13 November 2012 9:15 pm | | 0


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The dip that Tunisia’s economy took after the revolution has hit the average person hard. If you’re a woman, though, the odds are particularly stacked against you in the current labor market.

The participation rate of men in the labor market hovers above 70% while that of women only comes to around 25%. In addition, the gap between men and women’s unemployment rates has progressively widened since 2005.

What is the reason that Tunisia suffers from such a discrepancy between the economic activity of men and women?

“It’s social, cultural, and political,” said Lylia Ben Hamida, program manager at the Tunisian Association for Management and Social Stability (TAMSS).

“But it’s economic most importantly.”

The macroeconomic woes facing the country may affect the economic possibilities of women at the household level. As families find themselves with tighter budgets, they may allocate resources in a way that is unfavorable to women.

“When they have to choose between [the education of] boys and girls, they will choose the boy,” Ben Hamida said.

Deputy Director of the MEPI MedRegion Office Stephen Ibelli (Second from Right) sits with WES participants.

Yet, in other ways, the economic crisis may also necessitate women’s economic participation. “Families need women’s wages, so they’re not blocking her [from doing so],” Ben Hamida said.

A recent partnership, the Women’s Enterprise for Sustainability (WES) program, is looking to play its part in empowering Tunisian women entrepreneurs. WES’ target is precisely the “woman who chooses for herself and for her family,” said Chema Gargouri, country director for WES.

The Institute of International Education (IIE) launched WES today, charging it with assisting and furnishing eight local Tunisian women’s organizations, including TAMSS, with the resources and know-how to train 1,000 women across the country. The training will include leadership, social media, e-commerce, and entrepreneurial skills and is projected to last 18 months.

“Your success is part… of the success of a green, participatory, pluralistic, and flourishing Tunisia,” Stephen Ibelli, deputy director of the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI) MedRegion office, said at a press conference for WES’ launching.

The WES is funded by the Middle East Partnership of the U.S. State Department and will receive support from private sector partners, such as LinkedIn, eBay, Microsoft, and Craig Newmark, founder of craiglist.org.

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