Interview with Ms Nadereh Chamlou, Senior Advisor in the World Bank MENA region and principal author of the WB – MENA gender report to the Yemen Times:”We, in the Middle East and North Africa Region, can no longer afford to stay behind. We have to ad [Archives:2004/744/Reportage]

June 7 2004

Nadia Al-Saqqaf
Nadereh Chamlou is a Senior Advisor to the Chief Economist of the Middle East and North Africa Region of the World Bank. She also leads the Gender and Development agenda for the region. Mrs. Chamlou came to Yemen at the end of last month to share the recommendations and findings of the World Bank's Gender Report with the decision makers and many authorities, such as Prime Minister, al-Shura Council, the Parliament, the Women's Council, university students, civil society, some of the donors and private sector organisations and others. The report “Gender & Development in the MENA: Women in the Public Sphere” highlights the centrality of gender issues for the economic growth and development of the region. The other purpose of Mrs.Chamlou's visit is to find out what the World Bank can do specifically in Yemen and the objective is to send an assessment on Yemen and build into it what could be done in the next phase. Nadia al-Sakkaf of the Yemen Times met with Mrs. Chamlou and discussed the findings of the gender report and her visit to Yemen;

The MENA Region
The Middle East and North Africa Region of the World Bank covers the countries from Morocco to Iran and from Syria to Yemen and Djibouti. It has a very diverse set of countries, both rich and poor countries, and it has countries that are extremely resource rich and labor abundant and countries that are very poor and at the same time labor abundant.
Over the last few decades, most MENA countries have dramatically invested in their populations with generous public spending on health and education. In 2000 average spending on education reached 5.3 percent of GDP – the highest in the world – and 2.9 percent on healthcare.
Women have also been beneficiaries of these investments. Women's health and education indicators point to remarkable results in a short period of time. The average literacy rate for women in the region rose from 16.6% in 1970 to 52.5% in 2000. By the year 2000, nine girls for every ten boys were enrolled in primary schools across the region, while 74% of girls and 77% of boys were enrolled in secondary school. Today, MENA countries are well on their way to meeting one of the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the international community, which calls for bridging the gender gap in primary and secondary enrollment by 2015.
Women in MENA countries are also living longer and healthier lives. Their life expectancy has increased by ten years since 1980, largely due to better healthcare and a fall in maternal mortality. The expansion of women's education also contributed to the dramatic decline in fertility rates from 6.2 in 1980 to 3.3 in 2000.

Yet gains in women's health and education, with as much as 63% of university students being female in some countries, have not translated into commensurate gains in employment. While the rate of participation of women in the labor force in MENA has increased during the last three decades from less than 23% in 1970 to 32% in 2000, it still ranks among the lowest in the world.
By looking at the MENA region as a whole, there are a number of similar problems that are common across the region. All the MENA countries suffer from a high rate of unemployment. The countries of the region have had very high population growth and about 70% of the population, that means two out of three, is below the age of 30. And unemployment is affecting the young people much more than any other region and at a higher rate than experienced before. In 2000, MENA's labor force totalled some 104 million workers, a figure expected to reach 146 million in 2010 and 185 million by 2020.
Creating work for today's unemployed workers and future, first-time job-seekers will require nearly 100 million new jobs over the next two decades. This is much more than the number of jobs created in the region during the past fifty years.
Already half the region's young people find themselves without work, with youth making up a big chunk of the total unemployed, ranging from 37% in Morocco to 73% in Syria. Most of the young unemployed have intermediate or advanced education.
Another factor of commonality in the region is that women in this region suffer from inequality. This woman is more educated and capable than previous generations and more at par with the men of her generation. The Bank's report demonstrates that the MENA woman is almost as educated as the MENA man and that she is as educated as women in other developing regions of the world. This generation of women is different from previous generations. They are more capable, and increasingly they need to contribute to the economic wellbeing of the family. So why is it that the MENA woman lags in terms of labor force and political participation? The MENA woman today wants more of life, she thinks she can do more, she is more capable, and she wants the reward. Yet, despite these gains, women continue to face social and legal barriers that prevent them from effectively participating at their potential in the economy and public life.

The New Development Model
At the annual meetings of the World Bank/IMF in Dubai, the World Bank launched four major reports on trade, employment, governance and gender. These reports present a thorough analysis of the main challenges of the MENA region. The reports propose what is called “The New Development Model”. In this model there is a focus much more on the private sector rather than the public sector, which was in the past the main engine for job growth and economic development. In the future, it has to be the private sector that is driving the economy and that is the creator of jobs. The private sector has to be more open, more export oriented, and more diversified.
In order to be able to create the 80 to 100 million jobs that are needed the private sector must be increasingly more creative, more able to change with globalization and better able to foster and utilize human talents and resources. Success in accomplishing these structural shifts will depend on widening and depending on the stock of human capital and raising the productivity of labor. Successful export economies, including those in MENA countries and in East Asia, have relied heavily on women's work to propel them into the global marketplace.

In order to move from this old public sector driven development model to a private sector driven development model we have to have a better governance system in place. By a better governance system we mean stake holders and people have to be more involved in the decision making process, such as in the PRS in Yemen, and at the same time, the public and the private sector have to have greater responsibility and accountability. Good governance rests on the twin values of inclusiveness and accountability, respecting everyone's rights and responding to everyone's needs.
The second change that has to take place is a better education system, because people in this region don't have enough skills. It is true that education in the MENA region has improved a lot in quantity, but the problem with the general level of education is that it needs to be improved in quality.
The third change that has to take place is that women have to participate more in the economic, political and public spheres. We have invested a lot in female education but still there are barriers in benefiting from this education. This investment is not fully utilized due to barriers, and these barriers have a high cost to the economy, per income capita and families because they prevent the families from enjoying the welfare that they could have achieved. The report “Gender and Development in the Middle East and North Africa: Women in the Public Sphere” identifies the economic and social obstacles that women in the MENA region face in seeking employment. The report analyses the potential economic benefits of engaging women in the work force, and suggests a plan of action that would help pave the way for expanding their role in the economy and public life.

The Yemeni situation
Yemen, as a country, is considered one of the poorest in the MENA region. It therefore, qualifies for the softer window, international development assistance (IDA) resources, which means that it has access to the cheaper window of the World Bank. As an IDA country, Yemen has to follow the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) which is a participatory way of designing and helping countries to find policies that would help them to alleviate poverty.
There is understanding in the Yemeni government that gender can no longer be looked at as side issue but needs to be included in all aspects of policy and decision making. In Yemen, efforts are being made to make the next PRS phase more gender responsive, as gender issues are now better understood and there are better tools and mechanisms to mainstream gender in a more substantial and effective way.
Yemen has to tackle some basic problems, such as education for women in terms of quantity and quality. High fertility and population growth is also an important challenge and contributes to continued poverty, simply because population growth is faster than economic growth. A host of social barriers also limit the woman's ability to participate and contribute as much as they can to the economy. Yet it is very encouraging to see that the level of political participation of women is relatively higher than it is in other MENA countries.
Yemeni government knows that education is very important in making sure that women are empowered and that there is a need to change gender relations in the family level, because if children are not taught gender equality at the family level it is difficult to teach them this outside the home. There is commitment to the gender issue from the leadership and recognition that gender is important to the future development of the country.

Women can contribute to the success of policies if their contributions and gender relations are evaluated appropriately. Women are not only affected by policies, but they can affect the success and outcome of policies. Asian countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and others were successful in creating export industries because they capitalized on what the women were able to do. Much of their success in textiles and electronics was due to benefiting from gender specific characteristics. We need all sorts of industries and all kinds of private sector activity. There are certain advantages and insights that women bring to the table, and there are certain advantages that men bring to the table. For instance, women make on average about 80% of the purchasing decisions of the family. Some successful companies have increased their female workforce at all levels in order to better understand their consumers and increase their market shares. Other countries are promoting women's entrepreneurship not only to increase private sector development, but also to increase female employment as women-owned businesses tend to hire more women.
The new economy is going to be more about the knowledge and service economy, and less about physical might. Women are increasingly being more educated and going to universities and are now looking into practicing their skills. Many of them are also looking to set up their own business in the private sector. Countries that have higher levels of female labor force participation also display lower overall unemployment rates. This is contrary to the commonly held belief that women will take away jobs from men and raise unemployment. Fewer and fewer women have the luxury of staying at home. With the rising cost of living, women have increasingly no choice but to work outside the home and for many families it is the only way to escape poverty.

Into the Future
We now know what the challenges are in the MENA region and perhaps what the possible solutions are. Political commitment by the leadership is critical. The other side of this equation is women's advocacy to identify, study and inform policy-makers of gender issues that affect economic development and welfare of families. There are demographic pressures for gender inclusiveness. The younger generation wants much more than the older generation; they are more connected with the outside world, they are much more educated and much more aware. Families today are smaller and as a result there is more gender equality within the family. Therefore, there is more demand for equality of access to opportunity, equality under the law and equality of voice. What needs to be done is work on the capacity building of the executing institutions, and to make them more gender responsive. What is needed also is to integrate gender into most aspects of development through a better and more inclusive implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Today's generation is more educated and more aware than previous generations, and hence, demands a better life style, more freedom and more knowledge. Maybe a generation ago it was best for the mothers to stay home with the children but today the cost of education is higher and the cost of health is higher and the children have more demands. Women can no longer be sitting at home and the society should accept this fact. The traditional role of the mother and a wife today has to be done in a different way today, not for the women alone but for the family. The future of this region is going to be very much influenced by the way women look at life.