Female labor force participation in the Middle East and North Africa

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Solati, Fariba
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Through quantitative and qualitative methods, this dissertation endeavors to explain why the rate of female labor force participation (FLFP) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the lowest in the world. Using panel data models for fifty-four developing countries over thirty-five years, the first essay suggests that the most likely factor affecting the rate of FLFP negatively in MENA is the institution of patriarchy. Being part of MENA, which is characterized primarily by the institution of patriarchy, is associated with lower than average FLFP. Oil income appears to have a positive effect on FLFP for countries outside MENA but no effect for countries inside MENA. Moreover, Muslim countries outside MENA do not have lower than average FLFP, while Muslim countries in MENA do. Using ten proxies for patriarchy, the second essay quantifies patriarchy in order to compare MENA countries with the rest of the world. Using principle component analysis (PCA), the study measures patriarchy for fifty-nine developing countries over thirty years. The technique creates three main components for patriarchy, namely; the gender gap in education and demography, children’s survival rate, and participation in public spheres. The results show that MENA has the highest level of patriarchy with regard to women’s participation in public spheres, education and demography compared with non MENA countries. The region’s culture and religion seem to be associated with high levels of patriarchy in MENA. The third essay focuses on women’s unpaid work as well as women’s participation in the informal sector in MENA. The results point to a severe undercounting of women’s work. Since women are expected to provide care and produce goods and services for their family at home, women do not participate in the formal labor force in large numbers. Because of the patriarchal culture, patriarchal family laws and labor laws, many women including educated women have to choose to work in the informal sector in MENA. Since women’s unpaid work and their participation in the informal sector are not recorded in labor statistics, the MENA region appears to have a lower rate of FLFP than it does in reality.
female labor force participation, women and work, Middle East and North Africa, patriarchy, feminist economics, gender