What 3 Government Actions Needed to Foster “Dignity”?
Women leaders in the Arab world were asked what three government actions are needed to foster “dignity.” The responses from women in four key Arab countries covered everything from disarming militias to imposing penalties for sexual harassment and more equitable tax laws.
With almost one in four Iraqis living in poverty, Iraqi women wanted more economic assistance for widows and orphans. In Egypt, women called for overhauling the bloated bureaucracy. They also called for a minimum wage that covers basics needs.
Lebanese women wanted fair employment practices. One female activist suggested that the government form a body to monitor gender discrimination. A Yemeni woman urged her government to tackle corruption. The following are the women’s responses arranged by country.
Iraq is a rich country with a budget that exceeded $100 billion in 2012. Yet the poverty rate is 23 percent, according to the United Nations. Iraq has large numbers of widows and orphans, poor quality education and high levels of corruption. The government needs to:
- Conduct studies on regional job market needs and available resources to identify areas where jobs can be created. The government should also promote local goods by imposing high tariffs on similar imports. The government needs to establish vocational centers aiming at enrolling the unemployed to learn skills to produce such products.
Re-establish collaborative centers where the unemployed can pull their resources together and engage in a line business. Government intuitions should give priority of purchase to those centers to ensure sustainability.
Rethink the idea of “giveaways”, like salaries paid to street children, orphans and widows, and implement a rights-based social welfare system. The impoverished will save face by claiming their rights rather than begging for a government handout.
Iraqi government policies in this field are weak. The monthly grant for a woman without a breadwinner is sometime less than $100. Only women, mainly widows, who are registered at the Ministry of Women Affairs receive this benefit. There also are attempts to allocate low-cost housing to the poor and widows. Also, the Housing Bank loans money to help families to create home. But the government needs to increase funding and access to these types of programs.
The Iraqi government should first invest in infrastructure, healthcare, education, and housing to provide Iraqis with dignity. It should then seek foreign investment to create employment opportunities for the youth. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the U.S. Agency for International Development have funded small projects and supported the private sector.
But Iraq needs vocational training for the unemployed. The International Labor Organization could assist with this. The government should also improve women’s access to facilities in the workplace, since women are more than half of Iraq’s population.
The government can encourage the idea of dignity by adopting a human rights-based approach to economic decision-making. The government should prioritize quality education, adequate healthcare, the right to housing, and sanitation. It should set a minimum wage that allows citizens to maintain minimum living standards. This would curb practices such as the brain drain of qualified teachers to other countries where they are adequately compensated. The government also needs to allocate additional resources to job creation.
The faltering economy lies at the heart of most of Egypt’s problems. The government needs to respect the rule of law and maintain a balance of power between the three branches of government (executive, legislative and judiciary). Impartial checks and balances on these branches would ensure balance.
A democratic foundation would encourage the private sector to partner with the government and inject much-needed investments to create jobs. The public sector is bloated and inefficient, so the government needs to incentivize the private sector to share some of the burden, particularly in crucial industries such as tourism (Egypt’s main source of income), agriculture (to guarantee food security) and manufacturing to maintain a healthy balance sheet for the country.
In the short term, Egypt’s government needs to enact politically sensitive reforms including:
Reviewing the tax laws, especially the income tax law. Some deductions for high-income earners should be cut, without affecting the lower and middle classes
Applying the minimum and maximum wage policy so the highest wage won’t exceed 35 times the minimum wage
Providing support to food subsidy programs to ensure full access for the impoverished
In the long term, Egypt needs reform-minded leadership with vision, ambition and charisma to persuade government institutions to:
Restructure the inefficient public sector and bureaucracy
Support the private sector, particularly small and medium enterprises to ensure credit availability and a broad umbrella of institutional support
Improve education in public schools to produce a skilled workforce
Boost trade relations with new and old partners, attract foreign investment and seek out new markets for exports
Increase civic engagement in public policy to improve accountability
The Egyptian government’s top priorities are to save the economy and implement social justice. In the short term, the government needs to provide adequate security, ensure fair trials and satisfy people’s basic needs. Society would be more stable if reforms create jobs and improve access to goods and services.
The Lebanese government can provide its citizens with dignity when it takes the responsibility for the state's security. If the Lebanese Army disarms the other armed groups, people will feel more secure and political clashes would not break out so often.
The government can also encourage a sense of self-worth by assigning top executive and ministerial positions according to merit and not connections or political fellowship. A more equitable system of appointments could motivate Lebanese to improve their skills, which would improve the national economy.
Finally, the government needs to provide basic needs like electricity, clean water, free education and pensions. More Lebanese would choose to stay in their country rather than seek better living conditions abroad.
The Lebanese government needs to do three things on the economic front:
Impose penalties for sexual harassment and other types of abuse that women are subjected to in the workplace.
Provide incentives to companies and organizations that exemplify gender equity and equality in the workplace. Indicators could include the percentage of female employees, number of women in executive/authority roles, equity of salaries paid to women compared to men, etc.
Create a task force within relevant governmental ministries that would monitor and support the progress of women. This body would provide policy recommendations and action plans to ensure women retain their dignity in the workplace.
The Yemeni government needs to tackle corruption and set up a more transparent economy that benefits all sectors of society. The government should also better utilize existing human resources and improve education. This strategy has proven successful in other developing countries. Reforms should also ensure the effective participation of women— half of the population—in the work force to build the economy.