Globalization, Arab Women and Gender Equality

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Shahida El-Baz


In the last decades the world has witnessed radical socio-economic, cultural and political changes on the global level, which has dialectically influenced regional and local levels.

These changes have given rise to several phenomena, as well as, different analytical paradigms and methods of conceptualization for these phenomena. However, there are many reasons to believe that one phenomenon/process is emerging as the dominant and/or governing mechanism in the development of world societies in a specific direction i.e. the phenomenon of globalization. It’s mechanisms and manifestations are affecting all world societies economically, socially, culturally and politically.

In the meantime, the world changes have developed and enhanced the interest in many areas, among which the role of women in developing their societies. This interest resulted in the development of different theoretical/analytical frameworks. The latest one, which has more explanatory power, is the gender perspective.


Gender perspective as an analytical framework examines the socially constructed, unequal, relationships between men and women, which influence their; roles, rights and responsibilities in society. It uncovers the gender gaps in terms of access to social opportunities, services and resources, as well as levels of gender participation in decision-making processes. Gender perspective aims at bridging the gender gaps, empowering both men and women so that they can participate in all societal processes as equal partners. In this context, the paper will examine the impact of globalization, operationally defined, on gender equality in the Arab region.


The concept of globalization is still one of the most controversial issues, both on the intellectual and the political level. Several definitions have been given to globalization. However, for the sake of clarity, they can be reduced to two main definitions derived from two different approaches, i.e., the functional, and the structural definitions (El-Baz, 2001).

The functional definition addresses globalization through describing its manifestations such as, great technological and scientific achievements, information and communication advancement, the power and dynamism of the transnational corporations (TNCs), and domination of a global market that guarantees the free movement of capital, products and services, and labour. The cultural and ideological discourse of this definition is the propagation of globalization as the victory of western civilization that marks the end of history (Abdel-Fadil, 2000:116). It is in this context that globalization is presented as the ultimate inescapable phenomenon which is turning the world into a universal village. The advocates of this approach are not concerned with existing contradictory interests between different parts of the world due to structural inequalities, nor with potential marginalizing, or even exterminating, impact of globalization on some societies.

The globalization strategy pertinent to functional definition defines the ultimate goal as the integration of all world economies in the global market. To achieve this goal, the developing economies should be restructured and adjusted, so as to qualify for global integration, through following a universal prescription formulated outside their societies by the global managers of the globalization processes. However, the growing awareness of the negative impacts of globalization highlighted by UNICEF`s report; "Globalization with a Human Face", drew the attention to the possible disfunctioning of globalization mechanisms if concerted action is not taken to reduce their negative impacts. It is in this context that the functional vision of globalization had to adopt supportive policies with the objective of facilitating and minimizing, as much as possible, the globalizing pains.


The structural definition is characterized by being; analytical, dynamic and historically oriented. While it deals with the manifestations of globalization, it also analyzes its mechanisms and the structural logic/ rational of its development, in a historical perspective. In this context, globalization is structurally defined as; a dialectical historical process, which reflects an advanced phase of an ever-changing human history, in terms of cumulative scientific knowledge and technology, and thus, it is not the end of history. It is also an advanced phase in the development of capitalism. It is based on the differential and unequal levels of development of different world societies. It creates a new world division of labour, which is characterized by, economically and politically, unequal power relations on a world scale. The advocates of this approach maintain that globalization is by its very nature a polarizing process i.e. the logic of global capitalist expansion produces growing inequality between the members of the system. Thus, there could not be catching up mechanisms from within the system. The catching up from late development could be achieved through policies of de-linking, which submits society's relationships with the global market to the primary requirements of its internal development. De-linking in this sense is the opposite concept of "adjustment" to the global trends because such unilateral adjustment, by necessity, leads to more peripheralization/ marginliazation of the weaker members of the system. De-linking also means becoming an active agent in shaping the globalization process getting it to adjust to the requirements of one's own development (Amin,s.: 120).



Globalization and social polarization in Arab societies:


Globalization as a multidimensional complex process has a diverse and globalizing impact on different countries of the world as well as on different social groups within the same society, based on their different socio-economic conditions, class affiliation and their actual level of human development. In this respect, globalization produces, simultaneously, two contradictory processes of integration and exclusion. It is, herein, suggested that the impact of globalization on developing, including Arab, societies tends to integrate a small part of the country’s elite into the processes of production and capital accumulation within the global market, which grants them a standard of living way above the country’s per capita income. Meanwhile, the majority gets marginalized and socially excluded from production and income circles. The dynamics of social and economic exclusion leads to the spread of poverty, which due to poverty in poor people’s abilities, reproduces itself in a vicious circle until social polarization becomes, in different degrees, the main characteristic of developing societies.

Evidence suggests that the, globalization related, division of Arab economies into; a flourishing unproductive, and low labour absorbing financial and commercial sector on the one hand, and a stagnant productive export oriented sector on the other, is escalating the existing unequal distribution of wealth and income. Scarce employment opportunities and low income and savings led to the impoverishment of nearly 60% of the Arab population of which 50% are women. The rich 10% are getting richer every day. The 30% in the middle are struggling to keep a minimum standard of living. This process is leading to the graduals erosion of the Arab middle class. (Abdel-Fadil, 2000:40&Zaki, R. 1999:168).






Globalisation, Gender, and Policy-making in the Arab Countries:


Although evidence suggests that globalisation has positive and negative impacts on Arab women, their influence and role in policy-making is extremely weak due to the following reasons:

1-      Public policies are made by males, and for that matter by elite males, in the absence of real popular participation. Thus, public policies reflect a patriarchal vision of the interests of the elite.

2-Due to the absence of gender awareness among Arab policy-makers, they generally treat public policies, especially economic policies, as gender-neutral. Thus, gender analysis has no place in designing or implementing public policies. No attention is given to their different impact on men and women. Therefore, when public policies have a negative impact, it usually affects the poor and vulnerable groups with more devastating effect on women and children. In this case women experience a double suffering; as being part of the vulnerable majority, and being women in a society controlled by men.


As a result of the culturally prevailing gender discrimination in the Arab region, women are generally more affected by worsening economic and social conditions than men. Their unequal social status results in unequal access to resources, to social and economic opportunities and benefits. Although Arab women’s relative share in wage employment has risen, they rarely benefit from job security or social benefits of employment. The persistence of traditional gender division of labour prevents women from having equal rights as men. Moreover, it is used as a rational for their socio-economic marginliazation and exclusion. A constraint on women’s participation in the public sphere reduces their capacity to advocate, lobby or negotiate successfully for equal social and economic rights. It, further, excludes them from influencing public policies and legislations. As a results, most public policies and legislationans in the Arab countries are gender blind or discriminating against women.


 Likewise, the impact of policies pertinent to globalisation is not gender neutral.  Consequently, women are affected by their general impact on Arab societies on the one hand, and by their negative impact as gender blind policies that do not cater for women's needs on the other. The social and economic exclusion and marginliazation of vulnerable groups is also gender biased. It affects women first and worst. However, reference to any gender specific issues pertinent to globalisation should take into consideration that Arab women are not a homogeneous social category. They differ according to their class and/or ethnic affiliation and to rural-urban division. Thus, the impact of globalization on Arab women varies accordingly. Some women will benefit and others, usually the poor majority, will loose, in which case gender equality is usually curtailed.



Globalisation Policies in the Arab Region:


To qualify for integration in the global market, Arab countries had to adopt and implement monetary and financial stabilization policies and structural adjustment programmes prescribed by the IMF and the World Bank. The reform package became known as “Economic Reform Policies and Structural Adjustment Programmes” (ERSAPs), to be implemented as the nationally adopted globalization policies.

To create a suitable environment for the implementation of globalization policies, other supportive social policies were also introduced.

In the following part, the paper will examine the impact of these policies on gender equality in the Arab region, taking into consideration the socially polarizing impact of globalization processes on the different categories of Arab women.



                    A-                   Gender impact of financial reform policies:


Since finanicial policies are concerned mainly with macro-economic aggregates, their impact on houshold or their gender differentiated impact is rarely or never examined. However, it is important to note here that a large section of the population in Arab medium and less-developed countries are out of the realm of financial institutions. In this context women are excluded with a much higher proportion than men, due to their lower degree of participation in the money economy. Moreover, since financial reform policies are mainly geared towards formal financial market, they are likely to benefit a small faction of well off women who are involved in formal sector transactions. In contrast, the majority of small-scale women borrowers, savers and lenders are engaged in the informal sector transactions.

Therefore, it is important to investigate the indirect effects of financial sector reforms on the informal sector, to find out how gender-differentiated patterns of demand and supply of financial services might be affected (Baden, 1996; iii). In this respect, the Socio-clutural reasons for women’s limited engagement in credit market, which reduces their access to economic opportunities, should be questioned. Thus, interventions to improve women’s access to credit for small-scale enterprise implies looking at gender issues at the macro-and micro-levels in relation to financial reforms. It has been suggested that these policies are likely to have gender differentiated impacts and that underlying variables related to gender may have an impact on the outcome of financial reform policies (Ibid).



                    B-                   Structural Adjustment Programmes/Policies


Structural adjustment programmes officially claimed goals are; redeeming the economy from distortions and constraints; increasing production efficiency and increasing savings and investments rates. To achieve these goals, a structural reform based on the liberalization of all economic sectors was recommended, with the objective of subjecting them to the market principle as a requirement for integration in the global market. Different policies were prescribed to accelerate the required transformation, the gender impact of which will be examined in the following part.



Policies of Free Zones, Trade Liberalization and Price Liberation


The creation of free zones is considered a tool for enhancing export industries with relative advantages in relation to its location. The free zones, along with trade liberalization, are to lead to integration in the global market.

However, a key issue in the success of free zones is the extent to which they create links with the rest of the domestic economy for long-term benefit. While creating employment opportunities has the highest importance to the Arab host countries, technological advancement would encourage foreign investors to invest in capital-intensive industries, which require highly skilled workers, who are not in great supply in the Arab countries. Evidence on the effects of globalization on the structure of labour demand indicates that exports with high unskilled- labour content are on the decline on the world scale, and that there is a worldwide shift in relative demand for labour in favor of activities involving highly- skilled workers and personnel (Abdel-Fadil, 1998:6; El-Khawaga 2000:19).


Some experiences in export-oriented economies suggest that the higher the concentration of exports on labour intensive goods, the higher proportion of women workers e.g. Tunisia. However, since late 1980s, in many middle-income countries, the demand for women's labour in manufacturing has gone down, as export production has become more skill and capital-intensive. This situation suggests that the increase in women's employment in the manufacturing industries might not continue for a long time (1999 world Survey: 33). The shift towards less labour- intensive activities led to a sharp decline in the share of women in the EPFZ labour force in some countries. The decline is associated with diversification of export products that tends to use more sophisticated technology. Thus, it seems that as the quality of jobs and wages improve, women tend to be excluded from the labour force (Ibid: 34). Considering the low skill level of the vast majority of female labour force in the Arab countries, it is most likely, if they have got such an opportunity, that they will be replaced by better qualified male workers.


Trade liberalization in the Arab countries failed to rectify the deficit in their balance of trade. This confirms the view that Arab countries should have transformed their economies and improved production structure so as to increase the supply of tradable goods and services in all sectors, before adjusting them to global market. The failure to do that added to their limited ability to create new labour opportunities. In the meantime rising unemployment is usually solved through excluding women from the labour market.


Price liberation, along with elimination of subsidies in the Arab countries, within the context of prevailing monopoly conditions, have an inflationary effect that would hit the poor, especially women whose chances to increase their income are extremely limited.



Gender impact of Agricultural liberalization policy


The promotion of export-oriented cash crops that are increasingly replacing subsistence/survival agriculture and food production has increased local dependence on imported food. This has enormously increased the cost of food for many sectors of the population mainly the poor and women, especially women heads of households who would have to incur an extra burden to increase their income (Ibrahim, 1994:21-22). The withdrawal of the governments from agricultural marketing has resulted in substituting state monopoly by private sector multi-monopolies of agricultural inputs, products and marketing. Experience has shown that government withdrawal from agricultural services and marketing led to a backslide/ decline in food supply. Moreover, the financial and monetary restrictions that reduced agricultural subsidies, credit, input subsidies, had a negative impact on agriculture e.g. decline in cultivated area and productivity; rising food shortage and worsening food security conditions (Elwan, 1999, 373), which has a worse impact on women, being responsible for managing meagre family resources.

In the Arab region large-scale farms and cash crops for export are controlled by male farmers who are usually encouraged through higher accessibility to capital, credit and services. Meanwhile family subsistence agriculture, which is performed, in some countries, mainly by women e.g. Yemen, and Sudan is neglected and the women farmers are denied access to credit or technological facilities (El-Baz, 1998).  The small farms run by women suffer from lack of subsidies, as well as from competition by cheaper imported agricultural products.

Liberalisation of agricultural prices and land rent is likely to lead to land concentration in the hands of the few rich male owners. This process has, in some instances forced small female cultivators to give up their land. Meanwhile, their chance of getting new land is diminishing, given the scarcity of Arab fertile land. This situation is aggravated by the non-Islamic, culturally derived, denial of women’s land property rights, which is prevailing in many parts of the Arab region.


The increase in land rent, determined by market forces, has become a burden on poor peasants, especially female heads of households. In Egypt the change in land tenure system in accordance with agricultural liberalization was unfairly advantageous to landowners. Who were granted free rights to raise land rent beyond the poor peasants’ means. Many of them, especially women, had to evacuate the land and turn to agricultural wage labour where they have to compete with newly evacuated males. The ones who managed to keep the land have experienced a substantial decline in income due to the high rent. In addition, the price liberalization of agricultural inputs increased the cost of agricultural production, which consequently reduced the real income of poor peasants, especially women who do not have access to credit or productivity enhancing technology.  Women get further exploited by the middlemen, lacking bargaining power or government protection through a fixed minimum price. In some instances they are culturally excluded from the market place.


Globalization Policies and Women’s Employment


The globalization objective to transform all world economies to the market principle, so that it could be integrated into the global market, prescribed privatization of the public sector as the main policy. In this respect Privatization should be evaluated on the basis of its social and economic returns. Therein, privatisation based on technological advances in production processes are seen to reduce rather than increase demand for the bulk of the labour force in the Arab region, given its current skill-composition (Abdel-Fadil 1998: 11). Privatisation related unemployment is increasing with accelerating rates. Privatised companies lay-off workers, some times, without any compensation. In this context female employment is negatively affected since they are the ones who go first.

Although globalization assumes the integration in the global market through the free movement of; goods and services, capital, and labour, only the markets of goods and services and capital have been able to embark on global integration, while the labour market remains segmented. This phenomenon increases global inequality through the differential exploitation of workers based on the segmentation of the labour market  (Amin, S: 121, 141). This is further aggravated by the restrictive immigration policies adopted by the advanced countries of the North. In this context the globalization process should not be seen as synonymous with a global labour market at the world scale. (Abdel-Fadil 1998:1). If male workers face difficulties in migration, the impact on Arab women migration, due to cultural restrictions and low skill levels, is much greater.



Although women's entry into the labour force is increasing all over the world, their participation rates are still lower than men. Women are disproportionately engaged in non-standard forms of work e.g. informal, temporary and casual employment, part-time jobs, home-based work, self-employment and working in micro enterprise.


Arab women's share in the labour force has increased, albeit with a slower rate than the rest of the world. In North Africa women's share of the labour force rose from 20% in 1980 to 26% in 1997, and in Western Asia, from 23% to 27% (The World's Women 2000: 109). In countries that have embarked on ERSAPs, reduction in government and public sector employment and increasing privatisation has driven more women to seek other income- earning opportunities (Ibid). This also resulted in an increase in the number of self-employed women. Sometimes self- employments make it easier for women to combine family responsibilities and unpaid subsistence labour with income-generating activities. On the other hand, this implies a higher level of job insecurity and the absence of social protection measures such as maternity leave and social insurance. Despite the positive side of self-employment as a way out within a developing market economy with less secure jobs for women, it also reflects the persistence of traditional gender division of labour. Where women are compelled to seek forms of labour compatible with their traditional domestic role, even if it is not their first choice.


 With the growing market economy, another opportunity was opened to women, especially well off middle-class women, to start their own private enterprises. The number of Arab women venturing successfully into business is growing, so much that they have established their national and Arab regional associations to promote and advocate their economic interests. However, such opportunities, which are created by globalization for this advantaged segment of Arab women, could also have a polarizing impact on women within the national context. While the vast majority of Arab women remain poor, socially and economically excluded with less or no access to economic and social opportunities, the better off minority gets richer.


This polarizing process would certainly create contradictions and conflict of   interests, among women from different social classes. Accompanied by justifying ideologies, this divisive social and political mechanisms would forestall the emergence of a dynamic national women's movement with a comprehensive national agenda for gender equality.


While the state policy of a guaranteed right to employment, adopted by some Arab countries, has been always condemned as a source of disguised unemployment and low productivity, evidence suggests that it contributed positively to women's participation, indiscriminately, in the labour force. For instance, the difference in labour force participation of women and men has historically been very small in ex-socialist countries where the state was the principal employer, and has recently widened in some of them. The economic transition has been accompanied in these countries by a shift in national labour policy from a guaranteed right to employment to the simplification of lay-off procedures. In addition, due to the decline in state support for families and working/women, family responsibilities are posing additional obstacles to women's employment (The World's Women 2000: 110).


The same conditions could be clearly observed in adjusting Arab countries, which have historically adopted similar policies e.g. Egypt and Algeria. Because of job security and social insurance, Arab women still prefer government and public sector employment, despite their modest wages. In Egypt it is the preferred sector for women, partly, because gender-based income discrimination does not exist. Given the underdevelopment of the private sector and lack of friendly policies and attitudes towards women’s employment, the public sector is still favoured by women in many Arab countries. Hence, in Jordan, while 60% of male labour force are in the private sector, 55% of female labour force are in the government sector. In the Gulf countries women's share in government employment ranges from 39% in Kuwait to 9% in Qatar (Ibid: 136). With privatisation women's employment has declined since women who were previously employed by the public sector have lost their jobs, especially in countries like Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia (Ibid). Meanwhile, female new entrants to the labour markets are encountering many barriers due to the decline in government employment and to the negative attitude of the private sector towards female employment. Thus, globalization policies in the Arab countries have resulted in driving a great number of female labour force to the informal sector with no legal or institutional protection or any form of social security. Moreover, the influx of laid off male workers to the informal sector is reducing women’s’ work opportunities therein.


Arab reform policies pertinent to globalization might have achieved temporarily, some positive results on the macro-economic level. But, their impact on the micro-economic levels, where women operate and where gender discrimination functions varies according to women’s socio-economic status and class affiliation. While the general economic impact of globalization on Arab countries seems to be negative, compared to other areas of the world, the impact on the poor, especially women, is much worse. Furthermore, this category is increasingly joined by the lower/ middle classes with fixed income and unemployed graduates (majority of whom are women).

Needless to say that structural exclusion of women from the labour market ensures the persistence of traditional gender division of labour, which is the base of gender inequality. The same spirit prevails when famale unemployment rates rise disproportionately without considerating it a problem, since women’s domestic role comes first. Justifying idiologies such as “the home cult” combined with wrong religious interpretations, emerge to guarantee women’s acceptance to loosing their rights.


Globaization Pertinet Social Policies


The adoption of the ERSAPs and consequent transformation of the economy to the market system entailed certain changes in social policies that is compatible with the new transformation and at the same time capable of reducing the negative social impact of the ERSAPs. Public social policies in this context include labour policies, and policies concerning the provision of social services and social protection.


It is worth noting, herein, that all Arab countries, even the ones that have social policies, treat social development as a residual category to economic development, rather than an integral component of a comprehensive development strategy. In this respect social development is reduced to mere indicators and access to social services. Social development should deal with the mutual interaction of social and economic processes. Thus, social development is achieved when a country can transform its economic assets to human and social abilities (Labib, 1999). The following part, however, will deal with some public social policies as adopted by Arab countries within the context of globalization, and their possible impact on gender equality.


Labour policies


The role played by the welfare state in protecting workers` social and economic rights in the 20th century qualified this period as the golden age for national labour policies and legislations. Labour laws then, aimed at protecting the weaker partner in the production process and at ensuring social stability and peace in society. Therefore, labour laws were granted the legal status of "Public Order". (Al- Tellawi 1997: 17). These policies have coincided with the formation of powerful Trade Unions, which negotiated on behalf of the workers to safeguard their interests during their working lives and thereafter. In this context labour relations, were determined through collective labour contracts, negotiated by the workers` representatives, the employers and the state within the national boundaries. The dynamics of ERSAPs as national globalization policies have produced a new form of social organization that is consistent with economic globalization.  Accordingly, several changes have taken place regarding, labour patterns and requirements, and labour relations on the global as well as on the national level.

Collective labour contracts are replaced by individual ones to be concluded bilaterally by the worker and the employer, wherein the terms of the contract are determined by labour market forces. It is assumed that the market forces would balance the interests of capital and labour, foster a flexible labour market, provide new labour opportunities and at the same time promote integration in the global market. Accordingly, adjusting governments changed labour laws and policies so as to be consistent with the new setup.



The new labour policies include certain measures as part of the economic restructuring process. Their objectives are:

·         To eliminate institutional and organizational restrictions which constrains the adjustment of the labour force to the new changes.

·         To facilitate the movement of the labour force between different economic sectors through deregulating employment and lay off procedures.

·         Achieving wage flexibility through the elimination of wage regulations which dictate a high minimum wage or connect wages to price levels.

·         Dissociate social services from the labour contract and transfer the responsibility for social services to local governments (Eissa, 1997).


To encourage TNCs and FDI, developing countries permit them to formulate their own labour regulations to the exclusion of national labour laws. Thus, this situation creates legally isolated blocks within the same country with different labour systems and regulations (Ibid: 21). Since globalization does not acknowledge regional or local labour organizations, the legal rights of collective organizations and collective bargaining are viewed by global actors as local impediments to achieving a thriving global economy. Especially, that competitiveness, encouraged by global market through reducing labour cost would inevitably result in workers lay offs. Moreover, the global distribution of production sites has practically removed workers` representatives from their social base and from the centres where workers interests are negotiated. Under these conditions, trade unions are bound to lose their legitimate power for advocating workers rights. All this effectively deregulates labour relations and renders labour laws ineffective. (Ibid: 25)

Arab countries that have embarked on formulating labour policies compatible with a free labour market are mainly the ones that adopted the ERSAPs.



New labour policies tend to achieve two main objectives:


1-      The first is to restructure the labour force in coherence with the requirements of a free market economy. This implied adopting the necessary measures for achieving labour and wage flexibility to facilitate the free movement of the labour force, and to encourage investors by reducing their economic and social responsibilities. In some cases Arab countries had to modify their existing labour laws e.g. Egypt and Tunisia. An important change is the move from collective labour contracts, protected by law, to individual labour contracts where the terms of reference are subjected to the agreement between the employer and the worker, notwithstanding, that the worker is always the vulnerable party. A legislative change especially where labour laws were previously protecting the workers rights, e.g. Egypt, is widely criticized by workers. Especially, that a great number of workers have been laid off due to privatisation. The businessmen representatives in the preparatory committee for the unified labour low in Egypt have strongly opposed the maternity rights granted to women in the existing laws. They argued that such rights would discourage employers women. As a result women’s` maternity and childcare leaves were reduced in a manner that could compel women to quit their jobs to attend to their domestic duties.


2-      The second, is to avoid the negative impact of the ERSAPs on the labour force, mainly, unemployment. Certain measures are taken to enhance labour force capacity building benefit from new labour opportunities e.g. Job rehabilitation and training. Other measures increase income generation opportunities, such as small and medium business projects. Governments also introduce public work projects for temporary employment. In addition, promotion and diffusion of information about available job opportunities were carried/out to help job seekers. These measures were adopted by Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen with emphasis on youth unemployment. Other measures were governments` prohibition of workers lay off by privatised firms. In addition, they encouraged labour intensive export manufacturing through keeping low wage standards and granting various concessions and incentives to the private sector (Eissa, 1997: 74). However, the freedom granted to the private sector has resulted in increasing unemployment due to lay offs and saving in new labour opportunities.


In this context, women are first to go and last to be employed. The ones who succeed in getting employment are subject to unfavorable terms and usually less secure than those for men.


Nonetheless, Arab labour policies, like other public policies, are gender blind. They, basically, do not cater equally for the different needs of men and women. The culturally entrenched gender division of labour molds the perception of policy-makers so much that despite the increase in women’s participation in the labour market and their substantial contribution to the family budget, the policy-makers still treat women’s labour as an exception to their primary domestic role, which they can always revert to. Therefore, unemployment for policy-markers is treated, largely, due to social and political sensitivities, as a male issue and measures to confront it are usually designed with male bias. Any women-specific labour regulations are mainly connected with their reproductive role as their main function and sole responsibility. Thus, they are granted minimal rights which are likely to push some of them to chose between their work and their family responsibilities, and in this case scarifying their work is seen as the normal thing to do. It is thus correct to see this process as indirectly excluding women from the labour market. Worse even, is that women’s ability to make such a choice is a luxury which poor women, especially heads of households, cannot affored.




The reduction of public expenditure pertinent to globalization has an impact on education. The rising costs of education have proved to be detrimental poor children, especially girls due to culturally persistent male preference. Many boys and girls are excluded altogether from education, and many drop out of school before learning to read and write. However, the number of girls in both cases are much higher than boys. Thus, as result of the ERSAP, girls coming from the poor majority are increasingly excluded from education, which means not being qualified for decent employment in their future life. An observable phenomenon in some Arab countries e.g. Egypt and Morocco is the practice (which had disappeared from Egypt during the 1950s and 1960s due to free education) of employing young girls in school attendance age as domestic servants. Furthermore, evidence shows that the accelerating phenomenon of street children in several Arab countries, which was mainly a male phenomenon, is joined by young girls who get exposed to street dangers including sexual abuse and violence (EL-Baz, S. 1996&2003).


The change in the education system more pertinent to globalization, which is characteristic of all Arab countries in different degrees, is encouraging private education for all levels.

The education system is thus, characterized by public-private duality, which is divided along with the process of social polarization, and, in turn, sustains and reproduces it.

The gender specific impact of educational public-private duality is twofolds, for the financially well off famales who can afford private education; having modern education would qualify them equally for employment in the local and global market, provided they are gender aware and the labour market is gender sensitive. In this case gender equality is enhanced. Regarding girls from poor and vulnerable groups; the ones, who are able to continue their government education without social or economic deterrents, will have some labour opportunities in the local labour market which is characterized by low absorbtive capacity, while a greater number of them will join the unemployed army or possibly revert to, the informal sector, or to their domestic role. In this context, the differential impact of globalization on polarized social groups is apparent and its effect is worse on women due to their initial unequal gender position and low accessibility to the labour market.


Social Protection


To counteract the negative social impact of globalization certain measures were adopted in the Arab countries. Social Funds for Development and social safety nets were meant to serve this pupose.

Regarding women beneficiaries in the social funds for development, despite the inability to access gender specific data, it could be safely stated that young educated, mostly secondary school level, females succeeded in getting some loans for income generating projects. However, their number is less than males for the reasons that; the Fund’s main concern is young unemployed males because unemployment to them, as to any other institution, is a male issue and could be a source of social and political tensions, which is not yet the case for females. Moreover, the required collateral by the “Fund” is always a hampering factor and a mechanism for excluding women, especially the poor ones who cannot have the kind of resource needed or find a male who would present a collateral as a guarantee.

Therefore, the ones who succeed in getting the loans are usually the better off, the thing that raises questions about targeting criteria and about the role of the Funds in general in reducing the burden of the ERSAPs on the vulnerable groups, and in the gender policy the Funds uphold.



Gender and Globalization in the Arab Region: An End Note


The negative and positive impacts of globalization are reflected, via a specific social realm, on individuals and groups that are the direct subject of globalization policies. Furthermore, the success of public policies in achieving their goals depends largely on the degree of responsiveness of these policies to the needs and priorities of all the individuals and groups in society. Thus, failure to respond to the needs and priorities of certain social groups e.g. women, renders public policies ineffective, and possibility harmful.

As mentioned earlier Arab public policies are characterized by being gender blind. They do not cater for the different needs of women and men during the different phases of policy-making. Thus, even when policies refer specifically to women’s concerns, it is done within the context of gender division of labour. However, Arab policy-makers, influenced by the growing global interest in women as well as the pressure from emerging womens` movements, have acquired a certain degree of awareness of the importance of integrating women in the development process. Nonetheless, being unaware of and non-committed to gender perspective as an analytical tool and a mechanism for achieving gender equality, their interest in womens’ issues stops, most of the time, at the level of discourse. No gender analysis is considered in the processes of policy-making and implementation.


Thus, when confronting the social negative aspects of the ERSAPs, public social policies might take into consideration certain social categories e.g. unemployed graduates, meaning males, or the poor, using the family as a unit of intervention. The assumption that women would benefit as part of the family denies their different needs and priorities, as well as, women’s disadvantaged position in the family, which, practically, excludes them from benefiting from the recommended policies and interventions.


Arab public policies are, thus, not conducive to the transformation of womens` position towards gender equality. This situation is further enforced by lack of gender awareness of the vast majority of Arab women which results in accepting a dependent position on family men, in their different capacities, even when women work and contribute to the family budget. This is further emphasized by Arab family laws, based on conservative interpretation of Islam, as a permanent source of insecurity to Arab women. The unquestionable right of divorce granted to Moslem men increases womens` submissiveness.  The insecurity and submissiveness of Arab women in the private sphere greatly influences their attitudes towards their participation in the public sphere, they also undermine women’s power to struggle for equal right.



Finally, examining the impact of globalization, as a development strategy, on gender equality raises the interesting question of; whether certain development strategies are structurally conducive to gender equality, while others are structurally conducive to gender inequality?

The intention here is not to evaluate a certain development strategy in terms of its economic, social, and political validity for the country as a whole. The important factor, herein, is whether the paradigm on which the strategy is based, necessitates the participation of women for realizing its goals or not, from a utilitarian instrumental point of view. The assumption, herein, is that womens’ position is improved towards more gender equality when the development strategy depends on full mobilization of human resources i.e. when womens’ labour is needed.

The following box reflects an attempt to answer the above-mentioned question, taking the Egyptian case, historically, as a testing ground.



Zone de Texte: Development strategies as agents for gender equality and inequality  A case study of Egypt from 1952-1973, and from 1974 onward:  A: Women in Egypt 1952-1973  In Egypt the regime of the 1952 revolution adopted a development strategy based on self-reliance with the goal of achieving social justice. Although the state was the main agent for development, the need for upgrading and mobilizing human resources was paramount. Productive work, not inherited wealth, was acclaimed as the legitimizing value of citizenship. Women’s work was needed and valued.  Actions:  -	Basic education was made free and obligatory for boys and girls.  -	Land reform and other distributive mechanisms encouraged people to send their children to school.  -	University education was made free for women and men.  -	Labour laws were changed to give equal rights to both men and women and provisions were included to ease women’s double burden.  -	The state adopted a non-discriminatory graduate employment programme.  -	The new constitution stipulated gender equality.  -	Women were granted political rights in 1956.  -	Prevailing ideology of state feminism. Women’s equality was a component of the official discourse.  -	Impact on gender equality:  Although this development was not sustainable due to internal and external factors, it`s impact on women was radically positive.  -	Girl’s enrolment in school rose dramatically.  -	Women benefited from tertiary education as male preference and high fees were no longer a deterrent to families.  -	The first Arab woman minister was appointed in 1962.   -	Indicators of women’s economic, social and political participation rose dramatically.  -	There was a radical change in women’s self-image and redefinition of their role in society as a whole.  -	Women were perceived as an integral part of human capital, expected to progressively play social, economic and political roles  B: Women in Egypt 1974 onward:  Actions:  In 1974 the Egyptian government adopted a new development strategy based on economic open door policies and the promotion of a market economy. Initially this was designed to stimulate private productive investment. 1991 the ERSAP was adopted and a full swing to market economy was on the way.  Results:  -An inflow of imported consumer goods, by the emerging business class, added very little to the productive capacity of the economy and no significant increase of labour opportunities.  -	Inflation soared, unemployment rates rose, and poverty spread with visible social polarization.  -	Government, in response to conditions of structural adjustment, began to “down-size” and thus withdrew from its commitment to universal graduate employment.  -	Public sector with no gender discriminating employment policy, was to be privatized.  Impact on gender equality:  -Increasing competition in the labour market tended to be resolved at the expense of women;  -	Ideologies (such as “home cult”) emerged which called for women’s return to their homes as their: eternal kingdom” thereby justifying women’s decreasing share of the labour market. Conservative and wrong interpretation of Islam was often quoted as mandate for such ideologies.  -	Government actively encouraged women’s early retirement and emphasised part-time employment.  -	Government policies had a damaging and degrading impact on women’s self-image, definition and role within society, despite the declared political leadership’s support to women’s issues.  -	Many women graduates reverted to domestic roles, becoming once again financially dependent on husbands. This was also encouraged by the change in the value system which shifted from one where work was valued to one more dominated by wealth.  -	The phenomenon of commercial marriage between poor young girls and old, rich non-Egyptians spread. In increasingly commoditized system women became themselves a commodity.  -	Women’s labour was neither needed nor sufficiently rewarded and they were once more marginalised.   -	Source: Elbaz, S., 1999





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