Nagla’s cleaning lady in Alexandria, Egypt, leads a double life.
During the day, she mops and dusts, vacuums and polishes, keeping Nagla’s apartment, and those of other clients, spick and span.
In her free time, back home with her unemployed husband, she pretends to friends, and others in her community, that she is a housewife, provided for by her man.
‘She cannot admit to people in her community that she works as a cleaner, even though her husband does not want to work and is fine with her doing so,’ says Nagla, a programme officer with the Anna Lindh Foundation, and panellist at the ETF’s South Eastern Mediterranean regional Torino Process conference in Morocco.
‘There is a culture of shame. Even if you are a waiter, for example, you cannot tell your parents.’
‘There is a skills gap because trades are not valued; getting a job in an office is valued. The ‘desk’ is a very important thing in the Arab world.’
Those promoting the reform of vocational education and training (VET) policies, or supporting a shift in public awareness of the value of skills training to finding a job in Arab countries – where many university graduates face unemployment because the labour market has little demand for academic degrees but is crying out for skilled workers – need to take the shame culture into account, she believes.
A knowledge and understanding of the Arab culture of shame – as it relates to the workplace – can be an important instrument for understanding some of the findings and trends identified by Torino Process reports in Arab countries.
‘We need to keep working with small and medium sized enterprises on this issues of shame; there needs to be work at a different level – on the level of what is valued or not and what your purpose is,’ Nagla says.
She adds: ‘In Germany, where there is no shame in being a labourer, you can be a factory worker and you know you can pay the mortgage, and in 40 years you will own your home. You have perspectives.’
Responding to challenges is one of the topics on the Torino Process ‘Changing Skills for a Changing World’ agenda. Check out the action packed programme here.