Born with a Foot in his Mouth
Mr Benkirane’s latest speech betrayed his deep reactionary prejudice, though it certainly is not the first time his own Weltanschauung goes off the rail:
or two years earlier:
While praising gender-based government policies for the past two decades, and reaffirming his government’s commitment de jure in achieving gender equality, particularly on the labour market, the Head of Government touched upon a subject worthy of debate, though his speech was factually wrong. Families do not hurt because women go out for work. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that families are in crisis. It is true on the other hand that they have matured and transformed beyond the comfort zone of reactionaries like Mr. Benkirane.
Active women in Morocco are a minority, both in the workforce and in the total female population: for the past five years, the gender ratio in the workforce was 3:1 in favour of Men. There has been an actual decline in female labour participation in fact, and the graph below shows it is the primary reason behind the drop in overall labour participation:
Since 1998-1999, there has been a sharp decrease in labour participation, particularly so among active female workers, whose levels have not been yet reached. It could be estimated that for every percentage point lost to labour participation, there are two for the female population, and less than one for the male workforce. If anything, female labour participation has fared worse in the past 15 years. As a result, there are more, and not less inactive women. This would mean, in Mr Benkirane’s view, more eligible stay-at-home moms.
There is a cost to this decline however: since 2000, and assuming women maintained their pre-1998 levels of participation, GDP would have benefited from 5 Billion dirhams on average for the past decade. Similar computations put the benefits of a full gender equality on labour participation (around 72%) to a full percentage point in growth, enhancing the 4.76% average of 2000-2011, to 5.55%.
Mr Benkirane’s point about the supposedly adverse effect on family cohesion does not stand scrutiny as well: the percentage of young Moroccan women, from 15 to 24 has actually declined in the past 15 years: in 1999, one young Moroccan woman was active, in 2013, only 1 in three was out on the job market. A remarkable figure that concludes to a decline in the number of this particular cohort: there are fewer working young Moroccan women. This cohort is critical as it coincides with the tail end of the average age at first pregnancy in Morocco. In short, there are more young women, in percentage of total population and absolute numbers, with no work constraints to conceive and raise a family. This fact is at stark odds with Mr Benkirane’s assertion that working women are a threat to family stability.
|Year||15-24 Pop||15-24 Female||Working Female|
|1999||5 754 514||3 016 227||1 453 821|
|2013||6 222 000||3 173 220||1 028 123|
This suggests the causes of any hypothetical family crisis in Morocco are not due to female labour participation. If anything, it makes good economic sense to have as many women out on the job market as possible: first, as many have access to eduction (at least primary) it and given the secular downward trend in female fertility, women should have as many opportunities as possible to go out and get a job, part or full-time; indeed, a rough estimation of market counterpart to household activities suggests educated but inactive women cost an average of 1.32 percentage point of GDP; this means that stay-at-home moms with even a primary education certificate are a gross waste of government resources, even if they decide to have a lot more children, which they don’t.
Second, what Mr Benkirane decries is not a disintegration of families per se, but rather the gradual disappearance of a lionized traditional structure at odds with the changes the Moroccan society continuously undergoes. It also illustrates the irreconcilable trade-off PJD faces on social policies: on the one hand, they cannot renounce official slogans of gender equality, but on the other, their electoral powerhouse is primarily based on the idea of an activist social conservative State.
The setbacks for women’s economic rights are bad enough such as they are: education without an occupation is an economic waste to be sure, but it also subverts the central goal of public education, particularly so for women.