Around 30 participants coming from various Egyptian organisations gathered on the 25th and 26th of June at the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development (AUEED) to reflect on women’s invisible work at the global, regional and national level and strengthen their communications and social media capacity, within the framework of the Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action led project Sustainable Economic Opportunities for Women, currently being implemented in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco.
Participants came from all over Egypt from the Future Eve association, the New Woman Foundation, the Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development, the Badia Foundation, the Egyptian Association for Sustainable Development, the Forum of Women in Development and the Evangelical Association for Comprehensive Development.
During two days, participants worked on the meanings of women’s work amidst political changes in Egypt. The first day of the workshop was dedicated to a short summary of what has been achieved so far in terms of research and round tables on the topic of women’s work in the informal sector and of domestic work. Papers prepared by CRTD.A consultants Ms Rabea Naciri and Tina Wallace, dealing with women’s informal work in the MENA region and in Lebanon, were briefly presented, along with the debates that have been organised in Lebanon on mainstream indicators and the ideologies underlying them and on women’s informal work in Lebanon. The glaring results of these studies so far have been that women’s work at home and in the informal sector, while being absolutely crucial to household economics and society as a whole, is rarely recognized, let alone valued and accounted for. This is particularly oppressive to women as in the MENA region, the overwhelming majority of women work in the informal sector and/or at home, carrying the bulk of society’s reproduction, while official indicators still estimate the female activity rate at around 20%, one of the lowest in the world.
The issue of accounting for and accurately measuring women’s participation to the economy has been extensively tackled afterwards by the resource person coming from the WIDE Network, Ms Bénédicte Allaert who questioned in her presentation mainstream indicators that we usually take for granted, such as the GDP or what constitutes work under the ILO definition. Ms Allaert went on to demonstrate that these indicators indeed did not paint an accurate picture of economic realities, globally and in the region. Participants were then invited to break into groups and work on the concepts of women’s informal work, women’s work in the household, gender stereotypes pertaining to what is perceived as “women’s work” and the three roles women have to play (productive, reproductive and in the community) paid work/unpaid work, and women in the formal sector. The outcome of the group work was the very purpose of it: participants had different understandings of the concepts, highlighting that what is being measured and studied in the economy is only the tip of the iceberg, with most of economic relationships happening unnoticed and invisible. This knowledge and research will serve as a basis to inform and influence future and global public policies in order to improve the protection, respect and fulfilment of women’s economic rights.
The role of neo-liberal policies and their impact coupled with the impact of the economic crisis on Egyptian women were also discussed. In Egypt, lack of employment opportunities and long-standing weak social protection and work conditions systems were only worsened by the decrease in foreign investment brought about by the economic crisis, as well as the decrease in tourism. The impact of that depression in the economy was first and foremost borne by women who had to endure massive losses of jobs, and carry on the majority of the housework load.
The second day was articulated around social media and on how can Facebook Twitter and blogs help raise awareness on this topic and allow for partner to stay in touch in between physical meetings. The workshop ended with participants drafting action plans to carry the project forward, with the ultimate aim to change not only policies and laws, but also mentalities.
Stay in touch as we will soon publish interviews with Egyptian women on their points of view on why the issue of women’s work is important and relevant!