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KUWAIT: New job listings website serves Arab women

January 21, 2010 |  7:15 am

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It's going to take more than pink type to close the gender gap in the Arab work world, but creating a welcoming and user-friendly job site for women is a start.

The Kuwait-based Wasm Media launched the site after its founder, Abdulmohsen Alajmi, realized not enough women were applying to work at his firm, although he knew many were qualified.

The available data corroborate Alajmi's experience. The 2009 Global Gender Gap Report, released in October by the World Economic Forum, found that in some Arab countries, including Kuwait, more women pursue higher education than men yet still make up a minority of the workforce.

"Fora9," pronounced "foras" which means "opportunities" in Arabic, seeks to rectify the imbalance by making job-hunting easier for women. Fora9 categorizes its listings by field, including medicine, marketing and information technology, to name just a few, as well as by commitment: full time, part time, long-distance and volunteer.

But apart from its sleek interface and pastel palette, it is not immediately clear why women seeking to break the glass ceiling should use Fora9 instead of existing job sites like bayt.com, currently the top online classified service in the region.

Fora9 appears to cater to women looking to work in women-only environments or professions where women have traditionally been welcome. As of Wednesday afternoon, about half the listings were for secretaries, teachers, beauty specialists and sales representatives. There were zero positions listed under finance and accounting.

Still, increased participation does not necessarily mean an integrated workplace, and many women are more likely to get a job outside the home if given the option of working in a female-friendly environment. Fora9 could prove useful to both employers and women, especially in conservative Arabian Peninsula countries where many shops and institutions are segregated by sex.

But the site does little to confront employer biases.

For example, even in the mainstream classifieds, almost all job listings for secretaries specify the female noun "sekreteera" and many ask for a picture. 

Whether compiling these listings on a single site helps women advance in the workplace is debatable. And, as the tech blog Startup Arabia points out, earlier ventures that sought to fill the same niche, such as the Sudanese site Twffaha, failed.

Fura9 has recognized the need for special job services catering to women, but for now at least, women looking to compete with men for high-powered positions might find more opportunities elsewhere.

--Meris Lutz in Beirut

Screenshot: fora9 is a job site for Arab women. Credit: Meris Lutz

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