After years of continuous efforts to try to break gender stereotypes in education, experts believe that the situation has actually deteriorated during the pandemic. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a multilateral economic body with a membership of mostly rich countries, unveiled the gender gap in countries in the Middle East region during a virtual panel on March 8, which is International Women’s Day.
“In Lebanon, 77 percent of students think that women should work mostly to become a good wife and a mother,” said Anna D’Addio, Senior Policy Analyst at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “Discrimination and gender biases are learnt from a very early age and they limit choices for the future as they grow, which can also be challenged by the school program,” she added.
“Teachers and counsellors need more support to offer career guidance to students that break away from these stereotypes,” said D’Addio. “In the Global Monitoring Report from UNESCO, the United Arab Emirates underscored that professional orientation often does not take gender issues into consideration.”
“OECD 2018’s PISA (Program for International Students Assessment) result show only 7 percent of girls across 37 OECD countries expect to work in science and engineering, compared to 50 percent of boys,” said Marta Encinas-Martin, Education Gender Ambassador at OECD.
“Boys typically are most likely to expect to become an engineer or computer scientist in more countries,” said Encinas-Martin. In the UAE, 15 percent of girls expect to follow this route, compared to 23 percent of boys. One of the most significant gaps is in Jordan, where 10 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys want to become engineers or computer scientists. In Saudi Arabia, which has the largest gap among Arab countries, less than five percent of girls and 16 percent of boys want to pursue this path.
However, OECD results reveal that females in health professions surpass the number of males in all countries. In the United Arab Emirates, 11 percent of males seek to become doctors or nurses compared to 30 percent of females. In Saudi Arabia, females in the health professions have almost triple the percentage of males. The kingdom has the highest percent of female healthcare providers among OECD countries.
“Girls are very good academically; however, they do not choose career paths that will bring them better rewards to close the gender pay gap,” said Encinas-Martin. “Our data tells us that boys are more confident and competitive, but girls have low self-esteem.”
Martin believes that they need to understand what drives gender career choices, stereotypes and gender norms to avoid segregation. “Women need to have a voice and join STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers to gain more rewards, have more independence economically and have successful lives.”