Lifting Environmental Barriers to Employment


Raul Lieberwirth
Transportation, safety concerns, and gender-safe spaces are barriers to employment for many females in MENA. Entrepreneurs are making significant strides in solving these problems.

Solutions that tackle environmental barriers to employment are making significant strides in the women’s economic empowerment space. Transportation, safety concerns, and gender-safe spaces are issues currently being addressed by a variety of problem-solvers in MENA and Pakistan.

One organization, Souktel, operating in Palestine, is leveraging technology in order to enable women to more easily connect with employers. Souktel has developed an SMS-based job search platform that is customized for use by women.

“Traditional families often don’t allow women to search for jobs in person, and internet cafes are usually dominated by men, leaving female job-seekers with few resources for finding work,” Lana Hijazi, founder of Souktel, said. But through Souktel and any mobile phone, job seekers can create “mini-CVs” as text messages that include basic data about their skills and location. Employers also upload mini-job ads to the Souktel database, enabling job seekers to search for opportunities from their own phones.

Unsafe public transportation is often cited by women in MENA and Pakistan as a key reason for why they are unable to seek employment, despite the desire to work. Busanti, operating in Pakistan, provides women-only buses that enable women to commute in safely and without harassment. Fares can be paid via a “smart card” that can also be subsidized by employers. As an added benefit, the bus also provides essential health-education videos during the transportation.

Similar strategies are emerging across MENA. For instance, Banet Taxi in Beirut, Lebanon is a women-only taxi service—the passengers of the candy-pink vehicles are exclusively female, and so are the drivers. Similar services have cropped up in Iran, Egypt and Kuwait. However, Saudi Arabia, notorious for banning women from driving, is still lacking in solutions. Public transportation remains extremely limited, and taxis are too expensive for all but the wealthiest of travelers. Last year, the government also banned the hailing of taxis from the street, further restricting women’s already limited ability to get to and from work.