By Venia Kontogianni,
The year-long and still ongoing pandemic has cost, aside from people’s freedom, some of their jobs as well. In the Middle East, though, a group of people were never a part of the workforce and that is the majority of the female population. Reportedly, roughly 75% of women in the Arab world are not breadwinners. However, this global health situation has, fascinatingly enough, empowered some of them to take an effervescent stand and carve their own path in the professional world. Like another WWII, where women rose to the occasion and took over the previously male-occupied jobs, Arab women, in the midst of the pandemic, get involved exponentially in the looming Industry 4.0. It is worth delving into this shift of professional dynamic up close as well as examining the reasons it came to be.
The otherwise nonexistent arable plains in the Arab world are anthropomorphized through women, who have always had this potential and in the last years have been showing a burgeoning interest in the ever-developing mechanisms of technology. This sector brims with female success stories, as they try to leave their own footprints in this high-tech generation. Even in Information Technology (IT) classes or STEM subjects, female students often surpass in number their male counterparts and reportedly perform better than them across the board. When it comes to employment, the hierarchy of a standard Arabic society is known: more often than not, women needn’t be employed because husbands typically provide for them and some of them do not even get the privilege of higher education. However, let’s see how the tech industry conveniently poses as a factor in the emancipation of part of women. Firstly, the tech industry has flourished quite recently in the region, so there is no subsequent pre-existing male domination in the field. Secondly, it is such a multifaceted industry, almost malleable enough to be bent and shaped to meet each person’s needs. People in technology or the engineering disciplines that rely on the use of electronic equipment are often able to set up a shop from home, and that is exactly what is happening: according to the World Economic Forum, an astounding one in three start-up businesses in the Arab world is created or led by women.
How did that happen?
Unfortunately, that is because they, although highly educated and productivity-driven, are still being discriminated against in their own societies and consequently turned down for job openings. This has urged them to start their own internet companies and be self-sufficient, one e-sale or e-service provided at a time. Especially now that sectors like retail and tourism are suffering, these women thrive by engaging in marketing, e-commerce, customer support and even repair of electronic devices. Evidently, despite societal censure, cultural restrictions and hefty patriarchal norms, designating their own work space does not directly clash with culture, since their home doubles as an office. On the other hand, that does not entail that female entrepreneurship stops there; nowadays, educated women in this region are much more likely to break the glass ceiling and ascend the corporate ladder via landing prestigious and dutifully entrusted positions. Attesting to this is their growing involvement in the business realm, as captured by lists like Forbes, which keeps track of female advances and has mentioned several Arab women in its Middle East’s 100 Power Businesswomen 2020 list.
So, how has the pandemic along with the fourth Industrial Revolution affected the female job market of the Arab world overall?
The fourth Industrial Revolution is very much present, albeit still in its early stages. It is a reality and despite cultural shackles, Arab women have been breaking gender norms through their leader-material stance and negating the Middle Eastern perception that women are not or should not be breadwinners. Child-rearing and house chores are still their job; however, they are learning to juggle successfully all of life’s aspects and find the balance between married life and work life – which is a right, not a privilege. The discrimination in hiring has led them to steer their own professional wheel and gain a new sense of autonomy, far from the safety net that is their “old ball and chain”. Let us not be mistaken, women are still underrepresented in both politics and business. However, through becoming financially independent, they are steadily and vigorously partaking in the decision-making future of the Arab world – be it technologically, academically or politically, and are standing as a beacon of hope and inspiration, not only for the generations to follow, but also for oppressed women everywhere.
- Alhashmi, T,Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Arab Women in Technology, Available here
- anitab.org, How Arab Women in Technology Inspire Global Diversity in Tech, Available here
- Arab News, Tech-savvy women line up to beat pandemic job blues in the Arab world, Available here
- BBC, Why do women outnumber men in technology in the Gulf?, Available here
- El-Alfi, A, What Tech CanDo for Arab Women, Available here
- Forbes, Power Businesswomen in The Middle East 2020, Available here
- International Women’s Forum, Forbes Top 100: Meet the Six Arab Women Topping the Tech Game (Doha Abdelkhaleq), Available here
- World Economic Forum, How women are transforming the Arab world’s start-up scene, Available here