Egypt: A Poverty Profile
National NGO Commission for Population and Development
by Professor Mahassen Mostafa Hassanin

Presentation made at –
the ICSW Civil Society Forum on Poverty
February 11, 1999, New York

I. Introduction

II. Poverty
   2.1 Women and Poverty In Egypt
   2.2 Policies Adopted by the Government to Alleviate Poverty
   2.3 NGOs' Role in Alleviating Poverty

III. Unemployment

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


I. Introduction

     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:

  • poverty;
  • unemployment;
  • social integration and welfare; and
  • priorities for action.

     International 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 social
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.

   The process 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 the sexes.

     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 community-based solutions.

      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 certain
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.


II. Poverty

     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 of humankind”.

     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 world’s 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 no education.

     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 Egypt

     In the phase of integration in the global economic order, women’s 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 umbrella.

     The Empowerment of Women indicator is measured by women’s 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 income.

     Indicators of women’s 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

     The 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.

Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs

     The 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.

The 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.

Mubarak 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.

Role of the Social Nasser's Bank Towards Social Equity in Egypt

     The 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 its enterprises.

The Youth Investment Project

     It 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 among youth;
  • 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.

The 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 Poverty

NGOs 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 training.

Community Development Associations (CDAs)

     Since 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.

Community Development Association in Gezerait Shandawil, Sohag Governorate, Upper Egypt

The Association works at a grassroots level.
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 for women;
  • running a family planning centre (1,000 women); and
  • providing a nursery (150 children).

Islamic 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), Cairo

Its objectives are to:

  • provide family planning and reproductive health services;
  • raise awareness in sexual health education;
  • advocate for women's rights and children’s rights;
  • provide health services;
  • raise environment awareness;
  • provide literacy classes; and
  • 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.


III. Unemployment

     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 crucial.

     According to the 1996 Human Development Report, unemployment in Egypt, in 1994, 1995, 1996 was 8.4%, 10.6%, and 11.3% respectively.
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 to secure
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 laws).

     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 methods.


IV. Social integration

     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.

     At 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, women’s 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 women’s 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 women’s 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 Women's Status

     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 women’s 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 attitudes.


V. Priorities for Action

      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 and training;
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 and marketing.

     The 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 for profit.

     Tax incentives could be effectively used to encourage the private sector to behave in this socially-responsible manner.

  • 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 women’s 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 women’s associations to enhance sustainability in poverty alleviation programmes and women’s 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.