Lifting 1 billion out of poverty: How 71% of Egypt’s women work in the informal sector

71% of women in Egypt are working and engaged in unprotected informal work. (Photo courtesy of Hossam El-Hamalawy)

Despite some clear hurdles, bridging the employment gap between men and women can be a game changer in Egypt’s long-desired economic development.

In Egypt, only 20.9 percent of Egypt’s labor force is female, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS).

Expanding the economic empowerment of women in the MENA region can directly contribute to eradicating poverty on a global scale, having “the potential to lift one billion out of poverty,” a recently-drafted report commissioned by UN Women Egypt states.

It adds that bridging the employment gap between men and women in MENA could add up to $2.7 trillion in GDP growth by 2025.

Informal sector as the biggest provider of women employment
Women are major players in the Egyptian informal sector, since the majority of the country’s ‎economically active women work in the informal sector under unsafe working conditions, the report says.

This is sharpened by the fact that “71% of women in Egypt are working and engaged in unprotected informal work in rural areas compared to 13% in urban areas, 70% of whom are employed by unpaid family businesses.”

The link between entrepreneurship and women’s economic empowerment
The report further expands on how entrepreneurship can be a powerful means of addressing the employment gap between men and women, and thereby, fulfilling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Women are turning to entrepreneurship out of necessity.

According to UN Women, 82% of female business founders operate in rural areas, while 62% of male-founded startups are located in rural areas.

Only 3% of the self-employed women – accounting for approximatively 18% of all employed women – operate in the small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector.

During the International Council for Small Business (ICSB) Conference 2019, professor of management at the American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Business Maha Al-Shennawi said that women aged 18-25 are found to be more educated than women from older generations, which means that the young female population can turn into an effective labor force in the future.

She added that the greater the participation of women in the labor market, the greater the economic growth and development at the macro, as well as the micro level.

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