GENdER aNd WoRk IN ThE MENa REGIoN
W o R k I N G Pa P E R S E R I E S
Poverty, Job Quality and Labor market Dynamics
When there is “No Respect”
at Work: Job Quality Issues for
Women in Egypt’s Private Sector
ghada barsoum, Ali rashed,
and Dahlia Hassanien
Ghada Barsoum is Senior Program Manager, Poverty, Gender and Youth Program, Population Council, Cairo, Egypt. Email address: email@example.com Ali Rashed is Data Analyst/Researcher, Data Analysis and Economic Research Unit, Population Council, Cairo, Egypt. Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org Dahlia Hassanien is Research Assistant, Poverty, Gender and Youth Program, Population Council, Cairo, Egypt. Email address: email@example.com
The research presented in this publication is the result of a project funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (www.idrc.ca).
The Population Council conducts research worldwide to improve policies, programs, and products in three areas: HIV and AIDS; poverty, gender, and youth; and reproductive health. Population Council
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Egypt has one of the lowest female labor participation rates in the world. Based on ethnographic research, this paper argues that women in Egypt, particularly young women, face job quality issues that discourage them from continuing to work or even entering the labor market. The paper highlights women’s, particularly young women’s, valorization of jobs in the public sector and with the government, even if untenable. We discuss the advantages presented by the public sector in Egypt, why those jobs are valorized by women, and the strategies young women adopt in clinging to the hope of getting a public sector/government job. We also examine the reasons young women present for their limited labor market participation. The paper argues that these reasons are primarily related to job quality issues and the lack of decent work in the predominantly informal private sector in Egypt.
Despite the increasing prevalence of female education, Egypt continues to have one of the lowest female labor participation rates in the world. A recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks Egypt 120th out of 128 countries in terms of gender gap, with Egypt achieving one of its worst rankings in women’s economic participation (WEF, 2008:18). The story of women’s wage employment in modern Egypt is one of supportive policies in the middle of the twentieth century, in the form of a guaranteed employment scheme, followed by economic restructuring in the mid-1990s, and other globalization trends. The stagnation of public sector hiring as part of structural adjustment policies has had a negative impact on women’s labor market participation (Assaad, 2006a). In the absence of jobs in this relatively women-friendly sector, they face a number of job-quality issues in the private sector that are central to women’s limited labor market participation. Job quality issues have recently attracted the attention of researchers on employment. Central to the analysis in this paper is the notion of decent work, introduced by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1999. In contrast to the traditional focus on employment status, wages, and hours worked, more recent research attempts to critically examine the quality of the work experience in light of this notion. These new developments...