Expert Talk: Women, labour markets and social norms in MENA and SSA

On 5 December 2023, IDOS hosted in cooperation with the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) an expert talk on “Feminist employment policy – Women, labour markets and social norms in MENA and SSA” in Berlin. 

The participants discussed preliminary insights from the GIZ-IDOS project “Feminist Employment Policy in MENA and SSA” and from the gender chapter of the World Bank Jobs Flagship report.

The expert talk focused on social norms as root causes of and potential remedial measures to low and stagnant female labour force participation. Social norms are long standing and not easy to change. They are relevant in explaining the time constraints that women face, e.g., through household obligation and care work, which are a decisive factor for their low labour market participation.

IDOS researchers Dr Tina Zintl and Dr Alexander Stöcker highlighted three main policy implications: first, the need for better data to investigate in more detail which social norms are problematic and affect women’s decisions in different social contexts. Second, the need for direct social norm intervention and intergenerational learning, which take the scalability and longevity of such interventions into account. Third, they called for targeted labour market policies due to structural change, with a focus on demand-side interventions.

Federica Saliola and Abhilasha Sahay (both World Bank), similarly, highlighted the role of social norms and their heterogeneous impact on women’s labour market participation in different contexts. Social and cultural attitudes towards women in the labour force can moderate or dilute the impact of policies and programs. In addition, they underlined that sectoral and occupational choices are key determinants for female labour market participation.

A lively debate followed the presentation, centring on the questions of how social norms can be transformed, what determines varying developments in different countries, and which roles the challenges of digitalisation and green transformation will play. The experts stressed the importance of the labour demand side, the private sector and institutional reforms as well as the balance between gender-sensitive and gender-transformative approaches to social norms. Female labour market participation depends on country specific contexts and thus requires a case-by-case approach to address barriers to female participation.

Several experts from IDOS, the World Bank Jobs Group and academia attended the event, as well as representatives from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

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