Globally, discussions around the future of work have resulted in the creation of a range of scenarios, from optimistic to pessimistic, with some predicting more flexibility, opportunity, and productivity, and others raising concerns about the predicted rise of inequality, job losses, and a huge digital divide. Although the topic is trending globally and has made it onto the agendas of the World Bank and multilateral development banks, as well as global summits such as the G7, G20, Labour20, and the World Economic Forum, there are some major blind spots in the discussions around it.
These discussions have been driven by digitalization, automation, and artificial intelligence, and have focused on how such technological changes will affect the way we work. However, technological change is just one of many global megatrends that will play a vital role in the years to come. Climate change, shifts in economic power, demographic change, migration and shrinking democratic spaces are all likely to be instrumental in shaping our future. Moreover, not only have discussions been largely shaped by male perspectives, in so doing overlooking key feminist concerns and critique, they have also been narrowly focused on OECD countries, ignoring the majority of countries in the global south and the unique challenges and opportunities that each region will face.
Women in the MENA region, who already struggle to access decent work opportunities, are expected to experience job losses within sectors that are threatened by digitalization and automation, such as the banking and public sectors, as well as those that will be affected by climate change, such as agriculture, a sector in which women account for 60 per cent of the labor force across the region. The number of women joining the informal labor force—often to be able to continue to perform the unpaid care work that falls on their shoulders—is also expected to rise with the spread of platform-based jobs, which are precarious and lack social protection. Given the fact that women’s participation in the formal labor force in the MENA region is the lowest in the world, most of the opportunities that emerge in the future world of work are expected to primarily benefit men.
The transition toward the future of work has accelerated with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, making all these concerns even more pressing. It is therefore essential to take immediate action to overcome the current socioeconomic challenges facing women in the region and mitigate the anticipated risks that will affect their livelihoods.
The FES works with feminist organizations and activists to explore and develop innovative visions and alternative macroeconomic policies that put social and gender justice at the center. In this context, we focus on three main areas: digitalization and automation, the green economy and environmental justice, and care work and social reproduction.