What Women Want: women’s empowerment and aspirations in MENA countries.

Title What Women Want: empowerment e aspirazioni delle donne nei paesi MENA

Location North Africa and Middle East

Duration September 2022 – September 2023

Framework Bando per l’erogazione dei contributi di ricerca e analisi nel campo della politica estera – Anno 2022 dell’Unità Analisi e Programmazione

Funding Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation



Achieving a better understanding of women’s aspirations and preferences is functional to predict development trajectories, economic behaviours, and demographic trends.  In terms of policy implications, designing and implementing interventions aimed to raise aspirations of girls and women can contribute to foster and unlock important resources for sustainable growth. Development cooperation has to consider the key role of women empowerment and gender equality as an essential ingredient of human development that deeply influences a wide range of outcomes.

The research focuses on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA, or SWANA – South West Asia and North Africa) for two main reasons:

  1. The region represents a strategic territory for Italian cooperation because of its geopolitical significance, trade and investment relations, and the management of migration flows in the Mediterranean Sea
  2. The region is characterised by the so-called ‘MENA paradox’: despite the rapid narrowing of the gender gap in education and the decrease in fertility rates, female formal labour market participation is still low and stagnant. Only 21% of women in the region are economically active in the formal labour market.


Thus, the region represents a very interesting case study for this type of analysis: describing women’s preferences and attitudes in the MENA region is relevant to inform development and cooperations policies attempting to unravel the MENA paradox, offering stakeholders a useful analytical perspective to tailor adequate policies.


General Objective

The Inclusive Development Unit has been involved by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to carry out an in-depth analysis on the relationship between women’s attitude and preferences and development trends.


Our contribution

The Inclusive Development Unit adopted a mixed-method approach, combining quantitative analysis of the World Value surveys with qualitative information from interviews with key informants from governmental institutions, international organisations, development partners and academia.

These data have bene use to:

  • Describe the current situation in MENA countries with reference to the so-called “MENA paradox”, providing an overview on (i) women’s education, (ii) women’s participation to the labour market and (iii) fertility rate.
  • Analyse the relevance of individual attitudes towards gender equality to achieve a better understanding about the “MENA paradox”, according to an intersectional approach.
  • Identify the main dynamics related to women’s aspirations and social norms which play a role in explaining the “MENA paradox”.
  • Verify the existence of converging trends between MENA countries and EU countries with respect to individual attitudes towards gender equality.

empowerment economico donne ricerca approfondimento centro italia violenza di generePromoting the economic empowerment of women, an in-depth study

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