The Impact of Marriage on Women’s Employment in the Middle East and North Africa

Type Working Paper
Title The Impact of Marriage on Women’s Employment in the Middle East and North Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2016
URL & Krafft Impact of​Marriage PAA long abstract.pdf
There is a strong gendered division of household labor in the Middle East and North Africa
(MENA). The role of the husband is that of the breadwinner, providing income for the family.
The responsibility of the wife is as the homemaker, raising children and assuming domestic
responsibilities (Hoodfar, 1997). Marriage is thus a transition which, for women, adds substantial
domestic responsibilities that can make it difficult for women to engage in market work (Assaad
& El-Hamidi, 2009; Assaad, Hendy, & Yassine, 2014; Assaad & Krafft, 2014a; Assaad & Zouari,
2003; Hendy, 2015; Hoodfar, 1997). Because adult roles—including independent living, socially
sanctioned sexual relations, and childbearing—are limited to the confines of marriage, to finish
their transition to adulthood, women in the MENA region must marry. This distinction is even
reflected in the language used to refer to women; a female is referred to as a girl until she is
married, and then is considered a woman (Sadiqi, 2003; Singerman, 2007). For women in the
MENA region, marriage is an imperative. When work is irreconcilable with marriage, it is work,
rather than marriage, that must give way.
Difficulties in reconciling gender roles, domestic responsibilities and the jobs readily available in
the labor market contribute to high rates of unemployment among women, and the low rates of
female labor force participation in the MENA region (World Bank, 2013). The challenges
women face in working also present a substantial hurdle to making full use of the region’s
human resources as a potential driver for economic development. Women are catching up with
men, and in some cases surpassing them, in their attainment of education (World Bank, 2008).
Thus, a more nuanced understanding of the challenges women face in reconciling marriage and
work is required for both increasing economic opportunities for women and promoting economic
development in the region.

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