Woman in the Arab region make up almost half of the total population.[1] However, and despite the improvements, a deep gender gap continues to hold back the region. Aside from the life expectancy and education attainment, men outpace women in nearly all human development sectors, including labor market participation, political participation, economic empowerment, and access to justice.[2]


The region has experienced remarkable improvements in the health sector which have also benefited girls and women. Maternal mortality rate has declined by 34.4 percent between 2000 and 2015,[3] and the percentage of births attended by skilled health personnel has increased from 51.9 percent in the 1990 to 82.8 percent in 2014.[4] female life expectancy at birth has also increased in all Arab countries, rising from an average of 69.8 in 2000 to an average of 73.3 years in 2017.[3]

The Arab region has made substantial progress toward improving girls’ access to education. The Gender Parity Index reached 0.99 at the pre-primary education level, 0.93 at the secondary education stage and 1.1 for tertiary education in 2017. The highest tertiary enrolment rates for girls were observed in Saudi Arabia at 68.48 percent in 2017, followed by Bahrain at 63.09 percent. On the other side, the lowest tertiary enrolment rate for girls was registered in Mauritania at 3.23 percent in 2017.[5][6]

Despite the increase in the number of girls and women attaining education over the past decade, gender-based disparities continue to persist in the labor market, both in terms of income and opportunities to find a job or start a company.  The region has the lowest women labour force participation rate at 20.5 percent. Compared to men, women also face a higher risk of unemployment and more barriers to entry into the labor market. Women’s unemployment rate in the region is the highest at 18.8 percent, compared to men’s unemployment rate of 7.7 percent and to the world’s average of 5.4 percent. This rate is especially high among youth, with female youth unemployment rate registering 38.5 percent, the highest in the world and almost double the rate among young men.[7]

The political space remains the most challenging for women. Women’s political participation has increased in the last two decades but is still limited. The proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments has almost doubled in the last 10 years, increasing from 9.8 percent in 2008 to 19 percent in 2018, but it is still lower than the world average of 24 percent. Similarly, while the proportion of women in ministerial level positions scored 18.4 percent in 2016 in the world, the Arab regions’ proportion reached 10.7 percent in 2016 up from 7 percent in 2005.[4]

Many countries in the Arab region have been working to bridge the gender divide through policy interventions, women's economic empowerment, increasing political visibility through nongovernmental organizations and reforming the legal framework. However, many laws and regulations still do not enforce equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sex.

This overview has been drafted by the ADP team based on most available data as of July 2019.  


[1] Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. 2019. World Population Prospects. [ONLINE] Available at: https://population.un.org/wpp/ [Accessed 9 July 2019].

[2] UNDP Programme of Assistance for the Palestinian People. March1, 2018. “Ahu Rajil, wa As-Salam” Where are the Men in Advocating for Gender Equality in the Arab Region?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.ps.undp.org/content/papp/en/home/presscenter/articles/2018/03/gender-equality-in-arab-region.html [Accessed 26 July 2019].

[3] The World Bank. 2019. World Development Indicators. [ONLINE] Available at: https://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=world-development-indicators [Accessed 9 July 2019].

[4] The World Bank. 2019. Sustainable Development Goals database. [ONLINE] Available at: https://databank.worldbank.org/source/sustainable-development-goals-(sdgs)/Type/TABLE/preview/on [Accessed 26 July 2019].

[5] United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO). 2019. UIS Institute for Statistics. [ONLINE] Available at: http://data.uis.unesco.org/# [Accessed 28 May 2019].

[6] The UNESCO Arab States’ averages do not include Comoros and Somalia.

[7] ADP calculations based on data extracted from  the International Labour Organization (ILO). 2018. ILOSTAT. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.ilo.org/ilostat  [Accessed 27 June 2019].

Gender Statistical Snapshot 2018
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Data Highlights

  • The political space remains the most challenging for women in the Arab region. Women’s political participation has improved in the last sixteen years but is still limited. The proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments considerably increased from 3.8% in 2000 to 18.7% in 2015, but is still lower than the world average of 22.5% in 2015.

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