Economic gender gap slowly decreasing

4 Nov
Women’s contribution to the national economy

Malak ShaherPublished:04-11-2010

SANA’A, Nov. 3 — For a woman with six children like Sameera Mohammad, 45, depending on the salary her husband is not enough to afford the basics. Therefore, she decided to start her own business making incense and selling it.

“Before, my husband’s salary which is YR 50,000 was not enough to afford the basic needs of life. Now my children are not denied of what they need,” said Sameera.

Women like Sameera have increasingly been contributing to the economic activity in Yemen over the past ten years. As more women have become involved in paid work, the gap in the economic contribution to the country between working men and women has gradually decreased.

Women constituted 10.2 percent of the paid workforce in 2010, according to Abdulla Hazza’, head of the Human Resources Department at the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. This is up from 9.6 percent in 2004, and 7 percent in 1999.

According to Hazza’, agriculture employs 24.3 percent of the workforce in Yemen, of which 45 percent are women. In 1999 almost 49 percent of the paid female workforce were working on farms. By 2004, the percentage of women working in the agricultural sector had dropped to about 46 percent. So whilst more women are entering the workforce, most of the gains are to be found in the non-agricultural sectors.

Women form about half of Yemen’s population of 22 million, according to the 2008 Statistical Yearbook. As the vast majority of women are still not in paid employment, they represent a huge source of economic potential for Yemen.

Some of the increase in women’s participation in the economy comes from government programs promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. By 2009, the government had assigned two female ministers within the 31 ministers, 84 female judges, and nine general managers at ministries.

In addition, the government has promoted participation of women in political parties such that there are now nine women in the general committees of the various parties. Women now make up 18 percent of university instructors, 22 percent of teachers in schools and represent 25 percent of those working in the media.

The gap between the number of men and women working in the non-agricultural sector is reducing. Whilst poverty has always been one of the motivations driving women into the workforce, government programs have had an an increasing effect in changing the social perspectives on female employment.

“Seven years ago, my father refused to let my sister work. But now life has changed and for many men, preventing their daughters from working has become part of the past. Now I work as a teacher in an English institute,” said Maha Muttahar, 22.

“Nevertheless, sometimes, when women obtain public positions in far away areas, their conservative families prevent them from traveling and living away from them. Consequently, the positions go to men who have no objection to leaving the place they are living,” said Hazza’.

Poverty has counter effects on education

Whilst poverty has pushed more women into paid employment and decreased the economic gap between the sexes, it has had a negative effect in terms of girls enrolling in school. Poor families find it hard to cover the costs of educating their daughters.

For this reason, the Ministry of Education is conducting incentive programs to encourage girls from the poorest rural areas to enroll in schools and complete their studies, according to the Millennium Development Goals Yemen Report 2010.

Incentive programs include exemptions from school fees, distribution of school supplies for female students including school uniforms, and the distribution of food for their families. The number of girls enrolled in schools is slowly increasing. In 1990 girls formed 22.4 percent of students in basic education. By 2008 this had increased to 37.4 percent.

These programs assist the poorest areas in the governorates of Taiz, Ibb, Lahj, Hodeida and Al-Dhale’

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