Gender equality is smart economics that contributes to poverty reduction, strengthening resilience and boosting shared prosperity. In the Mashreq countries of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon important gains have been made in women’s access to education and health, but persistent challenges remain in women’s economic opportunities. For example, only around 1 in 5 women are economically active and less than 5% of firms are led by a woman.
The MASHREQ GENDER FACILITY (MGF) provides technical assistance to the Mashreq countries to enhance women’s economic empowerment and opportunities as a catalyst towards more inclusive, sustainable, and peaceful societies, where economic growth benefits all. Through collaboration with the private sector, civil society organizations and development partners, the Facility supports government-led efforts, country-level priorities and strategic regional activities that:
Activities of the 5-year Facility (2019-2024) are identified under three, interconnected, pillars:
The Facility aims to energize countries in moving the needle on specific needs and priorities, effectively translating these into results for women, their families and the economies at large in the Mashreq.
The Mashreq Gender Facility works directly with the Governments of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to support country commitments for increasing female labor force participation rates. Each country has developed Women’s Economic Empowerment Action Plans accompanied by a detailed workplan with key deliverables and metrics to measure progress. The focus is on technical assistance, and country specific information about MGF activities is available under the Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon tabs, above.
In addition, a regional work program will support cross-country activities and issues of regional concern, such as those related to refugees and IDPs, that require special attention at the regional level. Managed by the MGF Secretariat, the regional agenda will focus on supporting the country priorities and on building the evidence base on women’s economic empowerment by sharing and discussing results widely.
The MGF Steering Committee is a high-level advisory group responsible for providing overall strategic direction and guidance. It counts on two government representatives per country, regional directors of the World Bank and the IFC, and selected development partners and private sector donors who demonstrate strong commitment and a record of supporting women’s economic opportunities in the Mashreq region. Read More.
To translate the plans into action on the ground, each government has assigned national coordinators, and the World Bank Group (World Bank and IFC) has set up an MGF Secretariat with the overall coordination, knowledge management, continuous fundraising and reporting-related responsibilities, combined with focal points in each World Bank Group country office to manage day-to-day technical support to program activities.
The MGF is a World Bank Group-facilitated inter-agency initiative that works in partnership with units across the World Bank Group, aid agencies and donors, governments, non-governmental organizations, private sector firms, and researchers.
The Facility is a World Bank - IFC initiative in collaboration with the governments of Canada and Norway. It is mainly supported through the WBG's Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality (UFGE) with generous contributions from the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Years of conflict and insecurity have posed significant challenges for women in Iraq. Only 13% of working-age women in Iraq seek employment or work. This is considerably lower than the share of men who are participating in the labor market (72%), and lower than the regional MENA average of 22%. Unemployment rates are also higher for women (12%) compared to men (7%), with wide disparities across the country. For example, in Baghdad and Basra, unemployment rates for women reach up to 20 and 24%, respectively. Further, only 7% of firms have women participating in ownership and only 2% have women as a top manager.
A combination of factors contributes to the low labor force participation of women, such as legal barriers, lack of safe and adequate transport, lack of affordable quality child care, low levels of financial inclusion and other structural issues. Preferences for public sector jobs and attitudes around women’s traditional role inside of the home continues to prevail. Furthermore, conflict and insecurity have resulted in declining access to services and reversal in laws that have disproportionately disadvantaged women and girls hereby making it even more challenging for them to work.
To respond to these challenges, the government of Iraq aims to increase the Female Labor Force Participation Rate by 5 percentage points over the next 5 years and has developed a Women’s Economic Empowerment Action Plan to lay out the path forward. The Mashreq Gender Facility is supporting the implementation of the Action Plan based on a government-led 18-month country work plan developed within the context of Iraq, inclusive of the Kurdistan region. The MGF Iraq work plan focuses on strengthening implementation of legal aspects related to women’s economic inclusion and on addressing specific constraints in collaboration with the private sector, such as child care and a safe, family-friendly work environment. In the first period of implementation, there will be a strong focus on capacity building: of government on, among other, gender sensitive budgeting; of female entrepreneurs through incubators; of rural women through targeted vocational training; and of NGOs to fully participate in activities on women’s economic empowerment and the implementation of the MGF. Restrictive social norms will be worked on across the plan by leveraging other projects to operationalize activities.
The Ministry of Planning and the Directorate for the Empowerment of Iraqi Women at the Council of Ministers represent Iraq on the MGF Steering Committee, and the High Council for Women’s Affairs of the Kurdistan Regional Government is also represented. The implementing partner is the Directorate for the Empowerment of Iraqi Women at the Council of Ministers. For more information, please contact the MGF Iraq National Coordinator Ibtissam Aziz at [email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org].
Very few women in Jordan work. Only 15% of women are in the labor force compared to 67% of men. On average in MENA, 22% of women participate in the labor market. In addition, of those women who are in the labor force, 1 in 4 is actually unemployed. Further, only 16% of businesses are owned by women and 2% of firms in Jordan have women as a top manager.
A combination of factors contributes to the low labor force participation of women, such as legal barriers, lack of safe and adequate transport, lack of affordable quality child care, low levels of financial inclusion and other structural issues. Moreover, mind-set and norms play a significant limiting role.
To respond to these challenges, the government of Jordan has set an ambitious target of increasing the female labor force participation to 24% over the next five years and has developed a Women’s Economic Empowerment Action Plan, closely linked to the development of the National Women Strategy (2020-2025), to identify the broad focus of required actions. The Mashreq Gender Facility is supporting the implementation of the Action Plan based on a government-led 18-month country work plan that focuses on lifting constraints to women’s access to the work force by working on areas such as the care economy and safe and accessible public transport in close coordination with relevant stakeholders from both the public and private sector, as well as from civil society and the donor community. Directed efforts will build female leadership in the private sector. With a view to scalability, the Facility will build the evidence base on issues such as digital payments, socioeconomic impacts of micro lending and satellite work modalities. Further, there will be behavior economics informed awareness raising campaigns around a range of relevant issues.
The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation and Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) represent the government of Jordan on the MGF Steering Committee. The implementing partner is the JNCW. For more information, please contact the MGF Jordan National Coordinator Huda Ayesh at email@example.com.
Women in Lebanon want to work. However, only a few are participating in the work force. While the share of women in Lebanon’s labor force exceeds the MENA average of 22%, it is still much lower than the share of men in Lebanon (26 vs. 76%, respectively). Unemployment rates are also twice as high for women (10%) compared to men (5%). Further, only 17% of women are self-employed compared to 43% of men, and only 4% of companies in Lebanon has a woman as top manager.
A combination of barriers contributes to the low levels of labor force participation and entrepreneurship. Constraints around access to safe transportation, affordable and quality child care, and finance or collateral, as well as concerns around harassment in the workplace and norms surrounding gender roles at home, keep women out of, or hold them back in, the workplace and from starting their own business. Lebanese women also cite flexible hours, work security and long-term career prospects as important factors they consider when deciding to work.
To respond to these challenges, the government of Lebanon aims to increase the Female Labor Force Participation Rate by 5 percentage points in the next 5 years, and developed a Women’s Economic Empowerment Action Plan that identifies the way to achieve this. The Mashreq Gender Facility is supporting the implementation of the Action Plan based on a government-led 18-month country work plan that adopts a "dual-track approach", balancing national-level strategic interventions with selective activity-level pilots. Under this first period, the Lebanon MGF work plan will create the building blocks for change by focusing on building the evidence base on issues such as labor market and care economy; instituting coordination mechanisms for increased collaboration on women’s economic empowerment; initiating legal reforms with a focus on sexual harassment; and developing capacity among relevant public and private sectors. Several activities work directly with the private sector related to, for example, leadership, technology and overall adoption of family-friendly practices. Communications and outreach activities aim to address cultural barriers and promote rights to incentivize behavioral change.
At this point, the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) represents the Lebanese Government on the MGF Steering Committee and is also the implementing partner. For more information, please contact the MGF Lebanon National Coordinator Frances Abouzeid at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mashreq Gender Facility (MGF) was launched at the Mashreq Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment in Beirut, Lebanon, on January 19, 2019. By September 2019, the Facility was completely operational, with country and regional level work plans endorsed by the Steering Committee and under implementation.
To date, the MGF counts on five main areas of achievements:
1. Identification of targets, priorities and concrete actions to increase female labor force participation in each country.
In response to the low labor force participation of women in the Mashreq countries of Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, and recognizing the importance for overall growth, each government has set concrete targets to substantially increase female economic participation by 2024. These targets formed part of their respective Women’s Economic Empowerment Action Plans that articulated required actions, which were then prioritized for the period July 2019 to December 2020 in the respective Country Work Plans. More information can be found in the country specific tabs.
2. Mashreq Conference on Women's Economic Empowerment, Beirut, Lebanon January 2019.
This high-level conference was the first one in an envisioned series of regional gender conferences that aim to elevate the dialogue and overall awareness of the importance and benefits of enhanced economic participation of women in the Mashreq region, and create a space for the governments of Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, in collaboration with private sector, civil society and development partners to share their commitments to this agenda. The 2019 conference highlighted the economic imperative behind women’s productive contribution in the workforce. Importantly, specific country-level commitments to enhance women’s economic empowerment were announced and the Mashreq Gender Facility was launched. The event attracted approximately 350 participants from government, international organizations, private sector and civil society. It counted on strong media presence, with the #WEMashreq hashtag mentioned over 1.5K times during the period of January 14-24, generating 3.6K engagements (likes, shares, comments, retweets etc.), with an estimated reach of 20.1 million people across the world from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Read more.
3. Launch and operationalization of the Mashreq Gender Facility.
This Facility, a joint World Bank-IFC supported initiative, was launched at the January Conference. As per its overall objective, it provides technical assistance to the Mashreq countries Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to enhance women’s economic opportunities as a catalyst towards more inclusive, sustainable, and peaceful societies, where economic growth benefits all. The initial work is made operational under two main streams of work: country level and regional level work plans. Read more.
4. Endorsement of a Regional Work Plan.
The World Bank Group team developed a Regional Work Plan to support cross-country activities and issues of that are of interest and may require special attention at the regional level. Apart from the overall ongoing task of making the MGF operational, the regional agenda focuses on building the evidence base on women’s economic empowerment and sharing and discussing results widely. Three major deliverables are planned to this end: a report on State of the Mashreq Women; the Mashreq Conference for Women’s Economic Empowerment II; and, the setting up and first tranche of the innovating for results program, including specifically targeted work to increase refugee and IDP women’s access to economic opportunities. Read more.
5. “Engendering” of the World Bank Group’s operational portfolio.
As part of the support to the overall gender agenda in the Mashreq, under the MGF, World Bank Group teams have received technical support to ensure that both pipeline and existing projects clearly identify how they can contribute to closing gender gaps in their respective sectors or influence of work. This means that each project has a clear results chain that will contribute to narrowing gaps between women and men in one or more of the four pillars of the WGB Gender Strategy: (i) improvements in human endowments, (ii) more and better jobs, (iii) women’s ownership and control of assets, and (iv) women’s agency, engaging men and boys. Progress on impact will be formally monitored throughout project life-cycles. All Mashreq projects that went to Board in FY19 were validated as gender-tagged.
Female labor force participation in the Mashreq is exceptionally low, a problem likely to be exacerbated by the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This report calls for action in the following areas: stronger economic growth, effective policy action to close legal gaps, promotion of more egalitarian attitudes, access to quality childcare, and the provision of safe transportation.
The Beirut Communique was the result on the January 2019 Conference and highlights agreed upon commitments made by the Governments of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Canada, as well as the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.
Background summary note on the legal and institutional framework for women’s economic participation. Produced for the Mashreq Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment, 2019.
Background summary note on women in private sector entrepreneurship and employment. Produced for the Mashreq Conference on Women’s Economic Empowerment, 2019.
For extensive statistical information on gender indicators at the country, regional and global level, please visit the database Gender Statistics or browse pre-defined key indicators by country in the online tables from The Little Data Book on Gender. For information on gender-based legal differences in laws, please visit the Women Business and the Law portal and select by country or topic.