• April 9, 2015

By Caroline Kaufman

A female worker painting the fuselage roundel on a Mosquito aircraft at de Havilland’s factory at Hatfield in Hertfordshire, 1943. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

March 18, 2015–In theory, it’s simple: you want robust economic growth? Start by using your full labor force. This is Economics 101.

Yet growth in many countries, developed and developing,continues to be stymied by the exclusion of women from the labor force. The disparity between men’s and women’s labor force participation rates, for example, is particularly alarming in developing countries. And while there are strong humanitarian arguments for opening the labor force to women, the economic case is just as strong. Yes: women’s participation in the labor force is NOT just a “women’s issue” (one of my least favorite phrases) but one with strong implications for a country’s economic growth,and for men as well as women.

At Nathan Associates we’ve been discussing the need for projects aimed at helping developing countries integrate women into the workforce.We keep circling back to the possibility of a project for Egypt for two reasons: the Global Gender Gap Report for 2013 ranked the country 125 out of 135 countries on women’s economic participation and opportunity, and Nathan has run projects in Egypt since 1980. Designing an inclusive economic empowerment program in Egypt would be ideal.

But where to start?

Fortunately, we chanced upon a precise starting point. In October, graduate students from The George Washington University asked us to guide them in conducting research on gender and private sector development as part of a capstone project. A perfect match!

With guidance from us on topics and methods, the GWU team is researching women’s labor force participation in Egypt, Indonesia, and Malaysia. In March they will travel to Malaysia and Indonesia for 10 days to conduct field research. These two countries have economic structures and cultural backgrounds similar to Egypt’s,and have been opening economic opportunities to women. By studying them closely, we hope to gain insight into integrating women into Egypt’s labor force and then design a gender-inclusive labor force program for Egypt.

The ultimate goal: a project that enables Egyptian women to join the labor force and gain the economic empowerment that will improve their lives and give a big boost to the country’s economy.

Of course, this goal is a long way off, but big change has to start somewhere.

(Be sure to check back. In about two months the GWU research team will be sharing their findings with us.)

Caroline Kaufman joined Nathan Associates in February 2015 as a program assistant. She has contributed to studies of the livelihoods of female refugees, and studies of development issues and gender. Caroline has a B.A. in international relations and development economics from Tufts University.

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