By Alexandru Cristea
Edited by Chen Lou
Government records for unemployment in Egypt show that women are mostly impacted by this problem. Unemployment has been one of the biggest social problems in the country for the last two decades. Several characteristics define this steady increase in the number of people out of work.
According to the Egyptian Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistic, the level of unemployment has risen steadily in the last decade. Unemployment levels in the last quarter of 2009 were situated at 9.4% of the existing labor force. In addition, a 2009 report released by the World Bank showed that Egyptian labor force increases each year by around 3%, despite a continuous decrease in the demand for labor. Furthermore, women bear the brunt of unemployment at about 23% of the entire female working population in Egypt. By comparison, just 5.2% of male labor force in the country is unemployed. These figures do not include Egyptians working abroad.
The rate of unemployment for men has steadily decreased from 6% to 5% from 2007 to 2009. In that same period, however, the number of unemployed women increased by approximately 5%. Such differences can be attributed to downsizing in the public sector and to the existence of gender bias in the private sector, according to Professor Naglaa El Ehwany, at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science of Cairo University. Professor El Ehwany is the deputy director and lead economist at The Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES) located in Cairo. ECES is an independent, non-governmental think-tank which conducts research activities in collaboration with local and international experts with the goal of providing solutions to challenges facing the Egyptian economy.
“Women are not encouraged to work in the private sector for cultural issues and because of their family obligations,” El Ehwany said in an exclusive interview with this reporter. “And the private sector is reluctant to hire women because of these obligations,” she added.
There are misconceptions in Egypt where by hiring women is considered detrimental to financial efficiency and places additional legal responsibilities on the company. The Egyptian Labor Law 12/2003 guarantees women employees maternity leave and two breaks of half an hour, but counting them as working hours. By law in Egypt, “a woman can leave the workplace an hour early if she has a baby,” El Ehwany indicated. The Labor Law has several provisions aimed at employed women including up to ninety days of maternity leave and the establishment of nurseries in companies with more than 100 workers.
“There are many social and legal problems that affect women’s ability to get jobs,” said Hany Fawdry, program director with the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (EWLA) located in Giza. EWLA is a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to increasing women’s knowledge of their constitutional rights. “The law discriminates a lot and gives more rights to men than to women. And, of course, there is the fact that women have additional obligations, like family,” he added.
“Women often do not have the time to work late. Organizations must provide places for their children, which they are unwilling to do most of the time. Of course, companies are mostly interested to employ men,” said Fawdry. “They can work until midnight. And women end up marginalized,” he explained.
According to Soha Abdelaty, the problem is also linked with the fact that “harassment against women in the workplace affects the position of women.” Abdelaty is deputy director at Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights NGO located in Cairo. Abdelaty also disclosed that companies are aware of the potential challenges and very often will not want to risk having women as employees.
Marwa Rushdy, program associate at The Education For Employment Foundation (EFE Foundation), lamented the bias against women in the private sector. EFE is an NGO located in Cairo and focused on labor training. It was established in 2008 with a sole purpose of reducing unemployment by training graduates and placing them in companies.“It is something that comes from the private sector mainly. Sometimes companies come and tell us that they specifically want men to fill their jobs,” Rushdy indicated.
El Ehwany indicated, however, that things are changing for the better. “Some businesses are more and more aware that women are more willing to prove themselves,” she said. “They are offering jobs and training. Five, six, seven years ago, they were not willing to embark in training courses, but now many have the initiative of training them on the job. This is mainly because the education system does not produce qualified graduates,” she explained.
She also indicated that there are no clear political agendas to solve this issue from either government or opposition. “The government undertook several reform measures to increase the level of competition and foreign investment but there is no interaction between macroeconomic policies and employment policies. In reality, I cannot see a comprehensive strategy from either power or opposition regarding employment,” she added.