Digital skills could help Arab women to beat pandemic unemployment

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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As the COVID-19 increased the unemployment rate of the women in the Arab world, the growing demand for digital skills will help some of them find work in an area where only one in four women has a job.

The pandemic has taken severe impact on the areas where women employees are more focused just like retail, tourism and hospitality employment, but the experts say those who capable of retrain could enter into growth areas such as digital marketing, e-commerce and online customer support.

Jasmine di Florio, senior vice president at Education for Employment (EFE) said, “This is a tremendous opportunity. These are areas where you can reskill someone relatively quickly. We need to teach young women all kinds of digital skills, but we also need to continue to teach them human skills — things like empathy, teamwork, leadership (that) are in even greater demand now because so much is going digital.”

Education for Employment (EFE) is a job training non-profit organization for young people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

According to a 2020 McKinsey report, the fourth industrial revolution, a term referring to the new era of digital advances that is transforming the way people live and work, is projected to double job opportunities for women in the area by 2030.

Many women are still exploring new possibilities, often by putting their new technology skills to work in jobs where they have an advantage over men.

Walaa Shahahdeh, one of EFE’s trainees who has her own smartphone repair company said, her services were in high demand among women in her conservative Jordanian community who did not want men to see personal photographs on their smartphones while repairing.

“Technology is constantly evolving. You have to keep up to date because new devices keep coming out and repairs will never stop. Because of high usage during coronavirus due to remote learning and work from home, devices are breaking down more often and I’m getting more calls.” said Ms. Shahahdeh.

According to Oxfam, a UK-based charitable organization, in 2020, the pandemic is expected to push 700,000 Middle East women out of employment, about 40 percent of the 1.7 million total jobs that are expected to be lost.

As per the UN Women, the number of unemployed women in hard-hit countries such as Lebanon was up 63 percent in June 2020 compared to figures from 2018 and 2019.

New job opportunities might provide some relief, although the additional burden of unpaid labour in Arab states, such as childcare and remote education supervision is likely to widen the digital divide between men and women.

Manuel Langendorf, a researcher on digital transformation in the region said, “People may have access to the internet but still you will find a lot of families across the region that don’t have multiple laptops or desktop computers. That also affects the way women will be able and are at the moment able, to upskill or reskill”.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, the digital divide between men and women in Arab countries has already risen from 19 percent to 24 percent between 2013 and 2019.