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

Les Contrebandières: Woman as Smuggler


Boraki, Chemseddoha. 2001. “Les Contrebandières: Woman as Smuggler.” Women: a Cultural Review 12 (2): 176-91.

Author: Chemseddoha Boraki


The summer of 1999 marked the end of an era in Morocco. For the majority of the Moroccan people political power had rested in the hands of one man for their entire lives. That man was King Hassan II and he was now dead. While he was a monstrous tyrant in the eyes of some, for many he was to be deeply mourned as a man who represented a link in a royal chain that could be traced back to the prophet Muhammed and as such was the embodiment of the faith, the Commander of the Faithful. It was to be Hassan's task to bring Morocco into the modern world, and sultan became king. This arduous task, however, necessitated a blunt and brutal approach to crush tribal dissidence and proletarian insurrection. Nonetheless, as his son Muhammed VI was inaugurated, the legacy of Hassan's passion for a united kingdom was evident in the political landscape. Before his death Hassan had made some amends with the demons he himself had unleashed. Prisoners of conscience were being freed, oppositional voices were being heard and new democratic structures were slowly being put in place. In effect, the ground had been laid for his son to take the nation in new directions. One of these was an increased attention to the position of women in Moroccan society. As her brother was being prepared for his new position in life, Lalla Meryem, Hassan's eldest daughter, was receiving wide coverage in the press for any number of initiatives and pronouncements. That such a highly placed woman should speak out was not simply the timely intervention of a dutiful daughter. To those familiar with Morocco, names such as that of Fatima Mernissi and Zakya Daoud will already be familiar. Both these writers had been asking difficult questions about the position of women in Moroccan society for several decades. Films such as Jillali Ferhati's Reed Dolls (1981) and The Beach of Lost Children (1991) played a similar role in questioning the society's treatment of women. In fact Moroccan fiction, right at its inception, in Driss Chraibi's first work Le Passé simple (1956), had sought to understand the dynamics of patriarchal family life and the role of the mother, a theme that echoes in the writing of Tahar Ben Jelloun. More recently the independence struggle has been seen from the perspective of a woman in the fascinating account of the period given in Leila Abouzeid's semi-autobiographical novel Year of the Elephant, which was excerpted in this very journal, or her more recently translated memoir Return to Childhood. So Lalla Meryem's intervention was perhaps not so surprising. What was more surprising was the appearance, at the same time, of reviews of an avowedly feminist collection of essays in newspapers such as Le Matin du Sahara, a paper widely seen as the mouthpiece of the government. The book was a collection of articles edited by Aïcha Belarbi and entitled Initiatives féminine. It was published by the small Casablanca publishing house Editions Le Fennec and is the latest in a list of publications about Moroccan women that stretches back to Portraits de femmes, published in 1987. That such a publication can achieve such a review speaks as much for the potential for change in Moroccan society as the pronouncements of the new king. Women: a cultural review would like to introduce the collection to English-speaking readers by translating one of the chapters in the book. Chemseddoha Boraki's 'Les Contrebandières' takes up the intriguing economic theme of smuggling in northern Morocco. Through the use of memory, literature and observation it interrogates both the role of smuggling in a country such as Morocco and the part played by women in that particular trade. Its conclusion demands that the image and position of women within Moroccan society be profoundly rethought.

Topics: Economies, Gender, Women, Patriarchy, Governance, Rights, Women's Rights, Trafficking Regions: Africa, MENA, North Africa Countries: Morocco

Year: 2001

The Politics of Integrating Gender to State Development Processes: Trends, Opportunities, and Constraints in Bangladesh, Chile, Jamaica, Mali, Morocco, and Uganda


Goetz, Anne-Marie. 1995. The Politics of Integrating Gender to State Development Processes: Trends, Opportunities, and Constraints in Bangladesh, Chile, Jamaica, Mali, Morocco, and Uganda. Geneva: UNRISD.

Author: Anne-Marie Goetz


This paper provides an assessment of efforts in six of the seven countries to improve public accountability to women in the development process. The paper begins with a brief theoretical discussion of feminist perspectives on the developmentalist state (Part I). It then goes on to provide an overview of some of the more prominent political, economic and social trends of the past two decades, against which efforts have been made to institutionalize gender in state development processes (Part II). In the main body of the paper (Part III), the author provides a historical and comparative analysis of efforts in the six case study countries to institutionalize gender concerns. The picture that emerges is one of extraordinarily fractured trajectories of institutionalization within the public administration. Most of the gender units within government bureaucracy that are studied here have a mandate to pursue their agenda across other government departments — a project that is sometimes called “mainstreaming”. For this they have devised a range of policy instruments (e.g. gender guidelines, gender training) intended to bring about gender-sensitive institutional, policy and operational changes across the public sector in order to make responsiveness to women’s interests a routine part of each sector’s activities. Despite significant efforts, the attempts to routinize gender concerns have for the most part been ineffective because gender units have been unable to provide the necessary incentives to encourage a positive reception in other departments. Some of the critical areas for gender mainstreaming considered in the paper include the national development plan and budget which constitute important public statements expressing politically selected priorities for change and progress, and are based on a macro-economic framework designed to create the conditions under which this national vision can be realized. Efforts so far in the countries studied have failed to ensure a systematic connection between national policy commitments to the integration of gender in development and the budgetary allocations that are necessary to realize those commitments. The chronic short-staffing of gender administrative units, compounded by their weak analytical skills, has tended to contribute to this failure. Equally important, however, has been the political weakness of gender constituents outside the state. In the politics of policy-making a critical point of leverage on decision makers is popular pressure and public opinion — the presence of an active constituency.

Topics: Development, Economies, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gender Mainstreaming, Governance, Political Participation Regions: Africa, MENA, East Africa, North Africa, West Africa, Americas, Caribbean countries, South America, Asia, South Asia Countries: Bangladesh, Chile, Jamaica, Mali, Morocco, Uganda

Year: 1995

Women on the Frontline: Never Again

"Morocco is coming to terms with the human rights abuses of its recent past. Televised testimonies to a truth and reconciliation commission set up by the Government have transfixed the nation. Morocco is discovering the truth about wrongful imprisonments, torture and disappearances of the past, but also the prominent role women played in resisting abuses of the law in the 1970s and 1980s."


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