Female participation in the GCC labour market increased by five percentage points during the last decade, driven by Qatar, Oman and the UAE, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said in a report.
This progress reflects a range of reforms that GCC countries have implemented to incentivise women to participate in the labour market, the IMF said in a report titled ‘Economic prospects and policy challenges for the GCC countries’.
Qatar, the IMF noted, amended the labour law in 2004 to impose gender equality in working rights, including pay, training opportunities, and job advancement.
In the last three years, Saudi Arabia and UAE have passed legislation that prohibits gender-based discrimination in employment, including by imposing equal remuneration, allowing women to work in jobs deemed men-specific (e.g., the mining sector, jobs with night shifts), prohibiting dismissal of women during pregnancy and maternity leave and equalising the retirement age.
Despite these improvements, the IMF stressed female labour participation remains less than half of male participation, and even less in managerial positions. This stands in contrast to Emerging Market and Developing Economies (EMDE), where female labour participation exceeds 80%. Women in managerial positions in GCC countries also remains limited.
On average, about 71% of female adults in the GCC had an account at a financial institution in 2017, up from 65% in 2014 — almost double the average of EMDE rates.
The percent of credit card holders in GCC among female adults increased to 21% in 2017 on average against 17% in 2014, with the gender gap declining from 14% to 11%.
The IMF noted the gender gap continues to decline in healthcare and education. Mortality of female adults in the GCC has declined in the last two decades from 82 per 1000 female adults in 2000 to 51 on average in 2019, lower than the mortality of men which hovers around 73 per male adults in 2019.
The women survival rate to age 65 reached 89% in 2019, on average, higher than 86% for men. This is due mainly to the broad and significant improvement in the health services in the GCC and equal access to free-of-charge quality healthcare. Educational attainment has significantly improved in the last decade.
The share of women in the GCC who completed at least primary education increased from 54% in 2001 to 84% in 2018 on average, while the share of those who completed at least undergraduate studies increased from 15% in 2001 to 28%. This will help women access employment and higher positions in their society.
The IMF noted, “Despite the important advances for women in the GCC, there is scope for further reforms. Better access to finance and closer vocational guidance for women would help develop their entrepreneurial skills and enter the job market as employers. Increasing women participation in political decision-making would help enhance the design of gender-related policies.
“More initiatives to reduce the stigma of health issues, particularly with mental health, and increasing the number of female medical professionals are crucial for improving women’s health in the GCC. Full rights in terms of working hours, maternity leave and independence in asset management should be ensured across the GCC.”