Press Release: ENID/ El Nidaa 3rd Annual Conference

ENID/El Nidaa Third Annual Conference, 13 February 2016.

On "The Role Of Women in Sustainable Rural Development."

Gender Inequality inhibits social and economic growth. This is a fact, supported by research across the developing world.  In Egypt, rural women continue to face impediments to social and economic participation, as well as challenges in the cultural framework that lead to persistent problems. ENID/El Nidaa Third Annual Conference in Luxor on Saturday 13 February will address these issues, with a special focus on the plight of rural women of Upper Egypt.  

Most of the country's rural poor people live in Upper Egypt, where there are higher rates of illiteracy – especially among women - and higher rates of infant mortality, and a larger number of underweight children. Social norms about gender roles are restrictive. In these conservative communities the belief is that women’s opportunities outside the household are not necessary for the family’s wellbeing. While it has been recorded that women are known to contribute disproportionately to unpaid work within the household for around one to three hours more per day than men caring for children, the elderly and the sick, women have one to four hours less per day to devote to employment. And yet, employment is crucial, not only because it provides extra income to the household, but because it provides women the opportunity to develop self-confidence and higher rates of participation with the community. But employment opportunities are lacking because of the limited development of microenterprises or other non-farm economic activity.

The ENID/El Nidaa Conference will explore both the social and economic spheres of rural women in the South to find innovative solutions to development. These two fronts must be addressed simultaneously in order to effectively enhance the wellbeing of rural women, because if the social status and equity of women improves, both the social status of the family and its economic status will improve.  Additionally, it is a fundamental condition to achieve a prosperous society as a whole in Upper Egypt.

Among the recommendation to be explored at the conference are the means by which to raise the quality of maternal care and socialize the provision of childcare, especially at preschool level, through recipient participation. A similar successful “Best Practice” policy was effectively introduced in Jordan.  Other areas that need to be addressed include nutrition, and reproductive health. Promoting the social sphere for women involves effective implementation of state social protection schemes targeted at the poor. Social protection and pension programs must also be assessed for their impact. A new social pension and transfer program was launched by the Egyptian government in 2014 to address poverty and deprivation.  Karama (dignity) is a cash transfer program provided to the elderly and severely handicapped. Takaful (welfare) targets poor families with children with four annual stipends. As noted by Egypt’s Minister of Social Solidarity, the critical step forward to enhance these social safety programs is to implement the necessary mechanisms to enhance the quality of the services on the ground and to identify the beneficiaries that are most vulnerable through better targeting systems.

The provision of social security for women in informal jobs plays a major role in both improving their livelihood and that of their family, as well as their ability to borrow and establish small businesses. Introducing skills to those unskilled women, as well as providing marketing opportunities for their work helps them to become income-generating and sustainable. Opportunities in rural areas for women, for part-time and hourly employment remain minimal, but these need to be identified or worked into skill-building or employment strategies, since hourly wages, or wages per piece are preferred to monthly salaries.. In Argentina, for example, women are able to work 20 hours per week, which is a convenient part-time scheme that promotes women’s employment, representing half of women’s jobs, mainly in the informal economy. Locales for group work appear more attractive to poor women than home-bound work since it allows for socialization. But the preference of women is to remain within safe geographic boundaries. Safe and quality public transport must be provided to those women who need it.

The ENID/El Nidaa one village OVOP Project (under UNDP auspices) for the promotion of the handicrafts sector (and covering both traditional and new crafts) in rural villages has been providing positive results in the South of Egypt, as illustrated in successful models from Japan.  The reason why the OVOP model has been successful is that it is located inside each village and provided one skill to be learnt. It provides the women with focus, with a safe workplace that is of close proximity such that it helps them save transportation time and money and allows them to both work close to and see to their household chores. Training is an integral part of the project, as, in some cases, is the introduction of literacy classes.  

Financing micro and small enterprises and incentivizing entrepreneurs is particularly crucial for the most vulnerable women in the South where short-term family borrowing at high interest rates are usually used to cover household expenses rather than micro or small businesses. This contributes tremendously to the vicious cycle of poverty and lack of work opportunities for the poor and near poor. The Productive Families project led by Egypt’s Ministry of Social Solidarity assists some 2.8 million vulnerable families by creating a new source of income to produce within the household environment, which can be regarded as small entrepreneurial ventures on the micro scale. Numerous start-up incubators have been established in the previous ten years to accommodate this trend. However, a focus should also be on enhancing social organization and promoting a more prominent role for women in local communities. This is particularly crucial in poor rural settings in Upper Egypt where such community-led empowerment is largely lacking. Safe spaces are needed for women to meet and exchange experiences and information through an extensive networking process. 

Women’s empowerment has become integral to achieving real development on the ground, and should no longer be recognized as one target or indicator among other independent goals in Egypt’s development program. An inclusive action plan must be established in Egypt to raise awareness for the many indicators and targets involving women’s wellbeing, especially those rural women who are the most susceptible to poverty. In order for positive change to take place on the social and economic front, institutional transformations must be realized that foster stronger community engagement and local mobilization to tackle these problems.
Egypt is taking steps in the right direction, but five years after the January 25, 2011 revolution, the calls for social justice and economic integrity must continue to be translated into targeted and responsive policy reforms.