October 12th, 2010 | Posted in Gender
by Eric Zuehlke, editor
I recently stumbled upon this refreshing contrast to the stubborn worldwide gender gap in employment. Here’s a Egyptian woman who has broken through societal barriers to earn a living in the way she chooses to: She’s one of only eight female taxi drivers in Cairo, a city of almost 7 million people. Although she’s battling the odds and is a rare case, her story is a great example of what I think the future will increasingly be for women in developing/middle-income countries. Growing urbanization, lower fertility levels, and economic growth all point towards a more level field for women and employment. As more women move to cities, service industry jobs will be more in demand, and smaller families will induce more women to work. In fact, it’s clear from the success of middle-income countries and the “Asian Tigers” that sustainable economic development is impossible without increasing education and employment of women, a pretty obvious conclusion given that the alternative is to leave out the productive capacity of 50 percent of the population.
Now, to be clear, there is a vast disparity between men and women in educational attainment and employment opportunities in many countries. According to PRB’s recent Population Bulletin, the Middle East has the lowest female employment rate in the world, with nearly 8 out of 10 women out of the labor force (and the gender gap is especially high in Egypt). However, as women gain access to family planning and have fewer children, more opportunities open up not only to them, but their girl children as well. In Egypt’s case, women are having fewer children. The Total Fertility Rate fell from 5.9 in 1970 to 2.9 in 2008. Of course, women are also living longer – from a life expectancy of 50 years in 1970 to 70 years in 2008 — on average four years longer than men. This points to the need for increased employment opportunities for those in older-age groups – another challenge. But there are countless examples of women around the world, like this taxi driver, who prove to be exceptions to the statistics, who find a way to break through societal barriers and make a living for themselves on their own terms. It’s a good reminder that there are always stories of hope out there.