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Foreign, private and exporting manufacturers hire more women in MENA, study finds

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Researchers were surprised that the variables that correlated positively with female employment were the same for both production and management roles.

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September 16, 2015—

Foreign and privately owned manufacturing and export companies hire significantly more women than publicly owned companies in the MENA region. This is the conclusion of a recent paper co-authored by LAU assistant professor of economics Ali Fakih and published in the journal Economic Change and Restructuring.

“This is the opposite of what we see in developed countries, where public administrations attract more women as they are considered friendlier work environments,” says Fakih. “Most literature on female employment in the MENA region currently looks at supply side factors,” he explains. “We wanted to focus on firm-level and demand side factors.”

The study, which Fakih wrote together with Pascal Ghazalian of the University of Lethbridge, outlines the relationship between female employment and a number of variables taken from the World Bank Enterprise Surveys produced between 2002 and 2010.

“We chose to look at those that may be influenced by policy makers,” explains Fakih of the dozen variables analyzed in the study. They included firm size, firm age and use of technology, none of which were found to have a significant correlation to female employment.

The economists analyzed data both collectively and separately for women in production activities and those hired in management positions. “We expected there to be different factors at play for these different types of positions, but were surprised that the variables that correlated positively with female employment were the same for both production and management roles,” Fakih says.

A handful of macro-level national factors were also considered and found to have a positive effect on levels of female employment. They include a country’s place on the business freedom and gender inequality indexes as well as its GDP.

The presence of non-discrimination clauses in employment contracts and the practice of equal remuneration between men and women was also found to correlate positively with levels of female employment. Whether these factors increase the supply to a firm of skilled female labor or are simply in line with the policies of a firm that practices female and youth employment is not directly considered, though other empirical research suggests that a lack of female employment in the MENA’s public companies is related to societal factors.

“We don’t offer a full narrative in empirically based studies, but rather identify relationships and patterns and theorize based on the correlations,” Fakih clarifies. “It is then up to policy makers to investigate, debate and consider appropriate reforms.”


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