Workplace discrimination is discrimination on the basis of stereotypes instead of rational thinking and evaluating characteristics of an employee. This discrimination is reflected in promotion, job assignments, hiring, salary amounts, and termination. Workplace discrimination usually includes many harassment types that prevent employees from working in psychological comfort and peace. Basic constitutional rights of each state usually forbid such harassment and misjudgments, but still these rights are frequently violated because it is difficult to make people get rid of their stereotypes and change their mindset. In many situations, employees have to suffer from salary cuts and other inconveniences, and reporting on cases of discrimination to the authorities often ends with firing. Unfortunately, the problem of workplace discrimination is burning for all world countries, but each organization should fight against it because it can surely affect the performance of a business. This paper will focus on the Egyptian labor market and its particulars. It will also concentrate on gender-based discrimination as a specific case of discrimination suffered by thousands of employees on a daily basis (Assaad 125).
The gender-based discrimination in Egypt has two subdivisions: male discrimination and female discrimination. In many cases, gender harassments are mixed with religion- or race-based stereotypes. One of the problems in Egypt is that gender-based discrimination has some connection with culture and the mindset of people. First of all, male and female roles in society are strictly divided, and no mixture can be allowed. Analyzing Egyptian culture, Geert Hofstede, a famous scientist and sociologist who specialized in developing five dimensions of culture, noted that a hierarchical order in which not everybody is equal is generally accepted in society, a heavy emphasis is put on family relations instead of individual achievement, and the role of women in society as care providers is very high. That is why their interruption into business and other traditional male work is not approved in society. Egypt is also known for a high uncertainty avoidance rate meaning that society is built on rules and regulations, as without them, people feel absolutely helpless (Assaad 123). The resistance to innovation and change in society is very high. Limitations on women’s rights are not actually a cultural paradigm but more connected with Muslim religion and its traditions. The upward mobility of Egyptians is quite low, as by birth every citizen belongs to a certain social caste. These barriers are hard to ruin, unlike in the Western World. Heavy regulations control life and activities of each Egyptian (Assaad 134). All these preconditions determine why women in Egypt face heavy gender-based discrimination.
Female discrimination in the workplace is also supported by discrimination in Egyptian laws: A woman’s husband can prohibit her from leaving the country or getting a passport. This is justified by heavy sexual harassment faced by women, especially in urban areas and at night. The idea of women as leaders is not approved in society, even if a woman comes from a very influential family that supports her intentions. Women have to face serious discrimination in public and private sectors, although the Egyptian law says that workplace discrimination is forbidden. Women’s salary is sufficiently lower than the salary of men who work in the same position, and it is especially obvious in the private sector which cannot be controlled by the government properly. In Egypt, women are discouraged from working in the private sector by huge salary gaps between women and men, as their primary role is connected with family. Women are actually expected to take their family needs as primary, and that is why men have been considered more responsible and reliable for long period of time. The latest growth in the number of economically active women is still marked by only 5% (Work in Freedom 1-3).
In Islam, women can work only in certain conditions – when they are in extreme financial need or their work does not disrupt their traditional role of a wife and a mother. However, women are obliged to work in strict Islamic conditions (wearing special clothes, heavy coverage, not contact alien males, and so on). Women always have to be safe and healthy, and their work should never contradict Islamic laws. By the way, the latter is true with men as well in case they decide to do something that contradicts the ideals of Muslim religion.
If a man faces workplace discrimination in Egypt, most likely it is connected with other reasons like race and religious beliefs. However, in some cases, doctors do face workplace discrimination, especially when it comes to gynecology because of Islamic requirements: An alien man (especially if he is Christian or of any other religion) cannot touch Muslim women or see them naked. In this case, some preference may be given to a female doctor (even if she is not Muslim). The other case is when a man recognizes himself as gay. Homosexuals do suffer from workplace discrimination, but they should better be classified as victims of sexual orientation discrimination (Assaad 142).
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The Taste Model of Gary Becker explains discrimination as an employer’s personal dislikes of certain ethnicities or minorities. For instance, an employer feels more comfortable interacting with male peers because they belong to his social group and are totally equal to him in all aspects. The Employer Ignorance theory sets discrimination as a consequence of an employer’s general ignorance and lack of abilities to observe (Ryley 1-2). Such employers judge their potential subordinates ‘by the cover’, drawing conclusions based upon gender or age instead of looking deeper into their skills and personality. This is connected with the Asymmetrical Information Model discussed before and a traditional family role of women in Egypt. They are typically expected to perceive their job as less important than family duties, so men are considered more productive and reliable to hire. The theory of Occupational Crowding means that female job applicants are pressed to apply for low-paying jobs either by society requirements or other reasons (Work in Freedom 1-3).
As for the gender pay gap, it is explained by many reasons. First, society shapes differences in skills, education and knowledge for men and women. Married women in Egypt have little time to work and gain experience, and unmarried women should not be emancipated in any ways to get married (Assaad 123). After childbirth, even a woman supported by her husband in her work intentions loses huge amounts of money. This is the reason why many women switch to flextime and part-time jobs that are obviously less paid. Women are not expected to travel far, and it deprives them of numerous job opportunities. Traditional jobs for women in Egypt are connected with childcare and education, meaning that all other occupations are very hard to get, while strong competition exists in the concentration area. Women are tied geographically, as they depend on their husband, his work and family. Thus an employer may set any price level for the job, as a woman may have no other choice close by.
Some of the most popular professions in terms of gender discrimination include (Work in Freedom 1-3):
- Gynecologist (usually if male);
- Management and leadership positions in politics, business, NGOs, and other organizations (if female);
- Judge positions – a ban of 2007 prohibited women from becoming judges;
- Any occupations that can potentially harm women’s health or morals, which makes them even more dependent on their husbands;
- Rural and agricultural work that is done for their husband or his family members for no compensation as it is considered a duty;
- Non-agricultural work (office jobs, delegations, art jobs, and so on).
There are several related prerequisites that prevent women from starting a successful business. For example, officially they are not forbidden from working on a land or owning it, but in fact they are always pressed to give any property to their husband or other male family member. In case of divorce, Egyptian women are not allowed to take any property from their husband. Sexual harassment and family violence is a taboo topic, but it is very important for Egypt where street rapes and female insecurity are real problems. It is quite difficult for a woman to get a traditional bank credit or a bank loan, and rural women are especially prevented from taking a credit by complicated bank schemes (Work in Freedom 1-3).
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There are several ways out of this situation. First, let us look at the major labor discriminations theories offered by microeconomics specialists. In academic literature, workplace discrimination is recognized as a reason behind the failure of labor market and may become threatening to the entire country’s economy, especially if its export or import competitors have an advantage in this aspect (Ryley 1-2). The Asymmetric Information Theory claims that discrimination comes out as an employer’s inability to predict potential productivity of a minority group employee (such as women or gays) compared to the productivity of a majority group employee (such as straight men) (Baldwin 1148-1154).
In spite of the multiple obstacles on the way of talented workers, Egypt offers a variety of workplace discrimination lawyers and law firms. Some of them specifically specialize in employment discrimination, as it is quite common for Egypt. As Egypt has become an important industrial and cultural center, more and more people (including foreigners) come to this country to study, work, and live. The government should introduce brand new policies and regulations to fight workplace discrimination because it may keep Egypt far back for a long time. The governmental reaction should be supported by employers too. Among all world regions, Northern Africa has the lowest rate of women that are employed – only 32%. However, the figures continue to grow in non-agricultural areas of business and good quality jobs (Riley 1-2).
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Some interventions are suggested to improve the current condition of women in Egypt. First, the government should become supportive of this campaign and issue legislative documents similar to the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act issued in the UK. This will most likely work out well in Egypt due to cultural peculiarities (Riley 1-2). Women will become legally protected, employers will be forbidden from offering lower salaries based on gender, and equal opportunities to all Egyptian people will be offered. Social campaigns and NGO organizations may start to convince employers that women can be productive and reliable when it comes to complicated work (Baldwin 1151). It is essential not to show anger or depression – social campaigns should prove how beneficial equal opportunities for everyone would be, while any pressure will lead to confusion and negativism (Assaad 143).
Examples of prominent women and female celebrities (including those outside Egypt) may be used to stimulate the mindset change. However, it will definitely take time, as the tradition of neglecting women’s roles outside family is deeply rooted. Women should also be aware of the situation and not perceive their employer’s mistreatment as something acceptable and traditional. That is why women should be trained to know about their rights and the ways to protect them (especially this is true with rural women). They should have equal access to higher education and form strong community organizations with network support and information sharing (Work in Freedom 1-3). Social inequality in terms of education, credit loans, inheritance, and property ownership for women should be eliminated, as they also influence the way Egyptian women work.