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French Version

Study finds MENA trailing world average in economic participation for women

Arab women's participation in economic activities in their own countries is far behind their counterparts in the rest of the world, according to a study released on Thursday.

"An estimated 55.2 percent of women form part of the global economy, whereas in the Arab region only 29 percent of women participate in the national economies," the Beirut-based Collective for Research and Training on Development Action (CRTD.A) said, adding that women in the region have limited involvement and interest in macro-economic issues.

Though major economic changes are taking place in the region, women have the lowest female participation in the formal economy and there is a distinct feminization of unemployment and poverty.

"Of the 979 million illiterate people globally, two-thirds are women. Just 1 percent of all assets belong to women. Some $7 million worth of women's work goes unpaid. Over the past 30 years, 30 million women have been trafficked for sexual exploitation," the report said.

These are just some of the statistics that prove that women are far from achieving equality.

CRTD.A was set up in 1999 to tackle these these challenges. Based in Beirut, this non-governmental association works throughout the region, seeking to contribute to the social development of local communities and organizations in order to create a more just and equitable environment.

The study was released during a conference entitled "Gender and Trade in the Machreq and Maghreb region: Challenges and Opportunities for Women's Livelihoods."

The conference was attended by several NGOs active in the Mashreq/Maghreb region, representatives of international networks on gender and trade, and local associations involved in gender and economy issues.

Its purpose was to provide a space in which to share experiences on gender and trade and form a clear vision of expected outcomes and action plans.

The speakers said local people need to get involved to help their own communities.

"We have the utmost respect for indigenous knowledge" said Zeina Zaatari of the Global Fund for Women. "Women working in their local communities know best, so we take our cue from local administrators. The most successful programs are those linking women's local work and struggles to governmental policies and macro-level agreements. Unfortunately in MENA there aren't enough of these."

Zaatari talked about the three strategies that most women's corporations are involved in - income-generating activities, skills training and labor-rights advocacy - and expressed her desire that there would be a greater focus on these in the Machreq and Maghreb region. "Women are learning the trade but they are unable to market themselves. Thus they get exploited. People are buying from them and then selling the goods internationally at a much higher price.

The fact that women are so exploited presents one of the greatest challenges to helping them. It is extremely difficult to organize such a highly exploited labor force especially when the unions that already exist are not very gender sensitive. Trade agreements between governments and transnational corporations are also detrimental to female economic empowerment, said Zaatari, adding: "Increased globalization is affecting women negatively around the world. The increase in networking and experience exchange is strengthening efforts to resist."

However, while there is hope for greater gender equality with an increase in women's groups in the region, there is much to be done.

Perhaps more worryingly is the question Zaatari posed: "Is it that people in power are unaware of the atrocities that are going on or is it because it is not in their interests to be aware?"

Beirut,06 27 2006
Daniella Matar
The Daily Star
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