One could argue that gender inequality and discrimination are both deeply rooted in the different cultures and ideological beliefs of the Arab world. Both gender discrimination and inequality have been prevalent for centuries, both in general matters of life and the workplace. According to research conducted by the World Bank, 155 out of 173 countries in the world still have “at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities,” and that “in 100 economies, women face gender-based job restrictions.”
In Egypt, there is no law that states that females should get paid less than males by the hour, but the reality differs than what’s on paper. According to the World Bank, there is no law that states that both genders should get paid equally for the same services or jobs either. Additionally, there is also no law that states that there should be non-discriminatory regulations for hiring. Women are not guaranteed their positions after returning from maternity leave. Furthermore, there are still laws that state that women cannot perform the same jobs as men.
It is not just about wages or breaking the glass ceiling; even the percentage of working women in the labor market in Egypt stands to be the lowest in the world, at an appalling 18.5% at the ages between 18 to 29, compared to a 50% employment rate of young men, according to UN Women. Women are mostly found working in the informal sector, getting low wages (or none at all), uninsured, mistreated and undermined. It is also very common for many women to be consumed in their household work, maybe even forced into it, to the extent that they do not have time for a job.
The case in Egypt is that they consider women’s pay as a secondary income; they depend on the fact that the woman either has a father or a husband -someone that can contribute to her spending. However, the hours she works and the quality of her work are not considered or compared to her fellow male workers. Moreover, women lack information and education of their own rights.
Randa M, who has been in the banking industry for more than 25 years, discussed her take on gender discrimination in the workplace. “I speak for myself when I say that I do not face many hardships,” she said.
Farah H, a brand manager at an advertising company, also confirmed that she doesn’t face a lot issues when it comes to gender discrimination. However, she mentioned that she faced another type of discrimination. “As a veiled woman, one of the seniors always threw unnecessary comments about me being veiled. It used to bother me at first, but I wasn’t quiet, I always talked back to him,” she said.
Farah’s thoughts on women’s salaries were positive, noting that women who belong to more fortunate socio-economic classes are highly compensated because there aren’t many working women in this working class.
Nadine K interned at a bank in the corporate finance department and noticed that “there wasn’t a single female in the department.” She said that some of the male employees pointed out that it’s because they stay at work until late and that it isn’t an option for many women to do so.
Randa agreed with this theory, noting that employers know that is unacceptable for a lot of females in the Egyptian society to stay out late, even if it is at work. “What I do know is that discrimination is evident in some departments, where male applicants are usually more likely to be accepted in job openings,” she said.
She speculated that this happens due to the idea that young females might later on take maternity leaves and that the company would not want to re-teach or re-tutor new or temporary employees. Farah agreed, fearing that getting married or pregnant could cause her to be replaced.
Gender discrimination is not a modern habit that people picked up on; it has been around the world for centuries. For instance, two of the greatest authors of the 19th century, Emily Bronte and Amantine Dupin, became popular only after using male pseudonyms, as did many other female novelists. However, it is more prevalent in some regions more than others. As American politician Sharron Angle once said, “There is a plan and a purpose, a value to every life, no matter what its location, age, gender or disability.”