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WOMEN'S ECONOMIC PARTICIPATION IN THE MIDDLE EAST What Difference Has The Neoliberal Policy Turn Made?1 Valentine M. Moghadam In this article I examine changes in patterns of women's employment and social policies pertaining to women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and make comparisons between two periods: the oil boom era of the 1960s-1980s, and the period of liberalization since the latter part of the 1980s and into the present decade. Like other areas in the world-economy, the region has undergone a shift from state-directed economic development with protected industries to a more open and liberalized economic policy environment. Economies within the region are more or less liberalized in terms of trade and financial markets, and the region as a whole has seen less foreign direct investment than have other regions. Some economists have explained this in terms of the less competitive nature of MENA industries, labor skills, and wages compared with other regions, largely the result of the region's earlier "competitive advantage" in oil (Karshenas 2001; Hakimian 2001). My focus is on female labor, social policy, and the changing political economy, with an emphasis on Iran (an example of an oil economy), Jordan (a non-oil economy), and Tunisia (a mixed oil economy). Conceptually, I take a feminist political economy approach, wherein attention is drawn to the gendered outcomes of the use of natural resources and systems of distribution , the way that female labor is deployed in economic processes, and state policies pertaining to women's participation. Most MENA states have been rentier, authoritarian, and culturally conservative, with distinct implications JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES Vol. 1, No. 1 (Winter 2005). C 2005 VALENTINE M. MOGHADAM »ill for economic development, political processes, and gender relations. The explanatory framework presented here takes into account political economy, cultural understandings about male and female roles, and state policies. I make the following arguments. First, all three countries were affected by the oil boom in such a way as to keep the supply of and demand for female labor—and a supply of educated and skilled women workers—limited. Second, non-economic factors such as the role and nature of the state and cultural understandings about male-female roles reinforced a "patriarchal gender contract." This has been especially strong in Jordan and in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Third, when countries were compelled to open their markets, they found themselves in an uncompetitive position, mainly due to a less educated and skilled labor force, especially among women. In this respect , however, Tunisia has fared better than Iran and Jordan because the state has welcomed FDI in sectors that draw on female employment; moreover, Tunisia has a longer and more consistent tradition of women's rights, and it began liberalization earlier than either Iran or Jordan. Fourth, the employment effects of the changing political economy and of globalization appear mixed. Women seem to be losing jobs in some areas but gaining them in others . There has been an informalization of work, but in some cases women's access to salaried work may be increasing, and involvement in NGOs is increasing . In addition, social policies pertaining to women seem to be changing to conform to international norms. On the other hand, unemployment rates are high, inequalities have been increasing, and new poverty groups have emerged, although there is insufficient data to draw conclusions on any feminization of poverty. Sources of data are the ILO, World Bank, UNDP, UNCTAD, ESCWA, CAWTAR, national statistical yearbooks and other documents, publications by women's organizations (e.g., CREDIF), relevant secondary sources, and the author's fieldwork.2 WOMEN'S EMPLOYMENT IN MENA: A METHODOLOGICAL AND CONCEPTUAL NOTE Because the region continues to suffer from a paucity of data on women's productive activities and economic contributions, I begin by discussing enumeration problems and data inconsistencies and inadequacies in connection with women's economic activities in the region (see also Anker 1995; Assaad 1999; Doctor and Khoury 1991; Moghadam 2002, 2003). A major problem has involved definitions and understandings of work and employ- 112 era JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES ment, especially in the rural and urban...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9579
Print ISSN
1552-5864
Pages
pp. 110-146
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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