Working Muslim women are a trillion-dollar market

Muslim Women United Nations

Photo: Roberto Trombeta. (United Nations University, 2016)

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Saadia Zahidi, Head of Social and Economic Agendas, Member of Executive Committee, World Economic Forum Geneva. The views expressed in this article belong to the author and not necessarily to The European Sting,

An unprecedented migration of women, particularly millennial women, has taken place from home to work across the Muslim world in the last 15 years. Millions have joined the workforce for the first time, in a movement where economics trumps culture.

The Muslim world is not a monolithic body, but comprised of a diverse set of economies, cultures and geographies. Most of the world’s Muslims live in 30 emerging markets, in which they are the majority of the population. Together, these economies comprise 12% of the world’s GDP and one-fifth of its population.

These include countries with high per capita incomes such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait; upper middle income countries such as Malaysia, Turkey, Iran, Jordan and Tunisia; and lower middle income economies such as Morocco, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, Bangladesh and Tajikistan.

Muslims are also younger than the global average, with a median age of 23 rather than 28 – a result of the Muslim world’s own “baby boom”. Young Muslims are now the most educated in their countries’ histories, holding new attitudes and using new technologies.

Here are 10 things you need to know about the extraordinary rise of working women in this new generation:

1. Women are now the majority of university students in the Muslim world. Traditionally the minority in education, women are coming out ahead of men today. In Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country, women’s university enrolment has increased from 2% in 1970 to nearly 33% today, while men’s enrolment has increased from 4% to 29% over the same time period.

In Saudi Arabia ten years ago, about 30% of university-age women attended university. Today, half of them go – a higher proportion than in Mexico, China, Brazil and India. This is the base of talent for the new white-collar workforce of the Muslim world.

2. STEM education for women is a particular success story, setting up women in the Muslim world for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In most countries across the world, women make up a much smaller proportion of those skilled in coding and the sciences more broadly. But there are five countries where, among students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), women outnumber men. Two of these, Brunei and Kuwait, are Muslim-majority economies.

Across another 18 countries, women make up 40% or more of STEM students. More than half of these are also Muslim-majority countries, including Tunisia, Qatar, Algeria, Oman, Malaysia, Jordan, Bahrain, Azerbaijan and the UAE. In Saudi Arabia, 38% of students in those fields are women, and in Iran, 34%. In the UK, 36% are women, while in the US, it’s 30%.

3. Fifty million women have joined the workforce for the first time since the turn of the millennium. An unexpected, underreported revolution has been happening for women, with the arrival of the largest and most educated cohort ever to have entered their economies’ labour markets at any one time. Just after the turn of the millennium, there were around 100 million working women in the Muslim world’s emerging markets. Today, that number has swelled to nearly 155 million, a 50% increase in just 15 years.

Working women now represent 30% of the 450 million women in Muslim-majority economies. Labour force participation rates vary widely – 74% in Kazakhstan, 53% in Indonesia and Malaysia, 42% in the UAE, 33% in Turkey, 26% in Pakistan and 21% in Saudi Arabia – but are growing faster for women than for men in nearly all Muslim-majority economies.

4. Their combined earnings would make Muslim women the world’s 16th richest country. Working women and their disposable income represent a huge new market, with earnings that amount to nearly $1 trillion. The new generation of working women are worldly and digitally connected. They are tapping into and creating new demand in a wide variety of fields, from education, health and food to finance, fashion and IT.

While the initial investment in girls’ and women’s education has already begun to pay off for their economies, there is more to come. If equal participation in the workforce were achieved, Muslim countries could add another $5.7 trillion to their income. In the Middle East alone, if female labour force participation rose to its full potential by 2025, the region’s GDP would spike by 47%, according to McKinsey. Even if female participation across the region were to rise “only” to match the best performing country in the region today, there would be an 11% increase in GDP.

5. There is some historical precedent for this economic revolution. While the rapid rise of working women across the Muslim world is new, today’s cohort of ambitious businesswomen can look to history for a role model. The first convert to Islam was a businesswoman, a wealthy merchant named Khadija, who hired the Prophet Muhammad and sent him on a trading mission from Mecca to Syria. She became his wife, and financed the supporter of the new religion in its early days.

6. Globalization, technology, ambition and economic necessity have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the rise of working women in the emerging markets of the Muslim world. Globalization and technology have opened up a range of economic opportunities for women, and new role models beyond their own communities. Women, especially those with education, are choosing to exercise their agency and empowerment outside the home, stepping into a realm unforeseen by their mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation. In other words, a new generation of ambitious and educated Muslim women is leaning in.

In addition, the traditional breadwinner and caregiver model of their parents’ generation is no longer viable to sustain the life that many women – and men – want for themselves and their children. Dual-income households have become the norm for middle-class urban couples with aspirations for social mobility.

7. When it comes to balancing work and family, women still carry most of the responsibility. While many young middle-class couples in Jakarta, Istanbul or Jeddah now have more in common with peers in London, New York or Hong Kong than with their parents regarding the division of labour in the home, the responsibility for care work and unpaid work still rests largely with women. In Turkey, for example, women spend nearly three times as much time on unpaid work as men do. Urban professional Muslim women often tap into the availability of cheap domestic support to manage household chores and very often rely on strong family networks for childcare.

8. Businesses are tapping into this new trend – and policymakers need to catch up. Working women and their skills, tastes and earnings are no longer a niche market. Local and multinational businesses have taken notice of this enormous potential. Many are now investing in specific strategies to recruit and retain more women, and are designing practices that fit the local context and culture.

They also recognize that the consumer segment represented by working women with agency over their earnings is vastly different from the indirect consumption of women who are in traditional caregiving roles. They are beginning to design products and services for this new market. Governments need to catch up to the new realities of the growing cohort of female workers, employers, taxpayers and consumers, in particular by broadening access to finance, transport and technology, encouraging female entrepreneurship and incentivizing businesses to hire, retain and promote women.

9. Gig platforms and e-commerce are an unprecedented avenue of economic opportunity for Muslim women. Tech-savvy entrepreneurial women across the Muslim world are tapping into digital opportunities in fields where they have a comparative advantage in understanding the market. Egypt’s Raye7 is a ride-sharing service devised by entrepreneur Samira Negm, solving both traffic congestion and safe transport. Pakistani start-up doctHERS uses digital consultations to connect remote rural communities with “housewives” who also happen to be qualified doctors. Indonesia’s Hijup claims to be the largest online retailer of “modest fashion”, catering to devout, fashionable women with disposable incomes. All of these enterprises took fresh, female perspectives on familiar problems.

Other gig platforms are catching on to the “women’s market”. Ladyjek in Indonesia provides women-only motorcycle rides through overcrowded cities. Mumm foods in Egypt is connecting skilled female cooks with thousands who want healthy, home-cooked meals delivered to their offices. Careem in Saudi Arabia is training a new cohort of women drivers, in anticipation of women being able to drive legally by summer 2018. The gig economy is a new path to flexible, more secure livelihoods for women in the Muslim world’s emerging markets, often for the first time, and unlike in the West where it is often synonymous with precarious work.

10. The implications of this trend go well beyond the borders of the Muslim world. As the numbers of working Muslim women grow, the implications of their rise go well beyond the borders of local markets. One in ten of us on the planet is a Muslim woman. There are 800 million in total. That’s more than the combined populations of the US, Russia and Brazil. In fact, there are already more working women across the Muslim world than there are in the US or the EU. Their economic fortunes will determine the prosperity and stability of their own countries, and, by consequence, of the global economy.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

This Chinese tech giant’s latest gadget is… a bus

Conflict of interest and misuse of EU funds: The case of Czech PM Babiš

How to build a model for human security in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

European Commission kicks off major EU trade policy review

5 ways cities can use emerging technologies to fight climate change

UN chief praises impact of Palestine refugee agency as ‘our common success’, at key pledging conference

Data and the future of financial services

EU-U.S. Privacy Shield: Second review shows improvements but a permanent Ombudsperson should be nominated by 28 February 2019

Political solution ‘long overdue’ to protect the children of eastern Ukraine

Road crash deaths and injuries in the world’s cities can be stopped. Here’s how

UN investigates systematic sexual violence across South Sudan

First full satellite survey of devastated ancient Aleppo raises recovery hopes

Is there a cure for corruption in Greece?

Coronavirus: 4 tips for parents who are homeschooling

Terrorism ‘spreading and destabilizing’ entire regions, Guterres warns States, at key Kenya conference

Yemen conflict: ‘Fragile’ hopes rise, as violence decreases and life-saving humanitarian funding surges

Africa’s shrinking lake shows the impact of climate change on women and indigenous people

Why digital inclusion must be at the centre of resetting education in Africa

Independent rights experts sound alarm at Iran protest crackdown, internet blackout

Gender equality: Parliament strives to be frontrunner among EU Institutions

Despite progress, companies face gender equality ‘backlash’: UN business body

The historic female struggle in medicine

Here’s how we can make innovation more inclusive

Tuesday’s Daily Brief: prizewinning journalists freed in Myanmar, new tracking tool for suspected terrorists, and a global bid to stop snakebite deaths

We are witnessing a revolution in genomics – and it’s only just begun

Hydrogen power is here to stay. How do we convince the public that it’s safe?

Migration surge leaves children stranded, begging on Djibouti’s streets

Amsterdam is developing a fleet of autonomous boats to reduce city traffic

Will Brexit shatter the EU or is it still too early to predict?

Sustainable transport can’t just depend on batteries. Here’s why

Mental health and suicide: when the alarm bells are faced with deaf ears

In Chad, top UN officials say humanitarian response must go ‘hand in hand’ with longer-term recovery

Taj Mahal closes as European Union considers non-essential travel ban – Today’s COVID-19 updates

China has announced ambitious plans to cut single-use plastic

7 ways the ‘biological century’ will transform healthcare

Nowhere is safe to hide in war-torn Yemen, say UN-appointed rights experts

Mergers: Commission refers acquisition of newly created joint venture by Telefónica and Liberty Global to the UK competition authority

Tackling youth unemployment through the eyes of a European entrepreneur

VAT Gap: EU countries lost €137 billion in VAT revenues in 2017

This is how climate change is impacting the ocean – and what we can do about it

Supply chains have been upended. Here’s how to make them more resilient

How Europe’s green tech ‘scale-ups’ can help tackle climate change

How nudge theory can help empty our plastic-filled ‘drawers of shame’

Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Busting the myth by looking at the facts

We are stronger than this pandemic (COVID-19)

The gender gap of medicine in 2018

Obese people more likely to smoke, says new gene research: WHO

Seeing through the mist of myths of Coronavirus

COVID-19: MEPs debate how to best protect cross-border and seasonal workers

From Graduation to professional career: has medicine, in Brazil, become more feminist?

What can be done to avoid the risk of being among the 7 million that will be killed by air pollution in 2020?

Millions of people eat octopus- here’s why we shouldn’t

These Dutch microgrid communities can supply 90% of their energy needs

Trump ‘used’ G20 to side with Putin and split climate and trade packs

After the George Floyd protests, what next for racial justice in the US?

To end deforestation, we must protect community land rights

New round of bargaining for the 2014 EU budget late in autumn

UN agencies call for more resettlement and end to detention of asylum seekers in Libya

Turkey: Commission continues humanitarian support for refugees

Why ‘floating wind’ is key to the energy transition and how to get it onto the sea quickly

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s