Are Women making Egypt Poorer?

Date posted: November 28, 2008

Women: Should they stay at home and raise kids or should they work and have a contribution? A controversial question that Fantasia's World tried to answer in her post: Are you making your country poorer? Fantasia is dedicating her post to

all the bitter, ever-complaining, dissatisfied housewives.. who were once my school buddies, university comrades, and work colleagues, but have chosen to stay at home after marriage.

Fantasia describes the nature of her relationship with the above-mentioned friends saying:

Sorry, all. You have always found me to be your comforting pillow.. always an attentive listener, with whom you can split your pains, and someone you can always count on for relief. You've always found me to have a great ability to sympathize, or even empathize. I've always understood your weaknesses, and swallowed your follies.. being careful not to criticize you or blame you until you are totally in the right mood for thinking and re-evaluating your acts. I was extra gentle with matters of the heart.. less with life-defining decisions.. yet constantly focusing on absorbing your pain and frustration. I am still the same.

And here is what sparked up the fire:

Only one thing is too many for me.. and that is when you complain that you are stuck in a bad marriage, having to stick to a tight budget (complaining about the high cost of living), and that you can't help transferring your anger unto your kids! Now, that's way too much. I can't absorb that.. and you'd better be ready to find your emotional sponge turn rock-solid. I seriously don't get it! You said that your family needs all your time, so that's why you don't need a job.. then you complain of loneliness and the huge spare time you are never able to fill! You said that your husband has got a handsome income that would make your slim salary seem ridiculous, that's why you're better off without your work.. then you complain that prices are rising and that your budget is getting tighter! You said that work for women is not primary.. then you envy your ex-colleagues whenever one of them gets promoted or whenever you see one of'em on TV! You just turned into one of those horrible women you once hated and criticized. You are searching for the faults in others to prove that nobody is perfect, as if this will calm you deep inside, instead of trying to improve your life or make it a happier one.

Then she dives into how stay at home wives make Egypt poorer:

Belonging to the third world is not like being a member in a club. A country earns its place in the so-called third world because it belongs there.. it is poor, has a slow development rate, and does not contribute much (if any) to global economy or development (for example, in scientific research). Hence, if a country does what you do.. that is, become dependent on other productive countries.. it fits into the third world. And as long as half the population in those countries think the way you do, then those countries have got zero chance in improvement. To be able to imagine how weak our production rate is, I'll just give a couple of examples.. The average productivity of an Egyptian citizen is estimated to be around 1000$ a year.. and it tends to be fixed around this figure through many years.. while in Israel for example, a citizen produces the equivalent of 15000$/year.. And in a country which used to belong to the third world only a few years ago like Singapore, this amount reaches 45000$ per capita.. meaning that the productivity of the Singaporean citizen is 45 times as much as that of his Egyptian counterpart!! Now, where can this get us for God's sake? It is as simple as this.. there are 78 million Egyptians.. half of them are brought up to think that their primary role in life is to reproduce and serve their households. Then the whole population is dependent on the other half to feed them and satisfy their basic needs.. How lovely!

She bluntly states that

By sitting at home, you are just turning into a huge burden on economy. You keep adding to this burden when you keep getting more children to keep yourself occupied at home. The end result is more poverty and misery for thousands. Urban women are the worst of the lot.. they are not productive at all. A rural woman bakes her own bread, plants her vegetables, raises chicken, sews clothes…etc. While all what urban women do is consume, consume, consume. Not only do they consume goods.. but also endless hours on the phone and in front of TV to keep themselves entertained. They consume energy.. which (in case you don't know) is becoming rarer and rarer, and is expected to be the number one reason behind endless wars to come. So, back to urban women.. What do they produce? What is their share in the national income? Zero.

Tapping on the role of the government,

The government has contributed to this crisis when it failed to provide adequate daycare service to help their female employees stay in the workforce; hence, making it easier for the private sector to get away without having any obligation towards female workers. Why on earth would a company owner bother to provide a service that the government itself does not require or care to provide? The ridiculous alternative of the 2 years maternal leave (in the public sector) only means that those women do not actually work, or else how would 2 years of absence be OK with them? Those women then return (if they ever do) to resume their work in the same position they occupied before their leave, falling back behind their colleagues who got their promotions on time. The private sector is even worse.. it gives a maternal leave of 3 months, after which you can bid your job goodbye. Most probably what a woman pays for daycare and transportation to be able to carry on this daily tour (home-daycare-work-daycare-home) will be enough to swallow her full income. Thus, she finds herself compelled to stay at home with her baby.

Taking us from social science to basic maths, Fantasia helps us find out why Egypt continues to be a poor country:

1- With the gender gap in favor of males in literacy rates, we have to confront the fact that only 59.4% of females could read and write, 93% of which complete the primary stage, while only 67% attend secondary school.

2- Only 23% of women join the labor force.. they make 22% of the total labor force in Egypt.

3- Of those women in the labor force (23%), only 22.6% hold a university degree, (which means that only 5% of Egyptian women are highly educated working citizens! Freakish!) 16% of those are in administrative posts, and 28% hold professional and technical posts. Aside from those horrifying figures, one might think that a crisis of this magnitude must be a top priority while designing reform programs.. yet, unfortunately, we can not count on that.

Quoting Professor Mahassen Mostafa Hassanin from her book: "Egypt: A Poverty Profile":

Reform programs tend to work to the benefit of men than to the benefit of women. Macroeconomic policies concentrate on the reallocation of resources to achieve both stability and growth rather than on microeconomic issues and gender differentiation. Development programs usually address males while neglecting females.

Not only so, but the pop culture is another huge obstacle, acting as a strong barrier, preventing girls from aspiring to play an active role in society. And I quote again from the same source:

Equality and equity among males and females represents the cornerstone of this new development paradigm which concentrates on sustainability of the development process and this requires changing the prevailing social paradigm, and re-educating men and women on how to work together to create a more humanitarian world order.

On why Egyptian women would ever consider having a job , Professor Hassanin says:

The pattern of women in the development process is controversial. Women devote nearly all their income to the welfare of their family and still have to comply with the constraints of their gender role in the society. This makes the cost of their participation in the development process rather excessive.

And that is so true.. Women are rather pushed into the workforce than deciding to join it out of a personal will.. They lack empowerment, ambition and a sound environment which might inspire them to be productive citizens.

For further elaboration on this point, sited Ms. Sahar Nasr's paper titled: "Women and Poverty" that was a part of the Joint Report of the National Council for Women and the World Bank (2003)

In her research on women headed households, Nasr has found that most of those women are widowed. Which means that as long as there is a man at home, poor women would never consider having a job. Poverty has Higher Price for Women and Girls. While poverty per se is not a gender concern, women, along with their children, tend to be more vulnerable to poverty than men. Poor women often face a triple disadvantage:

• Heavy reproductive burden and their non-market contributions are often not recognized—undervaluing a significant part of their economic contributions.

• Social concerns may also limited women’s access to labor market and the type of jobs from which they can choose.

• Finally, women generally have lower educational achievements, reducing their earnings ability.

In her closing, she asks her friends and every unproductive woman

Do you realize now that you can not just sit there and complain? Your country needs you, because you are one of the very few young, healthy, well-educated women who expected to be productive, and any development would simply not happen as long as you insist on throwing all your education and personal skills against the wall and sitting there doing nothing.


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