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Gender Issues Inequality and Poverty. Primary school enrollment is high or universal in most MENA countries, and gender gaps in secondary school enrollment have already disappeared in several countries. Women in MENA countries are also more likely to enroll in universities than they were in the past. Haub, World Population Data Sheet. But great challenges remain. Many people — especially girls — are still excluded from education, and many more are enrolled in school but learning too little to prepare them for 21st-century job markets.

In some countries, access to the secondary and higher education that helps create a skilled and knowledgeable labor force continues to be limited; even where access is not a problem, the quality of the education provided is often low. Education contributes directly to the growth of national income by improving the productive capacities of the labor force. In the increasingly open global economy, countries with high rates of illiteracy and gender gaps in educational attainment tend to be less competitive, because foreign investors Seeking an asisn or middle eastern lady labor that is skilled as well as inexpensive.

Various global trends pose special challenges to women who are illiterate or have limited education. In the Gulf states, jobs not considered appropriate for MENA women, such as waitressing, are often filled by imported female laborers from South and East Asia.

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Gender discrimination in the MENA region is sometimes codified in law, frequently in family laws or civil codes. In many countries in the region, women must obtain permission from a male relative, usually a husband or father, before seeking employment, requesting a loan, starting a business, or traveling. Such laws often grant women a smaller share of inherited family wealth. As a result, families tend to make greater investments in education for boys than for girls. The survey also found that mothers of children who had never attended school Seeking an asisn or middle eastern lady more likely to cite the cost of education as a reason for not educating their daughters than for not educating their sons.

However, the situation in the region is slowly changing. In addition to facing political pressure for reform, countries are dealing with economic changes that are creating an impetus for women to become more active outside the home. Education helps women take advantage of opportunities that could benefit them and their families, preparing women for the labor force and helping them understand their legal and reproductive rights.

Education is the single most important determinant of both age at marriage and age at first birth in MENA countries, since women in the region tend to give birth soon after marriage. Among married Egyptian women ages 25 to 29, for instance, those with no education had married at age 18, on average, and had their first child by age 20; those with a secondary or higher education married at an average age of 23 and had their first child by age Educated women generally want smaller families and make better use of reproductive health and family planning information and services in achieving their desired family size; Moroccan women with at least some secondary education had, on average, half as many children as women with no education see Figure 2.

Women with more education also tend to have healthier families.

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In Egypt, for example, children born to mothers with no formal education were more than twice as likely to die as those born to mothers who had completed secondary school see Figure 3. According to the DHS, Egyptian women with less education were less likely to receive antenatal care: Only 34 percent of Egyptian mothers with no education received antenatal care, compared with 75 percent of those with a high school or college degree. Most women in the MENA region know something about modern contraception, but more-educated women tend to know about a wider range of available methods and where to get them.

In Egypt, 69 percent of married women ages 15 to 49 who had completed secondary school reported seeing family planning messages in newspapers or magazines, compared with 32 percent of those who had completed only primary school. Women should be able to fulfill their aspirations outside the home, to the benefit of themselves, their families, and their countries.

Opening economic opportunities to women has far-reaching effects, but those benefits can be reaped only if women receive at least a basic education. The highest levels of native female labor force participation in MENA countries are found in Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, and Yemen, where women constitute more than 25 percent of the labor force. But those rates are lower than rates found outside the region.

Women who live in countries with a large agricultural sector, such as Egypt, Iran, Syria, and Yemen, tend to work mainly in that sector, although some MENA countries have been more successful in getting women into nonagricultural occupations. Most of the MENA women who work outside the agricultural sector are college-educated professionals employed mainly in government except in Lebanon, where the majority of the female labor force is found in the private sector.

In Saudi Arabia, where Saudi women for only 7 percent Seeking an asisn or middle eastern lady the labor force, the unemployment rate for women in was 16 percent, more than double the unemployment rate for men. MENA countries have made ificant strides in making education available over the past few decades, but challenges remain.

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More women are now pursuing higher education, reflecting their ability to graduate from secondary school. In some countries, such as the oil-rich Gulf states, women make up a larger share of university enrollment in part because many young men from those countries go abroad for college and graduate school. But illiteracy remains high in some countries, there are still wide gender gaps in parts of the region, and the quality of the education is a major concern throughout the region. There are over 75 million illiterate adults in the region, more than half of whom live in Egypt, Iraq, and Morocco.

Around 13 million young adults are illiterate; fully one-third of them live in Egypt, which has both a high illiteracy rate and a large population. As in other parts of the world, illiteracy rates in the MENA region are higher among rural than among urban populations see Figure 5 for an example. Although all MENA governments require that all children receive at least five years of schooling and all provide free education at least through high school, the rapid growth of school-age populations in the region Seeking an asisn or middle eastern lady posing a challenge for many governments.

A similar trend has been visible in Morocco. The gender gaps in education vary greatly across countries in the region but are generally wider in countries where overall literacy and school enrollment are lower. In Yemen, for example, the illiteracy rate among young women 54 percent is triple that of young men 17 percent. But countries that make political and financial commitments to reducing illiteracy, as Jordan and Tunisia have, generally see ificant improvements in reducing illiteracy and narrowing the gender gap see Figure 6. Gender gaps in literacy and school enrollment generally persist regardless of rural or urban location.

Gender gaps in school enrollment are especially wide in Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, and Yemen. It is not enough to make education more widely available; the quality of the education also needs to be improved. The report also warns that education systems may split into two tiers, with high-quality private education available only to the wealthy minority and low-quality public education the sole option for most citizens.

Gender sensitivity is a key aspect of the quality of education. Educational systems should Seeking an asisn or middle eastern lady sensitive to the specific needs of girls and women. Efforts to improve female education in MENA countries need to go beyond rhetoric and should involve policies and programs with measurable. Governments can start by making the MDGs part of national development plans and monitoring progress toward those goals see Box 1 at end of article.

Governments also need to make an extra effort to ensure that education is more accessible to low-income families and rural populations, with special attention to the quality of the education provided and the need for girls to complete school. Richer countries both inside and outside the region are encouraged to help resource-poor countries improve their educational systems and collect data on their progress.

Improving access to and the quality of education is the most rewarding investment a country can make. Resource Library.

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This report is in Arabic and English. Educated women are more politically active and better informed about their legal rights and how to exercise them. Fertility Education is the single most important determinant of both age at marriage and age at first birth in MENA countries, since women in the region tend to give birth soon after marriage. Ongoing Concerns MENA countries have made ificant strides in making education available over the past few decades, but challenges remain. The Need for Action Efforts to improve female education in MENA countries need to go beyond rhetoric and should involve policies and programs with measurable.

Daisy Dwyer and Judith Bruce, eds. Valentine M. Kevin R. UNFPA et al.

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