From the exhilaration of popular revolution to the tragedy of ongoing conflict, the Middle East and North Africa region has occupied a prominent place in the headlines. Yet there is another, often silent, drama that is not receiving the attention it deserves. It is playing out in both rich and poor countries, albeit in different forms. A series of alarming statistics reveal an ongoing deterioration in the overall health of the people of the region.
Something new and important is happening in the Arab world, and it has so far gone largely unnoticed. Since the beginning of the 2011 revolutions, statistical agencies in the North Africa and the Middle East have started to open up access to their raw data and sharing it not only with selected individuals and institutions but also with the public at large. This amounts to a cultural revolution the implications of which are exciting and wide ranging.
“I never thought that a poor family could benefit so much by me giving just a small amount of money,” the old man said with an intrigued yet hopeful expression on his face. We were sitting in a small classroom in Aqaba, Jordan, chosen as part of a behavioral experiment on Social Safety Nets. Although I have worked on social issues for many years, this statement was eye-opening to me.
It was my first week in Algeria, and I found myself racing through the capital in a motorcade. This was far from my usual form of transportation, but rather the result of a fortunate coincidence. My preparations for taking up office as Resident Representative of the World Bank for Algeria happen to overlap with an official visit by our Vice President for Middle East and North Africa, Inger Andersen.
More than two years after Egypt's populist revolution in which men, women and people from all across the social and age spectrum revolted to put an end to the 30 year old regime of Mubarak under the motto "bread, freedom, social justice" it is worth examining what this social and political upheaval has meant for the status of women in Egypt.
Today in Sana’a, the international community and the Government of Yemen once again came together to track progress on Yemen’s transition and the agreements between the country and its donors. The 2012 peace initiative determined the transition to include a national dialogue bringing together a broad geographic and political cross section of the country (this is already underway), the drafting of a new constitution, and new elections. All of this is meant to be completed by February, 2014.
For its level of per-capita income (around $1,500), the Palestinian territories have among the best social indicators in the world. These achievements are all the more remarkable given the difficult economic circumstances facing the Palestinian territories. In contrast to other countries such as India, Indonesia or Peru, teachers in the Palestinian territories do teach and clinics are staffed with health workers.
I am a business woman, an entrepreneur from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. I managed to start and grow two companies and a nonprofit in my lifetime. Does this show gender equality? I was neither welcome nor unwelcome by men into this field of work but I believed in something and made it happen. Can such an attitude contribute to changing the reality for women?
After going through the World Bank’s comprehensive study on gender in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, I have to say that gender equality took on a new dimension in my mind. This study covered all facets of gender equality – or inequality – depending on which part of the cup you are looking at, the half full or the half empty.
Is the World Bank working with Non-Governmental Organizations to address high rates of unemployment in Tunisia? I remember this question clearly. It was asked by an NGO advocate during a recent workshop on public works in the Tunisian capital, Tunis. The World Bank team I was with had just finished highlighting the importance of developing public private partnerships for the delivery of employment services when the question was posed.