Female Labour Force Participation and Entrepreneurship: The Missing Pillar for Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Development in MENA?

Despite substantial investment in women’s education in the MENA region and a significant increase in their educational attainment, women’s labour force participation remains very low. In 2017, Women’s Labour Force Participation (LFP) was averaging 21% in the MENA region, well below the OECD average of 51%. In 2015, the rate of Total Entrepreneurial Activity (TEA) of women in MENA was equally low, compared to other regions average. Besides the underutilisation of skills acquired by educated women, low participation rates have additional consequences for individual women and their families, including a lack of financial autonomy and a degrading social status. After reviewing the constraints impeding women to fully participate in the labour market and to develop entrepreneurial activities, we put forward an action plan to raise female LFP and entrepreneurship in this region, in order to develop this missing pillar of inclusive and sustainable economic development in the MENA region. This action plan must: 1) end all forms of economic gender discrimination by enacting legislative and administrative reforms to ensure women’s equal rights to economic and productive resources; 2) adopt targeted actions to enhance female labour force participation, and 3) to further promote women entrepreneurship in the region via designing new financing mechanisms tailored for women.