The Wilson Center: Education is not Enough to Unlock Women’s Potential in MENA

Empowering women is integral to bringing the change we want to our world, and this can mainly happen through education, which remains the main key to fostering women's empowerment. Women should be encouraged to attain education, become initiative drivers, and role models for their peers and communities.

Women who pursue education improve their chances of being equipped with the necessary skills and capacity to advance their social and economic status and hence nurture their potential for employment and empowerment. Educated women can play active and influential roles in society. Education fortifies women’s presence, confidence, and well-being to contribute to their community and inspire other women to become leading entrepreneurs, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Improvement in women’s employment potentially translates to larger impacts on the viability of local economies.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, only 19.77 percent of women participate in the labor force, the lowest rate globally. The unemployment rate for young women in MENA stands at 42 percent. In Palestine, the unemployment among females is 47 percent.

Although women’s education levels surpass those of men throughout much of the Middle East, different barriers inhibit many women’s ability to fully participate in the workforce. In Palestine, studies show that more education does not improve the chances of employment, as the unemployment rate for youth graduates (19-29 years old) who hold an associate diploma certificate and above is 54 percent, and 69 percent for females compared to 39 percent for males. This is mainly due to patriarchal norms that cause a range of economic and institutional disadvantages for women and undermine their potential for employment.

Besides the lack of job opportunities and in-demand skills, women in Palestine face multiple barriers such as unfavorable legal environments, discrimination in hiring and pay, sector and occupation, and social expectations and customs, norms that result in low-quality or no jobs and limited careers. The Palestinian context has different impacts on women, as well as exacerbates existing inequalities and vulnerabilities and adds to the political constraints that include movement restrictions, security, and general instability and unsafety.

Therefore, Education For Employment – Palestine, part of Education For Employment (EFE) affiliated network, aims to increase women’s capacity by providing different programs that equip women with skills, trains them for self-employment when jobs are scarce, and raise awareness regarding the socioeconomic reality to foster mindset change among beneficiaries and society. We also work to reduce skills gaps, and create economic opportunities for Palestinian youth to build resilience, support themselves and their loved ones, and contribute to their country’s overall development. Furthermore, our programs also challenge gender stereotypes regarding women and men’s responsibilities concerning unpaid care and household work by highlighting the importance of enhancing women’s employment opportunities in male-dominated and non-traditional sectors and promoting parental responsibility for fathers. Ruba, Yazan Zubaidy, and other families are examples that we documented for replication possibilities.

EFE has provided more than 140,000 good jobs for unemployed youth in the MENA region to date. It is true that education is not enough to unlock women’s potential, however from my personal experience, I found that when education is backed up with the proper supporting environment, it can actually enhance one’s potential. In support of this, two-thirds of our CEOs, 58 percent of our participants, and 63 percent of EFE’s entrepreneurship graduates are all women.

Read article: The Wilson Center

By Alaa Abdallah on May 26, 2022