GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Women's Labor Force Participation in the GCC (nationals and migrants) and Patriarchal Oil Curse
Paper Proposal Text :
In the Arab Gulf states, the discovery of resource wealth coincided with state formation; but oil alone has not made these states. Nevertheless, the evolution of state-building alongside the volatility of energy markets, makes public policy critical. Institutional pathways to state-building in the Gulf are shaped by both domestic and international forces, but are also open to change through public policy. This is especially so with respect to human capital formation and economic openness. The potential for economic development and state capacity improves in those pockets where human capital thrives. The institutional settings that cultivate human capital are ones that have strategically used migrants to build and populate the institutions that amplify state capacity. Migrants, in turn, have a dynamic role in shaping the political sphere they inhabit. Thus, we might account for variation in the success of GCC states where human capital formation and economic openness have been public policy priorities. Human capital of both women and men are therefore essential to the economic development process.

There is one area that is particularly vexing for research on the resource-curse: the persistent relationship with patriarchy and the exclusion of women from both political and economic participation. Michael Ross has argued that petroleum wealth in particular perpetuates patriarchy. His argument is that the traditional inclusion of women into low-wage and low-tech employment (specifically manufacturing) has been impossible in petro-states that forgo a manufacturing industrialization process, blocking the path of women’s political and economic empowerment (reinforced with cultural taboos). Women’s labor force participation has the advantage of “boosting” political influence through three levels, according to Ross: 1) at the individual level by changing identities and social roles in the family, 2) at the social level by bringing women together in the workplace to foster political networking, and 3) at the level of the national economy with purchasing power from their independent earnings, making them visible to policymakers. How might we examine the variable of women’s labor participation in Gulf states, in both citizen and migrant populations, to try and understand any relationship between economic diversification and women’s inclusion in political and economic life?

This research asks several key questions: Are those states that have made more progress in women’s participation in the labor force also those states with better political participation opportunities for women? Is there a commonality between migrant and citizen women in the workforce, or is there a negative relationship in which the dominance of low wage employment of migrant women (particularly in entry-level employment of manufacturing and retail) further enforce a patriarchal political economy? How are migrant women dominant in certain sectors of employment and might this affect citizen women’s ability to penetrate higher-wage/higher-qualification employment (and subsequent political networking opportunities)? A preliminary examination of data on women’s labor force participation across the GCC, in both migrant and national populations, offers some interesting variance. Where women’s labor participation is particularly low, in both national and migrant populations, there seems to be a mutual reinforcing effect. These are also cases with lower indications of political participation for women.