A Poverty Profile
National NGO Commission for Population and Development
by Professor Mahassen Mostafa Hassanin
the ICSW Civil Society Forum on Poverty
February 11, 1999, New York
2.1 Women and Poverty In Egypt
2.2 Policies Adopted by the Government
to Alleviate Poverty
2.3 NGOs' Role in Alleviating Poverty
IV. Social integration
4.1 Women's Vulnerability
4.2 Female/Male (Gender) Gap In Egypt
4.3 Policies to Enhance Women's Status
V. Priorities for Action
It was indicated in the Social Summit that
the aim of social integration is to create a society for all,
in which each individual, with rights and responsibilities, has an active
role to play. Such a society must be based on respect for human rights
and fundamental freedoms, cultural and religious diversity, social justice
and satisfaction of the needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups,
democratic participation and the rule of law.
In trying to identify and analyse the role of governmental and non-governmental
organisations in social integration and welfare, one should focus on their
policies, objectives and priorities. Therefore, this paper focuses on:
- social integration and
- priorities for action.
conferences such as the World Summit for Children (New York, 1990), the
UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), the
World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, 1993), the Global Conference
on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (Bridgetown,
1994), the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo,
1994), and the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) sponsored
co-operation between governmental and non-governmental organisations based
on a spirit of partnership that puts the needs, rights and aspirations
of the people as the central focus of policy.
The Social Summit was important because
it gave priority to the inclusion of social aspects of development in
the agenda of governments as well as civil society. The Summit, for instance,
affirmed that economic development, social development, and environmental
protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable
development. It indicated that social development is central to the needs
and aspirations of the people and to the responsibilities of the governments
and to all sectors of civil society.
The Social Summit Programme Of Action stressed
the necessity to create a favourable climate to realise social development
that depends on a favourable national and international economic, political
and legal environment. Security and development are not available to achieve
justice among people. The world order has been stabilised economically
and politically through the commitment to endorse the market economy policy
and limitation of governmental intervention, and commitment to democratic
principles. However, at the social level, stability is still not very
obvious. In spite of globalisation and dominance of free trade in the
market, social justice has still not been reached.
of economic reform and structural adjustment programmes (ERSAP) in developing
countries has been accompanied by poverty,
unemployment and social disintegration. In Egypt, because the economic
reform was relatively slow and gradual, adverse effects were not acute.
When the government of Egypt adopted ERSAP it kept some forms of social
justice such as the social insurance umbrella and special programmes for
providing soft loans for small and micro enterprises through the Social
Fund for Development. However, the gradual abolition of subsidies by the
state and the shrinking of government spending led to a temporary recession,
increasing social inequality and marginalisation of some vulnerable groups
especially women and youth.
Since the late eighties, the government
of Egypt concentrated on several objectives such as creating a stable,
decentralised and outward oriented market economy over the medium term,
supporting private sector activities, reducing the role of public sector
in production activities, implementing market-based and decontrol measures
(such as reducing non-tariff barriers and import tariffs, decontrolling
prices, exchange rates and the interest rate and, deregulated and simplifying
private investment). It soon realised that social aspects and human development
are as important as economic development, and that people should be the
centre of both economic and social development in order to achieve sustainability.
Since the ultimate goal of social development
is to improve and develop the quality of life for all people, it involves,
inter alia, active and positive intervention by civil society. Methods
that lead to social development include developing skills and building
capacity of human resources, giving equal opportunity for resources and
services and securing gender equality to be able to positively participate
in the development process, and in issues that preoccupy local communities.
Equality and equity among males and females represents the cornerstone
of this new development paradigm which concentrates on sustainability
of the development process and this requires changing the prevailing social
paradigm, and re-educating men and women on how to work together to create
a more humanitarian world order. Arab NGOs have proved their effectiveness
in providing the poor with services. However, few of these Arab NGOs adopt
an approach that is based on complete participation or equality between
Social programmes have to meet basic needs
of those who live in poverty and enable them to participate fully in society
and ensure them access to means of production so that they may take control
of their own destinies. Social development also aims at removing rural-urban
and regional imbalances. An integral part of social development is rural
development which implies redistribution of excess cultivable land to
the landless and small farmers.
Also included in social development are
programmes for universal literacy, comprehensive preventive health measures
as well as facilities for control and treatment of diseases and for housing.
Social development is only possible through the active participation of
people in the process of making political and economic decisions involving
their welfare. Evidently, unless poverty and associated problems are resolved,
all efforts made to usher in social development are likely to misfire.
Viewed from any angle, NGOs provide a true peoples imperative
to cope with poverty. In fact, they signify the never-ending human quest
to overcome various challenges.
Recently, a number of developing countries
have utilised new initiatives that intend to solve the deteriorating standards
of living among vulnerable groups. These initiatives shifted the direction
of social and economic development towards the community. The ideological
stand for these
initiatives stems from the need for uplifting indecent conditions by considering
In both economic and social terms the most
productive policies and investments are those that empower people to maximise
their capacities, resources and opportunities. Social policies are not
to be viewed as distinct from economic and financial policies with the
only aim to compensate negative consequences of the latter. On the contrary,
the three policies social, economic and financial should
be integrated from the very outset. Economic growth alone is not enough
for equality in income distribution and that ultimately leads to concentration
of wealth in the hands of the few.
The Egyptian government adopted a strategic
plan until the year 2017 with high priorities for the causes of poverty,
unemployment and social development, including the creation of appropriate
economic growth, political and legal conditions that favour equality and
equity among the people. The strategic plan focused on the immediate needs
of the poor especially women, children, elderly, and unemployed youth.
NGOs and civil society are partners in assisting and complementing the
work of the government to implement its plan where government resources
are not sufficient to attain targets of improving health and educational
services. NGOs can find ways and means to mobilise financial, human and
material resources of the private sector as well as reduce the cost of
services or provide them in a more effective way. The flexibility of NGOs
and their accessibility to the grassroots offer them advantages in rendering
better public services.
Poverty has been at the heart of two important
international conferences. The first was the ICPD, Cairo, 1994, and the
second was the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development, 1995. In
Copenhagen, governments committed themselves to the goal of eradicating
poverty as an ethical, social, political, and economic imperative
Recent data from the UN show that one of
every three persons in the world experiences drastic levels of poverty.
There are over one billion poor people (20% of the worlds population)
living in absolute poverty. They lack basic social services such as health
services, education, access to clean water and food. In addition, 120
million people are unemployed as we approach the year 2000.
In the early 1990s, world development thinking
was preoccupied with the question of alleviating poverty in the developing
countries. At present it is estimated that a quarter of the developing
countries population still live in human poverty. Poverty is not
about low income or expenditure or even the failure to meet basic needs,
but about human capability failure.
With regard to Arab countries, statistics
show that in 1990, 73 million people were below the poverty line and 10
million suffered from malnutrition. A study to assess poverty in the Middle
East and North Africa (MENA) region shows that poverty is decreasing in
Tunisia and to a lesser degree in Morocco, while it is increasing in Lebanon,
Sudan and Jordan. This study reveals that there is a strong empirical
evidence that economic growth is highly correlated to poverty.
Low economic growth unequivocally means
a deterioration in the living standards of the poor. The countries recording
the most successful achievements in poverty reduction were those characterised
by rapid economic growth. However, rapid economic growth alone is not
necessarily translated into poverty reduction as it should be linked to
growth of incomes of the poor.
The relation between education and poverty
is an inverse relation usually poverty decreases with higher levels
of education. It is noted that poor women are usually illiterate. However,
in Sudan, it is noted that households headed by individuals with intermediate
and primary education were better off in terms of total household income,
than those households headed by individuals with higher educational qualifications.
This may be attributed to engagement of those with intermediate or primary
education in the informal sector and/or performing more than one job.
Political will is important to address poverty,
and it is necessary to establish a governmental entity entrusted with
planning, co-ordinating, monitoring and evaluating different actions undertaken
by governmental agencies as well as non-governmental organisations, and
dealing with both development and welfare approaches. Deprivation definitions
and measurements are not limited to income but they include other aspects
of life such as the proportion of children at age five who are underweight,
the proportion of births unattended by a physician, trained nurses or
midwives, the proportion of female population age six and over who have
In Egypt, a careful review of the available
poverty incidence estimates indicate that the incidence and depth of poverty
has increased fairly rapidly in the 1980s. This incidence of poverty has
continued to increase, but at a slower rate, up to the mid-1990s, while
the depth of poverty remained the same. Egypt: Human Development
Report in 1996 showed that around 13.7 million Egyptians live
below the poverty line. Poverty prevalence (as measured by the percentage
of population living below the poverty line) is 22.9%; it is slightly
lower in urban areas than in rural areas (22.5% versus 23.3%). Among the
poor, 7.4% of Egypt's population (about 4.4 million) lived below the core
poverty line, 25% are moderately poor and 52% are non-poor. Egypt's poverty
profile reveals that the poor are usually either occupied in marginal
activities and low-wage work or unemployed. Most of them are illiterate
or of low educational level. Although there has been some progress, these
improvements are not satisfactory, either because the pace of development
is very slow or setbacks have emerged in some areas like the increase
in percentage of malnourished children. Moreover, a large proportion of
rural population is still deprived of basic social services. The challenge
facing Egypt has been how to proceed vigorously with macroeconomics and
structural reforms, while averting their contractionary impact, i.e. enhancing
growth and at the same time incorporating the poor into the growth process.
2.1 Women and Poverty In
In the phase of integration in the global
economic order, womens position has not been developed. There are
some indicators that revealed that their position remained the same or
even deteriorated in some cases.
The case of women in poverty is of major
significance not only because of their intensely restricted life chances,
but more because of the increasing number of female-headed households,
that reached 12.6%, and the extension of their poverty to their children.
Child labour is familiar in Egypt because of poverty. In very poor areas
50% to 70% of poor families depend on children income. Children work at
8 years old and their wages are less than those of men by 25% to 33%.
Working hours for children are 7-9 hours a day and in some cases it is
extended to 12 hours a day.
The percentage of women heading households
is used as a poverty indicator based on sex. Reform programmes tend to
work to the benefit of men than to the benefit of women. Macroeconomic
policies concentrate on the reallocation of resources to achieve both
stability and growth rather than on microeconomic issues and gender differentiation.
Development programmes usually address males while neglecting females.
Women beneficiaries of small credits in Egypt amount to 20% of the total.
The statistics for women are as follows: illiteracy rate: 62.5% (compared
to 34.6% for males); reading and writing: 14.9%; primary education: 6.1%;
intermediate education: 14.7%; and university education: 1.4%. These data
show the vulnerability of women as a result of poor educational level.
The logical sequence of expansion in female
education is the opening up of employment opportunities for women. In
Egypt, the percentage of women in the labour force to the total labour
force amounted to 22.5% and their economic activity rate reached 13.7%
in 1993; while educated women, aged 15, were 37% and their income did
not exceed 23%.
A large percentage of the poor especially
poor women work without pay in their households, or work in other
families as servants or cooks (the percentage is 40%). 70% of the servants
are paid on a daily basis. This means that in case of absence or illness
or any other reason, they will not be paid. 60% work as servants in houses
three times per week in more than one house. None of them enjoy any social
The Empowerment of Women indicator is measured
by womens capability to occupy decision-making posts. Egyptian women
in Parliament were 2.2%; 16% were in administrative posts, and 28% in
professional and technical posts, and they only enjoy 23% of the total
Indicators of womens health status
reveal their disadvantageous situations. Maternal mortality rate is as
high as 174 per 10,000 live births, and life expectancy is 67.2 years.
The high incidence of maternal mortality is due to the prevalence of malnutrition
among females, which is aggravated by poverty. In some cases, the health
of the girl child is of little concern to the family.
Opportunity for the poor to obtain health
services are limited. Poor areas are far away from health centres or emergency
units. Family planning services are in only 40% of poor areas, where chronic
diseases and infant and child morbidity spread as a consequence of deteriorating
environmental surroundings. Only 40%-60% of poor areas are provided with
potable water through public taps.
The 1996 Human Development Report,
shows that female-headed households earn lower incomes than male-headed
households. The average annual income of female-headed households was
only 79% of the corresponding average for male-headed households and 81%
of the overall average for all households. The gender gap is less important
as regards annual expenditure. Female-headed households' expenditure amounted,
on the average, to about 85% of the expenditure level of male-headed households,
and 87% of the overall average for the whole sample.
It is interesting to compare the gender
gap in the poor with the gap in the non-poor, taking into consideration
rural-urban differentials. In terms of income, the gender gap appears
to be much wider for poor households than for non-poor households, and
also much wider for rural households than for urban households in both
groups. The gender gap is much narrower for urban households where the
average income of female-headed households is as high as of male-headed
households. The same pattern is observed when the gender gap is expressed
in terms of expenditure levels with the expenditure gender gap consistently
narrower than the corresponding income gap.
Children often have to withdraw from school
in response to income deficiency. Here there is no discrimination, in
that sex may not always be the sole major determinant of which child is
to be withdrawn first from school. The decision may depend on which child
may have a higher probability of obtaining a well-paid job faster.
2.2 Policies Adopted by
the Government to Alleviate Poverty
Social Fund for Development (SFD) was established by a Presidential Decree
in 1990, in collaboration with the World Bank and UNDP, the European Union
and three Arab Funds, mainly to mobilise national and international resources
to be used for human development. SFD could secure US$1,550 million donations
and soft loans. It facilitates and supports the economic reform programme
and mitigates its adverse effects on vulnerable and low income population
groups. It helps to mitigate poverty and reduce unemployment by providing
new job opportunities through financing small enterprises and by offering
donations for community development and infrastructure works.
SFD addresses structural social problems
through further employment creation and income generation and through
stimulation of institutional relations which would strengthen civil society
and provide increased social awareness. One of the SFD's mandate is to
activate local NGOs and build their capacities. It also helped make poverty
alleviation a main priority in the national development strategy. SFD,
contrary to some concepts, is not only a poverty programme. It covers
three national priorities: poverty, economic development and employment.
ERSAP was successful in economically moving
the country forward. Economic growth was considered the most important
engine to create job opportunities and generate resources to alleviate
poverty. However the social sector has not been exposed to the same level
of efforts. There is still a need to focus on social development as a
high national priority by holding a national conference on social development
and through a strong and permanent SFD that can help to improve social
development in Egypt, through various tested mechanisms, that made the
World Bank and the European Union rank it as the best social fund among
55 social funds in the world.
of Insurance and Social Affairs
Ministry is directly involved in alleviating poverty through its social
and pension programmes or indirectly through the large number of NGOs
which it supervises and supports. The Ministry also supervises the Social
Nasser Bank, which is the institution that oversees and manages the funds
of a large number of Zakat (Islamic charity) committees. The Ministry
also co-operates with the Social Fund for Development (SFD) which finances
micro and small enterprises for the unemployed and for productive families.
Productive Families Project (PFP)
This is a socially-oriented national project which was established in
1964. The project is managed at the national level by the Productive Families'
Society with branches in all the 26 governorates. Beneficiaries of the
PFP from 1992 to 1996 were about one million families. The Project's objective
is to develop economic resources for the Egyptian family through mobilising
the potentialities of its members by engaging them in profitable environmental
home industries to ameliorate their living standards and help them face
socio-economic hardships. PFP also provides in-kind services, equipment,
tools and raw material needed to run a project as well as the loans necessary
to establish and implement a project and to market products.
Social Solidarity Programme
In order to cope with the Economic Reform Programme and its implications,
it was deemed necessary to apply policies that aim to alleviate the burden
falling on the low-income earning categories. Accordingly, the Ministry
of Insurance and Social Affairs adopted the Mubarak Social Solidarity
Programme which aims at higher rates of human development by mobilising
productive potentials through income generating projects. It basically
targets families whose income is less than LE 100 monthly, the handicapped,
the disabled, people with permanent serious sickness, and unemployed youth.
the Social Nasser's Bank Towards Social Equity in Egypt
Bank was established in 1971 with the objective of expanding social equity
among citizens. In fulfillment of this objective the bank gives loans
to individuals, specifically those with low income, and grants and aid
to those deserving them. Presently, financial resources of the Bank come
from profits arising from banking activities, investments, Zakat (religious
charity) money, donations and wills. The Bank is distinguished from any
other banking or financial organisation in that it is the only institution
authorised by law to receive Zakat and donations, and to disburse these
monies to the various welfare and charity sections in favour of the poor
and individuals of low income. The bank allocates LE 350 million a year.
The Bank also gives loans to the poor handicapped
to run income-generating projects. It also offers social loans, without
interest, to enable individuals to meet their social obligations such
as marriage, sickness, emergencies, and earthquakes, and they are to be
repaid over three years. The Bank also supports building houses, gives
loans for village development to help transfer villages into productive
units, and offers other social services such as funding for pilgrimages.
In addition, the Bank undertakes banking
and investment and it supports the establishment of new small enterprises
by giving loans at 4% interest rate which is much less than that prevailing
in the market, on condition that the project yields social returns. The
Bank uses funds from the Social Fund for Development to finance some of
is another national initiative that has been implemented in the last five
years in Egypt. Through the provision of small loans, a beneficiary will
conduct his/her own investment based on personal choices and abilities.
The objectives of the project are to:
- reduce the rate of unemployment
- facilitate economic growth
on the local levels;
- encourage youth to be part
of the solution of community problems; and
- empower communities by identifying
needs and encourage solution that are based on available local resources.
Shorouk Programme of Rural Development
In 1994, the Ministry of Rural Development initiated a rural development
programme called Shorouk assisted by USAID. The Programme premise is that
rural development is a public effort that implies mobilising people to
participate in community development. The main objective of the Programme
is to bridge the development gap between rural and urban areas ill Egypt.
2.3 NGOs' Role in Alleviating
are expected to identify and meet peoples emerging and changing
needs, provide a training ground for participants to learn the basics
of democratic practice, enable people to appreciate the value of transparency
in an organised set up, develop cost effective models of services
which can be replicated by others, reach out to the unreachable, and tap
the latent resources within the community, thus generating an ongoing
means of support which the state can almost never hope to offer, except
possibly, in an emergency.
With new economic conditions and ERSAP,
the government of Egypt and the public are increasingly looking to NGOs
to catalyse self-help projects, mobilise local resources and organise
essential services at low cost to an increasing number of the population
since rapid urbanisation has put a great burden on public resources, especially
with the expanding demand for basic services.
Along with the government, NGOs are needed
to join in the battle against poverty. Egyptian NGOs have had a strong
presence over the years. It is estimated that there are 14,600 NGOs registered
with the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA); 371 NGOs are registered as
central NGOs: 30% in social support and charity; 28% in religion and culture;
24% in local community development; 6% in child care; and 6% in family
care. Egyptian NGOs suffer from different constraints such as weak managerial
capabilities, limited funding (33% of the total number of NGOs have budgets
which do not exceed LE 5,000), legal and judicial constraints to conduct
fund raising campaigns. However, Law 32 of 1964 is currently being reviewed
to enable NGOs to freely participate in Egypt's fight against poverty,
with less governmental control and more transparency.
NGOs commitment to serve their societies,
with their history of social services and relief efforts, qualify them
to identify basic community needs. Banks may not be able to provide this
social dimension which is as important as access to credit. Moreover,
NGOs are familiar with the people, the culture, the institutions and the
environmental constraints that operate. Success in NGO micro-credit programmes
is due to the fact that the poor are not considered a liability, but an
asset in the fight against poverty.
Furthermore, Egyptian NGOs have a long history
targeted towards women and children. They have worked hard to provide
literacy programmes, since the prevalence of illiteracy appeared to be
the major constraint against female empowerment. NGOs try to develop training
programmes for women in order to help them acquire skills for income-generating
activities. The traditional approach to poverty which depends on charitable
activities has given way to a development-oriented approach that emphasizes
Development Associations (CDAs)
1996, Egypt witnessed a growth of new initiatives in upgrading and improving
the living standards of the poor in rural and urban development. In all
these initiatives whether locally or donor driven, the main players were
NGOs and CDAs.
40% of local NGOs are involved in alleviating
poverty and encouraging youth and women to be actively involved in income-generating
activities to increase family income and improve their standards of living.
NGOs designed programmes to help unemployed women, men and youth through
small and micro-credit loans to establish their own small enterprises.
About 309 NGOs, out of a sample of 800 NGOs working in community development,
had active roles in economic development and in alleviating poverty.
Development Association in Gezerait Shandawil, Sohag Governorate, Upper
The Association works at a
The main activities of this Association are:
- training girls in handicrafts
and sewing (1250 females);
- providing loans for women
and young girls after training to establish their small micro enterprises;
- offering literacy classes
- running a family planning
centre (1,000 women); and
- providing a nursery (150
Association for Community Development in Bit El-Abed, North Sinai Governorate
The Association was established in 1984.
It is active in local community development, and offers cultural, scientific,
religious services, and social assistance. It provides vocational training,
education to women and girls, child care and health care, and it helps
poor families to participate in small and micro enterprises to generate
income for their families.
Egyptian Red Crescent Society (General Centre),
Its objectives are to:
- provide family planning
and reproductive health services;
- raise awareness in sexual
- advocate for women's rights
and childrens rights;
- provide health services;
- raise environment awareness;
- provide literacy classes;
- establish partnership with
the government and other NGOs.
The project aims to organise
the community into functional entities able to plan, monitor and manage
different sub-projects and activities. The emphasis on community participation
and involvement was mainly to ensure the success and sustainability of
the project. It also aimed at improving the living standards of the families
for these communities through provision of social services such as health,
education, and communication services.
The poorest of the poor cannot afford the
luxury of unemployment and have to find some work as a means of livelihood.
A very strong link between poverty and unemployment is thus evident. In
a context of increasing unemployment and widening poverty, particularly
in societies where no effective social safety nets exist, the role of
productive and gainful employment as the conduit out of poverty becomes
According to the 1996 Human Development
Report, unemployment in Egypt, in 1994, 1995, 1996 was 8.4%, 10.6%, and
The unemployment rate varied according to sex, indicating that unemployed
females numbered 24.1% while the total was 11.3% in 1995. The unemployment
rate for females was at least double the total rate, and the poor suffered
higher level of unemployment. Unemployment rates varied according to age
groups: 29.2% in 1995 among adults (15-29). It also differed according
to levels of education: university graduates entering the labour market
for the first time totalled 11.9%; those possessing intermediate education
were at 31.5%. This shows a negative social rate of return to education.
Unemployment varied also according to region: in rural areas, it reached
10.7% and in urban areas it was 11.9% in 1995.
Regardless of the debate over the
actual level of unemployment, there is consensus that open unemployment
in Egypt has become structural, with possible grave social
and economic consequences, and that it needs mobilisation of governmental
agencies and NGOs to combat it. Unemployment is relatively low in very
poor areas. However, the majority of the labour force coming from these
areas do not work full time because work is seasonal and they are involved
in marginal activities that do not need specific skills such as manual
agricultural work, domestic services or street vending.
The unemployment rate is known to be high
where the population growth rate is high. When addressing unemployment
there are facts that should be considered such as: unemployment may increase
in the transitional period of ERSAP and that small and medium enterprises,
which are labour-intensive, should be supported by the government and
social funds to provide soft loans, training and other facilities. Small
enterprises should be feeders or complementary to big industries to be
able to survive. Franchising, on a large scale, is a practical mechanism
for small enterprises. Social funds and safety nets should be permanent
and not ad hoc projects to be able to address unemployment and alleviate
poverty on a long-term basis.
Combating unemployment is connected with
economic growth. However there is a social dimension that should be considered
stability and evade social disturbances. Big entrepreneurs should be re-educated
to be aware that their support to small enterprises is not charity, but
rather a guarantee for their survival. The Egyptian economy is widely
acclaimed to have successfully completed the prescribed stabilisation
phase and is, by some accounts, poised to embark on a solid growth trajectory.
Unemployment data in other Arab countries
is generally more deficient than in Egypt. Estimates of the level of unemployment
in other Arab countries in the 1990s include: 6% in Syria, 11-21% in Morocco,
12% in Yemen, 15% in Tunisia, 16% in the north of Sudan, 17% in Jordan,
21% in Algeria, 33% in Iraq, and 18-51% in the West Bank and Gaza. Even
in the Arab Gulf countries, governments are known to have been confronting
the problem of finding employment opportunities for new entrants into
the labour force, particularly educated women. For the Arab world as a
whole, an overall open unemployment rate of at least 15% around 1995 seems
reasonable. This corresponds to more than 12 million unemployed persons,
mostly poor (often educated) youth.
By contrast, in spite of the constraints
placed on government employment under ERSAP, government services and the
informal sector proved to be more reliable generators of employment. By
definition, the necessary stabilisation phase of ERSAP led to lower levels
of job creation. If growth does not pick up later during or after the
adjustment phase, unemployment is bound to mount further. Moreover, the
structural adjustment paradigm has a large capital bias built on the assumption
that only large capital can benefit from economies of scale, afford to
innovate, and hence raise productivity and spur economic growth. Since
structural adjustment has a built-in bias to favour large capital, it
unavoidably puts informal activity at a disadvantage. Under ERSAP large
capital is given all the incentives (taxes, holidays, land and infrastructure
at subsidised prices, credits on easy terms and even accommodating labour
Moreover, there is the weakness of remedial
measures (social safety nets and social funds), that are meant to counteract
the negative impact of ERSAP, unemployment included. All countries in
the region have a semblance of social safety nets in place. But the structure,
and effectiveness, of the safety net system vary considerably from one
Arab country to another. Tunisia is known to have a rather comprehensive
and relatively effective one. The social safety net system in the Sudan
is famous for its Zakat component. In Egypt, the SFD is a special case
as its objectives are primarily achieved by promoting income and employment
generating activities, providing basic social services, and enhancing
local participation and awareness.
Social safety nets and social funds, even
if they prove to be effective tools of social protection of the poor in
the region, cannot be instruments of large scale employment generation,
the basic road to poverty eradication. They only complement the efforts
exerted by the government, the private sector and the civil society.
The dearth of skills in the region is also
driven by the absence of a dynamic training, and research-training system.
Such a system is essential, particularly in a period of rapid transformation
in the economic structure. Social funds can help in training and retraining,
in such a quality that the market needs, with new technologies and innovative
Social integration in its comprehensive
definition include all members and groups of society. The vulnerable groups
in society are the people most in need of social care especially the poor,
the unemployed, women, children, youth, handicapped and elderly people.
The concept of equity and social justice
is also an element in social integration. It has a special relevance to
the future economic growth and human development in the Arab World. UNDP
held a forum for the Arab Region on Governance for Social Development
in Beirut, 1997, to look at ways in which the Arab countries arrive at
rules and guiding principles of social organisation. Over 100 representatives
of Arab governmental and non-governmental organisations participated in
this regional workshop. They arrived at important conclusions that can
be summarised as follows:
- the need to acknowledge
the existence of social problems, including poverty;
- the need to agree on acceptable
standards in the area of social development;
- the need to build up institutions
that allow broad popular participation, the diversity of views in formulating
national political and development agenda;
- the need to take into account
the comparative advantages of the state, civil society and the market,
and the establishing of a true synergy among these three social institutions:
move at all levels, national and local, towards a more open, participatory,
self learning system of governance;
- the need to move the state
away from the position of the main provider of social services to the
position of guarantor of the overall environment conducive to social
development that is free from corruption and is built on social justice,
participation, transparency, and accountability; and
- the need to move away from
targeting, mobilising the beneficiaries of social
services to their full involvement at all stages of delivery of such
services, from design to evaluation.
the dawn of the new millennium, what has always been morally wrong (i.e.
lack of social justice), has become unsustainable from the political,
economic and ecological point of view.
4.1 Women's Vulnerability
Vulnerability of women is a broad concept
that is usually associated with the feminisation of poverty.
Feminisation of poverty is a new concept aimed at expressing socio-economic
inequalities that women might be suffering in different societies. It
argues that, other things kept constant, women tend to be poorer than
men in the same socio-economic conditions. Poverty of females intensifies
gender based inequalities particularly in the distribution of development
fruits and sacrifices.
In Egypt, womens indoor activities
play an important role in supporting the household's income and living
standards. Nevertheless, these activities are neither paid nor counted
for in the national income accounts. This leads to underestimation of
womens contribution to the overall development of the national economy
as a whole. At the household level, whether this contribution is appreciated
or not depends on educational and cultural attainment of the family and
the sound interpretation of religious and moral values as well as the
legislation regulating female/male relationships.
In Egypt, female vulnerability in the labour
market takes many forms. The pattern of women in the development process
is controversial. Women devote nearly all their income to the welfare
of their family and still have to comply with the constraints of their
gender role in the society. This makes the cost of their participation
in the development process rather excessive. With the increasing need
for cash in recession periods when job opportunities are given more frequently
to men, women tend to move towards the informal sector. There, they are
also faced with competition from the unemployed. The type of work women
choose in the informal sector is of low standard and with low pay, and
their willingness to accept these conditions reflects their need and their
perception of limited social support.
4.2 Female/Male (Gender)
Gap In Egypt
It is surprising to note that, despite the
fact that women make up nearly half of the population in Egypt, there
is little knowledge about the real contribution of women in the work force,
particularly in the informal sector. The participation of women in the
labour market is underestimated due to a bias against unpaid employment
and social attitudes that undervalue the significance of womens
social life in general.
Statistics revealed the female/male gaps
in education, labour force and unemployment. The gender gap between males
and females shows females as a percentage of males and the differences
between them in education and labour force. In primary, preparatory and
secondary education the enrollment gap improved from 79.7%, 77.4%, 73.6%
in 1990 to 81.7%, 81.4, 81.7 in 1994/95 respectively. There is no doubt
that there have been substantial increases over time in the educational
attainment of both men and women. Between 1960 and 1990, the gender gap
in literacy improved from 30% to 55% and in combined
primary and secondary education enrollment improved from 55% to 75%. Although
women participation in labour force increased (female/male gap in labour
force narrowed from 12.3% in 1990 to 30.7% in 1995) the unemployment among
women increased more.
4.3 Policies to Enhance
Almost 50% of the population in Egypt are
females. Women traditionally carry the responsibility for their families,
raising their sons and daughters, working inside and outside the house.
The government of Egypt, in implementation of the Beijing recommendations
and those of the Social Summit formed the National Committee of Women
with branches in governorates. The aim is to make policies regarding bridging
the gender gap in education and labour, and to defend the rights of women
and girls, providing health care, vocational training, and upgrading womens
status in general.
There are other efforts exerted by NGOs
to establish full equality and equity in all aspects of life and at every
level of society, by engaging women in small enterprises to generate income,
or through raising awareness of their rights and advocacy for equality,
but there is still a long way ahead in the recognition of equality and
participation of women in leading roles in political, economic, social
and cultural life, decision making and development. However, full participation,
on equal footing, needs greater efforts and continuity. Also, with regard
to partnership and sharing family responsibilities between husband and
wife there is a need for more advocacy among youth and couples to change
To empower poor men and women is to overcome
poverty. The poor have no capital but their labour power and creative
capabilities which should be developed. Empowering the poor, therefore,
requires that the state, being the guardian of the interests of all citizens,
adopts policies and programmes that equip them with all types of capital:
human, social, financial and physical. Subsidies should be offered by
social funds to encourage the poor to establish their own small enterprises.
Such subsidies would take the form of low interest rates, free feasible
studies, free training, and exemption of taxes for ten years.
Accumulation of human capital can be achieved through:
1. quality education
2. health care, with special attention to
provide it to girls and women;
3. employment and productivity;
4. support for small and micro enterprises;
5. development of the rural and agricultural sector; and
6. Development of institutional capacities and skills in production
state's responsibility for empowering the poor through provision of capital
does not mean, however, that the state assumes the role of direct provider
of goods and services. What is required is that the state guarantees the
provision of different forms of capital to the poor through distributive
measures. Means can be found to ensure that the private sector contributes
to this task. The private sector can be persuaded to provide free services
to the poor through pairing of free service outlets with those operating
Tax incentives could be effectively used
to encourage the private sector to behave in this socially-responsible
- Other than government,
the most significant social actor in empowering the poor could be the
civil society, and constraints on forming civil society institutions,
and on their activities, should be lifted and capacity of the sector,
for effective contribution to human development, should be built.
- Monitoring of employment
and poverty systems, in a modern way, is badly needed.
- The social safety net systems
are evidently lacking in coverage and effectiveness. These systems should
provide, in particular, an adequate unemployment compensation.
- Working towards full employment
has to be anchored in a pro-poor process of development that generates
labour-intensive growth providing productive and gainful employment
opportunities for all individuals available for work. However, the poor
need to be equipped for such employment opportunities through pro-poor
human capital accumulation by means of education, training and health
care. It is institutional reform, rather than economic growth per se,
that constitutes the heart of poor-enabling development.
- Strengthening partnership
by developing a mechanism to ensure a true partnership between the government,
and intergovernmental agencies to work together with NGOs and peoples
organisations based on participation more than observation, or consultation.
The government of Egypt has three priorities: poverty alleviation, unemployment
and economic development.
- Ensuring education for
girls and youth (males and females) who drop out of schools by increasing
the number of one-class schools or community schools in rural or urban
deprived areas to provide educational opportunities to these groups
and ensure the sustainability of this service. It is believed that improved
education of girls and women is the best way to eradicate poverty, expand
productive employment, accelerate development of the economic, social
and human resources of the country and achieve social integration.
- National programmes and
legislation should ensure equal access to credit and banking for women.
Moreover, the economic value of womens work at home could be considered
as part of the gross national product and a system to remunerate such
work should be devised.
- NGOs have better accessibility
to both the people and the government. They can convey the needs and
expectations of the people at the grassroots level, especially in remote
and unplanned areas, to the government. At the same time they can help
the government to identify real problems and amend its priorities. Strengthening
NGOs and building their capabilities and effectiveness should be a national
priority in developing plans.
- Special attention should
be given to the funding of NGOs in view of their limited resources relative
to the magnitude of the needs of the poor. NGOs will need to devote
attention to their role as catalysts to link the poor to the formal
economy i.e. view themselves as bridges between the banks and the poor
and try to fill the gap. NGOs should thus become risk takers and borrow
on behalf of the poor from the
formal institutions to which the poor have no access.
- Donor agencies (national
or international) have to assist NGOs to improve their professional
efficiency, their financial accountability and to demonstrate viability,
by training in order to have an impact on job creation in their communities.
NGOs should emulate banks in acting in a business-like manner. They
have to invest in documentation of their work to show that microloans
can cause macro changes and to prove that lending to the poor is profitable.
- Empowering NGOs to be effective
in alleviating poverty and unemployment is not only a measure to eliminate
injustice but more importantly it is a safety valve that prevents eruption
of discontent and instability.
- Developing indicators to
assess the Declaration and Programme of Action of the Social Summit
at national and regional levels is needed as an instrument for NGOs
to be able to measure the implementation and follow-up. One of the umbrella
organisations, at the national level, such as NCPD can carry out this
responsibility with its advanced infrastructure and its NGO networks
and focal points.
- Community development and
social service delivery should be enhanced because, despite the growing
role of NGOs in carrying out community development efforts in Egypt,
its capacity in this area is still limited. Women and girls should be
their main target groups and best reached in an integrated manner.
- NGOs and civil society institutions
are not strong enough or active enough to work as advocates in favour
of the poor. The main constraints are the limited institutional capacity
of NGOs and the relatively small trained staff that can implement the
innovative, successful programmes that are currently being tried. Moreover
the microcredit programmes for poor women are numerous but none of them
have been able to achieve sufficient scale to have a widespread impact.
- Establishing self employed
womens associations to enhance sustainability in poverty alleviation
programmes and womens income-earning opportunities as well as
their working environment by providing credit, training, appropriate
technology and legal services.
- In rural areas where youth
unemployment is a serious problem, opportunities to receive training
in specific productive activities related to agricultural processing
or marketing need more attention.
- Combating all forms of illiteracy
especially among women, facilitating access to data, and encouraging
research on important aspects of popular participation, will help in
identifying the underlying causes for the lack of motivation to participate
in public affairs.
Professor Mahassen Mostafa Hassanin
is Professor of demography and development
in the Institute of National Planning, Egypt. She is also the Project
Manager of NCPD Project: Support to NGOs and has published
numerous books and articles on population, development and women in Egypt.