As unemployment continues to increase in Egypt, women seem to be particularly hard hit by the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic. And with schools reopening and many shifting to partial online learning, parents are yet again facing the challenging task of juggling work and supporting their childrenâ€™s education.
This situation is significantly impacting women since they culturally take on a greater share of child careÂ and domestic responsibilities. Adapting to a long-term reality of managing work and school could lead women to leave their jobs to better support their children and families during this time.Â
According to a recent report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, Egyptâ€™s unemployment rate rose to a near two-year high in the second quarter of this yearÂ hitting 9.6%. Menâ€™s unemployment increased to 8.5%Â while womenâ€™s unemployment reached 16.2%, according to the same report.
Many women cite child care as a reason that they are struggling to work. â€œWhen schools and companies closed in March, it was a very challenging time for me,â€ Sarah Sayed, mother and engineering professor at a foreign university in Egypt, told Al-Monitor. â€œThe problem was having a safe space to conduct my online sessions without my daughter knocking on the door.â€
With her daughterâ€™s school returning to full onsite learning this fall, Sayed feels relieved that she will be better able to manage her work while supporting her daughterâ€™s education. â€œEven though Iâ€™m worried about her going back to school, I feel better about being able to do my job because otherwise I wouldnâ€™t have been able to manage it.â€
Others, however, are not so lucky. A mother in the banking sector, who wishes to remain anonymous, still doesnâ€™t know how she is going to juggle returning to work with remote learning for her daughter. With her company reopening after the lockdown, she is left struggling for child care alternatives. â€œI donâ€™t wish for the experience of learning and working from home to continue, but at the same time my company doesnâ€™t have a supportive system in place for working parents,â€ she told Al-Monitor.
While leaving work is not something she wishes to do, she is considering it if all else fails. â€œThere needs to be understanding and flexibility for this to work,â€ she added.
Work flexibility is not a new concept in Egypt. Egypt introduced flexible work regulationsÂ in 2003 to help companiesÂ structure policies and procedures to move toward more flexible forms of employment.
In fact, according to Egyptian Streets, wuzzuf.net, an online platform for job listings in Egypt, saw a 124% increase in the number of remote job postings in 2016-17, and a 144% increase in employees applying for remote work opportunities.
Rania Ayman, founder of Entreprenelle, an organization that aims to support Egyptian women launch and grow their own businesses, believes flexibility is crucial for women to join and remain in the workforce. As a company that practices work flexibility, she and her team still work remotely and have even set up work stations for employees to work from home during the pandemic.
â€œWe plan to return to three days per week at the office, but still there is room for more flexibility depending on employeesâ€™ circumstances,â€ Ayman said. â€œI think employers have to be more tolerant. Womenâ€™s needs are different especially in our culture and society.â€
Meanwhile, Samar H. Abouelkheir, founder of Content ME, a content development agency in Cairo, also has a flexible work arrangement at her office. It has enabled her to continue operating smoothly during the pandemic.
â€œAs a business, we didnâ€™t experience any disturbance and our work continued uninterrupted,â€ Abouelkheir told Al-Monitor.
According to an ongoing survey conducted by her agency, Content ME, 56% of female employees mostly working in the Information Communication and Technology Â sector in Egypt prefer a flexible work arrangement and find it helpful when engaging with their teams. In addition, 75% of female employees report that flexible work has a positive effect on their lives outside the office.
While most companies have been forced to embrace remote working because of the pandemic, it is usually international organizations that are more likely to offer the option to work from home (87%) than locally based companies (69%), according to Globalwebindex, a market research company.
In May 2020,Â The Telegraph reported that several employers including Barclays, WPP, Next and Vodafone are exploring changes to their work practices. This is done in an effort to cut costs by reducing their office estates.
Flexibility is not the only issue at stake for women’s employment. Improving gender equality at home and in the workplace is necessary for women to continue making strides in society.
Recognizing this gap in the labor force, Egyptâ€™s Minister of International Cooperation Rania al-Mashat, President of National Council for WomenÂ Maya MorsyÂ and the World Economic Forum recently launched the â€œClosing the Gender Gap Accelerator,â€ the first of its kind in the (North) Africa and the Middle East region.
The accelerator aims to prepare women for the post-coronavirusÂ world of work, close gender gaps in remuneration between and within sectors, enable womenâ€™s participation in the labor forceÂ and advance more women into management and leadership roles, according toÂ Ahram Online, one of Egyptâ€™s leading English-language publications.
Furthermore, the International Finance Corporation also recently launched a new advisory program in Egypt to improve womenâ€™s employment in the country. The three-year program will help create family-friendly, flexible workplaces to make Egyptian businesses more resilient, agile and inclusive, especially in times of crisis, as outlined inÂ CSR Egypt.
â€œAny step toward empowering women economically is a step in the right direction,â€ Ayman said.
Yasmin Shafei, Egyptian doctoral fellow at the American University of BeirutÂ residing in Cairo, also believes that increasing economic empowerment of women is tied to improving gender equality.
â€œThe pandemic has highlighted gender inequalities so clearly. One gender hasnâ€™t been able to get along and one has been slightly affected,â€ she said. â€œWe see this not only in the Middle East, but globally. There has to be a dialogue to initiate change. We need to increase gender equality and have men take on a bit more.â€