Kuwaiti Female Labor Force Participation: Agency And Development Sustainability In Kuwait
In spite of oil wealth, modernization, and high female educational attainment, the International Labor Organization cites female labor force participation in Kuwait as lower than other high-income countries, world averages, many non-Arab Islamic countries, and some gulf countries such as Qatar and the UAE. These statistics suggest a lack of female participation and agency in development of Kuwaiti society. As Kuwait and other gulf countries create economic strategies to move from dependency on natural resources to the development of skilled and innovative labor, the gap between high educational attainment and low labor force participation must be explored. With a grounded theory approach, this study uses statistical analysis and other secondary data, along with ethnographic methods of observation and in-depth interview with over 56 participants, to identify the social, economic, and political forces shaping the demand and supply of female labor in Kuwait. This research argues that increasing a women's freedom (capability + agency) to participate economically, as well as politically and socially, increases their wellbeing and the sustainable development of their country. Therefore, research also considers Kuwaiti female agency in society for overall participation in sustainable development. To foundationally inform this study, interviews and observations seek a basic understanding of the Kuwaiti woman's experiences, as well as her definitions and perceptions of freedom. Interestingly, research finds two administrations in Kuwait record female LFP at least 18% higher than ILO estimates - discovery backed up by interviews and observations. These numbers not only include the high number of non-Kuwaiti female workers, but Kuwaiti women working in public, private, and informal markets. In addition, the number of Kuwaiti women entrepreneurs in home-based and other small businesses is increasing and becoming important to the economy, but is largely undocumented - suggesting female LFP in Kuwait may even be higher than administrations report. These findings suggest significantly greater female participation in the labor market than reported by international organizations, contradicting stereotypical views of disempowered Middle Eastern women - a view perhaps too often accepted without question by western research and society. Implications of research show potential for growth in the Kuwaiti female labor market within the private sector.