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25. July 2008

Woman in the Middle East © Edit Schlaffer / WwB

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Bridging the Gap - Women´s Empowerment in the Middle East

Research findings of our survey in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates

Our  “Bridging the Gap” survey included questionnaires of a total of 7.474 male and female students from leading Universities in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as graduates and expert interviews and parental perspectives to provide unique data from the region.
Especially this extensive outreach to Saudi Arabia is remarkable as this is still almost unknown territory for social scientists.

The overall results show an impressive common denominator: the female and male voices in the study are cosmopolitan, confident and hugely optimistic about gender equity. They are ambitious and look forward to an interesting work life and raising smaller families. Family is paramount, religion is treasured and tradition is respected though not perpetuated by all.
Yet further analysis reveals potential dark clouds. Women have much fewer job preparedness skills than their male colleagues, making their struggle both ideologically and pragmatically harder than for men to achieve employment. Women’s access to the job market is a thorny issue, but still one of the biggest and most pressing challenges confronting Saudi Arabia’s segregated society. 78% of the female Saudi students consider a successful career as part of their life plan – in the context of a society operating on rigid perceptions and allocation of roles – this is a small revolution. The high unemployment is, however, a serious problem and inauspicious, not only regarding the participation of women, it is a risk factor in respect to the country’s inner stability.
Only 54% of the Saudi respondents expect to find a job after graduation.

Within only a few decades, the Emirates have made the leap from living in desert tents to the glistening glass skyscrapers of their new metropolises. Seventy percent of the total respondents – both men and women – no longer link power with gender-based privilege, but rather with education. Do the educated youth find that much has already been achieved? Do men think “enough is enough”? Just above 50% of women find unrestrainedly, that “more women should strive for leadership.” Oppositely, half as many men, 25%, encourage this. Careers present a high degree of attractiveness, and the dream of a super-career is gender neutral.

In Jordan young women expect a great deal of female leaders. About 40% of the female respondents whole-heartedly believed that more women should strive for leadership, only 25% of their male counterparts agreed.

The project also provides a practical solution to the known shortfall between the number of highly educated women and the low number of engaged women in public life by creating a tailored “This is Me!” special fairs program for personal and professional positioning in the careers market for young female graduates in the Middle East as a direct application of the “Bridging the Gap” research.
The aim was to coach the graduates into pro-active, articulate, critical thinkers with a focus on pragmatic job seeking etiquette and exploring and generating opportunities for the market. Arab women are on the move – in a top down and bottom up revolution. The dramatic boom in women’s education will certainly change the face of the Middle East contributing to the advancement of a professional middle class much needed in the region.

This 3year research project was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and led by Dr. Edit Schlaffer in cooperation with an international team.

 
 

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