Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Middle East and Women

If I were to mention that there's a region where women outnumber men in higher education by 108 percent, would you believe it's the Middle East? According to the World Bank's latest data, that ratio is very accurate. Yet, women are still not entering the workforce at the level they should be.

This is alarming considering that when we break down the region by individual nations, Qatar's female to male ratio shoots up to over 600 percent. It is puzzling then - and in desperate need for further detailed research - why 75 percent of the entire region's women are not working.

The World Bank is on a mission to increase the number of students receiving quality education on a global level. In fact, this month a group of the world's greatest thinkers and leaders are gathering together to develop a strategy that would get more kids educated. The goal here is to alleviate poverty and narrow the gender gap by eventually getting more of the world's population educated and employable.

But the Middle East is a good example of why focusing merely on education is not enough. Qatar is enjoying economic prosperity, most of its women are educated, but they're not working. Does the high ratio of women working contribute to Qatar's prosperity? No. The country enjoys a very valuable resource: oil. And it will most likely continue to prosper whether that ratio of educated women grows or remains stagnant, so long as oil production remains a demand.

So if educating the masses is not the only answer, then we need to look at the dynamics that are causing women to stay unemployed. According to research, it's because women once again exit the workplace once they start having families. Now education is very important. It is the force that will eventually take developing nations to more prosperous economic periods. But if any country does not establish a support system for families that includes qualified and affordable child care, flexible work hours, and a culture that accepts working mothers, then gender equality still remains a goal and not a possibility.

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