Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) issued its quarterly report last month about the work force in Egypt.
According to the report, Egypt now has some 20,475 million salaried employees (17,520 million men and 2,955 million women), representing 73.6 per cent of the total and up from 72.4 per cent in the previous quarter.
This means women now represent 15 per cent of salaried employees, compared to 14.5 per cent in the same quarter of last year.
Government initiatives to help find more jobs for women include the Tahya Misr (Long Live Egypt) Fund, the Mastoura (Shelter) programme that aims at empowering women through providing them with equipment to start their own projects, the Adaha wa Edoud (You Are Up To It), an initiative from the National Council for Women’s Skills Development that trains women in traditional handicrafts and helps them to market their products, and Al-Sayedat Yamdeyan Kedaman (Women Get Ahead), which works in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and helps women, especially women in Upper Egypt, to start their own projects.
There is also Al-Mashghal (Sewing Factory), which aims to train women in sewing and provide job opportunities in handicrafts, cooking, and chocolate making.
However, despite these initiatives and the rising figures, equality with men may be some way away. “There are a lot of variables to consider, like do these women have decent salaries. According to the last CAPMAS statistics, women are still underpaid compared to men,” commented Doaa Ahmed, a Cairo employee who has been working in the private sector for more than 10 years.
“Another question to ask is are women really empowered. There is still a low ceiling for them when it comes to getting top jobs in some companies. The question is are these numbers increasing because they represent more people taking lower salaries? Empowerment should be translated into a good salary and a good position for working women.”
According to statistics issued by the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) an independent NGO working on evidence-based research, 44 per cent of working women who graduated in the years 2016 to 2018 are paid salaries of less than LE2,000, compared to only 23 per cent of similar men.
Some 67 per cent of men and 75 per cent of women who graduated in the same year also think they are not paid enough. The unemployment rate is three times higher for women in the same sample of the population.
“I think there is equality between men and women, but it depends on how hard a man or woman works,” commented Sayeda Ali, a factory worker in Cairo. “For example, women are now given the holidays that men are given, which did not happen in the past,” she said, adding that women are also more ready to take all available jobs in the labour market.
“I think that because men can work more hours than women and they are physically stronger they get more wages than women,” Ali said.
“Women have equal rights in the workplace today. For instance, there are women who have the position of general manager in the ministry of education where I work,” said Hala Mohamed, a teacher. “Women are also given their financial rights. They can choose the job they want to do, just like men do. I think they do not need to struggle anymore,” she said.
However, Habiba Hussein, a women’s rights campaigner, disagrees. “While the increasing number of women in the labour market is a blessing, there are still some forms of discrimination against women, like the fact that they are often unable to work in the fields they want.
“There are jobs for men, or men’s jobs, and then there are jobs for women, or girls’ jobs. The latter are in fields like sales, communications, and front-desk jobs for which employees sometimes require unrealistic qualifications. There is also discrimination in choosing female employees, as veiled women rarely get such jobs.
“Some companies or factories refuse to hire women and prefer to hire men instead even though women may also specialise in fields like mechanical engineering just like men,” she said. Some factory owners think women will not understand the work like men do. “But there is no such thing as a female job or a male job. They are all just jobs. These concepts should change,” Hussein said.
Hussein has worked on campaigns calling for equality between men and women, such as one she did last year with the aim of putting an end to “toxic masculinity” through her initiative Ragel Sah (A Real Man). This promoted the concepts and values a real man should have, not the ones that are still sometimes prevalent in Egyptian society that are also unjust to women.
While there is some way to go on women’s employment and other matters, there is hope for female entrepreneurs, Hussein said.
“If we look on the bright side, we find that there are many women who have their own successful private businesses, especially on Facebook,” she said. “The ‘I make this’ group boasts a majority of female entrepreneurs who advertise their products. There are also many institutions that support women’s businesses as well as government organisations that help to fund them.”
Shaghalni (Employ Me) is an Egyptian online platform that helps job-seekers, whether men or women, find jobs. It links blue and white-collar job-seekers to available job opportunities.
“There has been a noticeable increase in the participation of women in the work market due to the increasing prices and the fact that women see that it is alright for them today to help their husbands, especially as there are millions of families supported by female breadwinners,” commented Omar Khalifa, founder and CEO of Shaghalni.
Even so, many female employees can have problems in the workplace, he said. “There are two main problems a woman may face when applying for a job. If she is applying for the same job as a male counterpart, the job will be given to the man even if she has the same academic and practical qualifications. A human resources manager will not have to give a man maternity leave for three to six months like he would a woman.
“Secondly, there are some companies that require night shifts that are usually not suitable for women, but that would be alright for a man.” Many companies think a man would be more suitable for such jobs.
Khalifa said Shaghalni was designed to help promote women’s economic and social empowerment and that there should be other steps to provide more job opportunities for women. “There needs to be more awareness of the importance of women’s work,” he said. Last year, Shaghalni organised a job fair for women only, the first of its kind in Egypt. The event was organised in Cairo in cooperation with a large number of prominent companies and public institutions.
Job opportunities in various fields were available, including medicine, pharmaceuticals, sales, marketing, tourism, hotels, engineering and accounting. “Around 3,000 women showed up at the fair, where approximately 1,500 jobs were on offer, whether full-time, part-time, or remote, and suiting women regardless of marital status,” Khalifa said.
There were also jobs featured in the fair that might have appeared to be more male-oriented like truck-drivers.
Shaghalni also supports employment initiatives for marginalised groups, and it previously cooperated with the ministry of social solidarity and the Helm Foundation, a NGO, to set up the Azm Forum for Inclusive Employment that aims to provide job opportunities for people with special needs. It has cooperated with the Misr Al-Kheir Foundation, a charity, to found the Al-Gharemeen (loan) programme that helps people back into the labour market.
“We now have an electronic employment booth at Shaghalni that women can use to apply for jobs in two minutes after we have updated it. We are trying to be inclusive, and we not only intend to provide women with jobs because they don’t have as many opportunities as men at the moment, but also men and people with special needs,” he concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.