Why Did Economic Liberalization Lead to Feminization of the Labor Force in Morocco and de-Feminization in Egypt


Assaad, Ragui. 2004. “Why Did Economic Liberalization Lead to Feminization of the Labor Force in Morocco and De-Feminization in Egypt?” Paper presented at the Mediterranean Development Forum of the Center of Arab Women Training and Research, November.

Author: Ragui Assaad


"I. Introduction

The international literature on economic liberalization and gender emphasizes the strong link between the labor market deregulation and informalization that accompany economic liberalization processes and labor force feminization (Standing 1989, 1999; Cerruti, 2000; Cagatay, Elson and Grown, 1995; Valodia, 2001). Official structural adjustment programs and unofficial, but typically state-supported, erosions of worker protection policies are associated with the absolute and relative growth of the female labor force in the developing world. According to the literature, the feminization trend has permeated all the regions of the developing world with the possible exception of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which has seen its share of women in the labor force stagnate over the liberalization period (Horton 1999). Within MENA, Morocco and Tunisia stand out as exceptions that conform to the feminization trend observed elsewhere in the developing world (Moghadam 1998). A number of arguments have been advanced to explain the low and stagnant female labor force participation rates in MENA, including the obvious argument that cultural and social norms hinder women’s participation in paid work outside the home. 

The purpose of this paper is to explain the different trajectories followed by Egypt and Morocco with regards to feminization of the labor force. While both have experienced significant informalization of their labor markets, Morocco has undergone noteworthy feminization of its work force, while Egypt (excepting the civil service) has largely de-feminized. Both Egypt and Morocco have embarked on stabilization and adjustment programs since the 1970s. Since then, employment opportunities in public service have been curtailed, although more so in the case of Morocco. Both countries share a similar cultural heritage, so that norms about gender roles, in general, and women’s work, in particular, should be fairly similar in both contexts. Explanations for their divergent paths with regard to feminization need to be sought, in my view, in the different economic conditions faced by each country. 

Because the international literature makes an explicit connection between female paid employment and economic liberalization and structural adjustment, the focus in this paper is on that, rather than on employment as a whole. Moreover, because both countries have been attempting to constrain the growth their civil service in recent years, albeit with less success in Egypt than in Morocco, I focus on non-governmental wage employment, which includes employment in the private sector and in State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Since the start of liberalizing reforms in the 1970s, SOEs have gradually been given increasing autonomy in hiring, wage-setting, and in general operations, so that by the 1990s it increasingly makes sense to lump them with private enterprises, as the non-governmental sector, rather than with the civil service, as the public sector.

This paper will explore the different economic trajectories in the two countries in terms of the change of the sectoral composition of employment and how the female share in each sector changed over time. I will also explore the differences in institutional arrangements and macroeconomic conditions that encouraged feminization (or defeminization) in each country, with particular examination of hypotheses concerning how the structure of foreign exchange revenues has affected household labor decisions and the demand for female labor” (Assad, 2004, p. 2-3).

Topics: Development, Economies, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Femininity/ies, Gender Balance, Livelihoods Regions: Africa, MENA, North Africa, Middle East Countries: Egypt, Morocco

Year: 2004

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