracy and brought down fertility rates. However, these have not translated to higher employment and empowerment for women. Less than one-third of women participate in the labor force, the lowest among all regions. This is due to persistent social and economic barriers that limit women's access to economic opportunities.
In a global economy that values mental power, the region's new comparative advantage could well be its large, educated and, increasingly, female workforce. Economic growth relies increasingly on a country's quality of human resources, and women remain a largely untapped resource. Therefore, gender issues need to be viewed as central in policy design and implementation. Gender equality is not only for the sake of women. It promotes growth and aids the welfare of society in general.
This book identifies the economic and social obstacles that women in the Middle East and North Africa face in seeking employment. It also analyzes the potential economic benefits of engaging women in the workforce and suggests a plan of action that would help expand their role in the formal economy and public sphere. The book urges policymakers to pursue an agenda that will promote equity and offer women greater access to economic opportunities and security. It also acknowledges the central role of the family in the Middle East and North Africa as a common cultural asset, and calls for a supportive environment that will allow women to play multiple roles to support their families.
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