Over the past 10 years, the pace of reform has picked up across the Middle East and North Africa; yet women still have about
half of the legal rights that men do across the majority of our countries. Women across the MENA region, especially those in
Gulf states, have seen some gains economically and politically in the last decade. Women of the MENA region have not achieved
parity in the array of political, social, and economic activities.
Women of the MENA region experience legal, structural, and sociocultural barriers that significantly restrict their economic
opportunities and participation. Gender-based discrimination laws and cultural stigmas preventing women from participating
economically cost the region $575 billion a year, according to an International Organisation for Economic Co-operation and
Development report. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, women and girls across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region
As countries experience economic stagnation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the region still has significant gender
inequality, especially in terms of womens employment. Struggles stem, in part, from womens lack of representation in the
labor force. Yet, it is among the greatest legal obstacles to womens economic empowerment in the Middle East and North
Africa, where women landlords account for only 5% of the property owners. Gender-based legal disparities hinder womens
ability to access national identity documents in 48 countries, including those in the MENA region.
Even if a given countrys constitution includes principles on nondiscrimination and gender equality, certain nationality laws
in the MENA region permit forms of discrimination against citizens. The OECDs 2017 report Womens Economic Empowerment in
Selected MENA Countries indicates that some of these regulations are also embedded in (family) laws in the relevant
countries, contradicting their constitutional guarantees on non-discrimination and gender equality. Laws in the MENA
countries prevent women from owning assets, working in some sectors considered unsafe for women, or even traveling without
permission of male relatives.
Much of the reform has been to those countries Family Codes, sets of laws that govern womens roles and status within
marriages, and womens rights when it comes to divorce and child custody. Successfully reformed, these countries family codes,
she said, could enhance womens rights to marry, their access to divorce, and their ability to obtain custody of their
As the regions complicated terrain of challenges unfolds, prioritizing womens economic empowerment must become a critical
component in solving current problems in countries throughout MENA. Leila Rheywi observed that Morocco has made varying
degrees of progress when compared to Algeria, as well as North African countries when compared to Egypt. Five years ago,
women were on the front lines of the protests that broke out and spread across most of the region, demanding freedom,
dignity, political and economic reform.