Making steps towards a more inclusive labour movement in Arab Countries

Project supported by our Swedish affiliate Fackförbundet ST aims to tackle challenges women in the region face during their union work.

A survey recently conducted by ActionAid’s Arab Regional Office in Jordan revealed that 1 in 5 female employees is subjected to some form of violence or harassment at the workplace.

This disturbing statistic was announced along with others at the launch of preliminary findings of a survey titled: “Justice for Women and Girls Affected by Violence and Harassment in Jordan”, conducted in partnership with trade unions. The survey targeted more than 2,300 workers of whom 84% were Jordanians (including 85% women) and migrant workers in eight of the country’s industrial zones.

During an evaluation conference held in Beirut last October under the framework of the ‘Strengthening Organizational Capacities of Women Trade Unionists’ project by Public Services International (PSI) and several of its allies, women unionists from countries across the Middle East shared materials aimed for campaigns in favour of the amendment of discriminatory laws against women.

The conference was a continuation of a previous project, "Strengthening the Leadership Capacities of Women Trade Unionists in the Middle East", that was implemented from 2015 to 2017.

Representatives from Fackförbundet ST (the Swedish Union of Civil Servants) supporting the project, and a large number of trade unions and like-minded organizations from Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Tunisia attended the meeting. Among various topics, participants discussed the stages of their work and the challenges that unions in the region face, focusing on the role of women and the problems that they face during their union work. Most interventions referred to the precarious status of women in the labour market, women’s exposure to workplace violence, the level of discrimination against women based on laws, and discrimination against women based on inherited social norms.

According to the ILO, women's participation in the labour force and in paid employment has maintained anupward trend in almost all regions of the world at 56.6%. Unfortunately, the narrowing of gender gap in labour participation rates for North Africa and the Middle East has proven difficult.The rate remains stubborn at 32%, the lowest level among all regions.

Discrimination places women amongst the most vulnerable groups to abuse and marginalization. Women’s low participation in the labour market, in addition to the inherited social culture, contributes significantly to the weakening of women’s role in the public sector, and particularly trade union work. Women’s rights violations at the workplace come within the context of security and social tensions in PSI’s Arab Countries Sub-Region, where social and political conflicts are aggravated in the absence of any democratic path; which pushes towards less peaceful methods, and ultimately negatively affects women’s role in society during this period of instability that the region is going through.

Despite all the problems and obstacles faced by women and the population in general in the Arab Sub-Region, the ‘Strengthening Organizational Capacities of Women Trade Unionists’ project has achieved some breakthroughs, among which 23 of the 36 unions which were included in this project adopted a women’s quota ranging from 16.6 to 50%. On the same positive note, the number of women in 3 of the remaining 13 unions has increased, and their participation in trade union work at national level has also risen higher.

Women unionists are still trying to continue to support and strengthen the role of their fellow women in trade union work, despite the constraints that they face whether from official authorities (such as in Palestine), or from the pressure of social customs and traditions in many Arab countries.

WATCH: PSI’s Arab Sub-Region’s Campaign Against Sexual Harassment Video (Below)


According to the ILO, the rate of women's participation in the labour force and paid employment in the MENA region is 32% - the lowest level among all regions in the world. Discrimination and sexual harassment is a huge hindrance to development. It is time to put an end to this NOW!

PSI Arab Countries Women's Campaign Against Sexual Harassment