The Middle East and North Africa

With an average regional index score of 60.8, the Middle East and North Africa ranks fourth among the five regions covered by the SDG Gender Index. No country in the region comes within 23 points of full gender equality as measured by the index. The region also has the largest percentage point gap of any region between its top performing country (Israel) and its closest neighbor (Algeria). And the difference between the highest-ranked and lowest-ranked countries in the region (Israel and Yemen) is 32 points – the third largest gap between a top and bottom regional performer in the world.

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Gender Equality Context

On goal-by-goal average scores, the region outperforms the global average on SDG 3: Health, SDG 6: Water & Sanitation, and SDG 7: Energy, but falls quite a bit behind global averages across SDG 8: Work & Economic Growth, SDG 5: Gender Equality, SDG 16: Peace Institutions, and SDG 9: Industry, Infrastructure & Innovation. Several goal scores are pulled down by poor regional performance on one particular indicator, signalling regional trouble-spots. On SDG 5: Gender Equality, for example, the region has the lowest scores across both indicators related to women in government.

Key Findings

  • The Middle East and North Africa is the world’s second highest performing region on indicator 7a: Proportion of population with access to electricity, with countries all at or nearly at full coverage except for Yemen.
  • The region is the lowest ranking region in the world on indicator 1c: The extent to which laws afford women and men equal and secure access to land use, control and ownership (score), which captures critical measures of a woman’s ability to manage land, build wealth or access credit, and pass assets to children. Nine countries in the region have at least two laws that restrict women’s land use.
  • Israel is the only country in the region that places in the top quartile of overall index scores and receives a high “fair” score overall.
  • More than in any other region, the lowest overall regional scorer (Yemen) maintains low scores across every goal – this holds true across every single goal except one (SDG 11: Cities & Communities, where Yemen still ranks in the region’s bottom three grouping).
  • Digital payments can be viewed as a measure of women’s economic agency and household decision making power. Yet markedly low rates of women use digital payment technologies in the Middle East and North Africa all but two countries covered by the index are less than halfway toward the target for the indicator.

Thematic Deep Dive

Legal barriers for women

UNDP-supported projects in Jordan. Photo: Salah Malkawi / UNDP, Flicker (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Women’s ability to own, use, inherit, and bequeath land is critical to their ability to build assets and have financial security. In countries where women lack full property rights, they are less likely to hold leadership positions in local businesses and are more likely to fall under the national poverty line after becoming divorced or widowed.

Likewise, women’s ability to participate equally in the workforce is linked to their agency, household decision-making power, financial wellbeing, and physical safety in the workplace.

In the 2019 SDG Gender Index, the Middle East and North Africa has the lowest regional scores in the world on both of two measures of women’s equality under the law: 8d: Extent to which the country has laws mandating women’s workplace equality (regional average 52.7 ) and 1c: The extent to which laws afford women and men equal and secure access to land use, control and ownership (score) (regional average 59.1).

Indicator 1c measures equality in property ownership across five dimensions: who can legally administer marital property, valuation of non monetary contributions, equal ownership rights to immovable property, sons’ and daughters’ equal rights to inherit assets, and female and male surviving spouses’ rights to inherit assets. Across the Middle East and North Africa, only two countries (Israel and Turkey) have each of these legal protections in place. Indicator 8d measures a range of issues related to women’s ability to work, starting from when a woman applies for a job through to when she retires, including if the law mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value, if the law mandates nondiscrimination, and if the legislation on workplace sexual harassment exists. Every country in the region has at least one such legal barrier, across income levels and unrelated to overall performance on the index.