What are the barriers to women's economic empowerment in Libya and which changes are likely to ease the constraints on women's labor market opportunities: A mixed-methods study of the Libyan labor market

Elisabeth Dencker Løwe Jacobsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Only 25.8% of Libyan women participate in the labor force (ILO, 2017a). For men, the participation rate is 79% (Ibid.). Hence, a gender gap of 53.2 percentage points (Ibid.). This puzzle sets out the starting point of this thesis. The objective of this thesis is to understand why this puzzle arises and what barriers women face in the Libyan labor market. Furthermore, this thesis aims to formulate suggestions for ways forward. The research methodology consists of a mixed-methods approach that utilizes content analysis as well as descriptive statistical analysis. Kabeer's theoretical framework (1999, 2001) on women’s empowerment forms the theoretical foundation for the thesis. The evidence has been collected for the Mennonite Economic Development Associates to inform their Libya Economic Empowerment project, the purpose of which is to help youth and women’s employment opportunities. Processing of the data was conducted, and pieces deemed relevant for women’s economic empowerment is used to answer the research question.
This thesis explores the validity of differing human resources as well as structural barriers as the causes of Libyan women’s low labor participation rate. Both women’s access to education and cognitive as well as non-cognitive skills resemble those of men’s human resources. The findings thus supported that there are other barriers to women’s economic empowerment opportunities in Libya than the human resources they possess.
The research indicates that structural barriers pose significant challenges to women’s economic empowerment. There are three areas of structural barriers that this thesis looks assess. The evidence suggests that structural barriers persist in areas such as justice and security, while there were no substantial barriers identified to women’s inclusion in the educational system. The structural barriers women face in Libya around justice is an above-average level of discriminatory laws limiting women’s rights. Besides, evidence showed that women also face discriminatory social norms around the obtainment of equal rights to freely choose employment. More than half of men in Libya do not consider it acceptable for women to have a paid job outside the home. In terms of security-related structural barriers, the protracted conflict in Libya disproportionately affects women’s freedom of mobility. In short, justice and security pose apparent inhibiting factors for women to obtain agency and decision-making power over how to employ their human resources in the labor market. The awareness of structural barriers seemed to differ widely among women both across and within regions. This finding followed along the lines of Kabeer’s (1999, 2001) conceptualization of unquestioning the current social order.
The structural barriers cut across the eleven examined sectors with clear evidence of social norms shaping a gender-segregated set of labor market opportunities for men and women. The evidence revealed inhibiting factors such as lack of freedom of mobility and unpaid care responsibilities. Despite the obstacles cutting across sectors, there were some sectors with more opportunities for women’s economic empowerment than others. The Transportation and Hospitality sectors showed promising new initiatives attempting to break down barriers. Interestingly, the Oil and Gas and Financial Services sectors seemed more gender-inclusive than expected. Lastly, the data on the Retail and Wholesale sector showed conflicting findings on women’s economic empowerment opportunities.
A focus on education, skills, and training; the regulatory environment; women’s free mobility; and women’s care responsibilities is necessary to ease the constraints on women’s labor market opportunities. What cuts across the suggested ways forward to address barriers to women’s economic empowerment was addressing social norms within the regulatory environment, the labor market, and the family.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages76