Middle East and North Africa
Daunting challenges lie before the Arab-speaking workforce today. Forty million jobs must be created in the next decade to employ the region, home to the highest rate of youth unemployment – not to mention that many countries are still undergoing a period of political transition. The fundamental question about job creation now is where these countries should be headed and how they are getting there.
In Gaza earlier this week I met a group of students learning cutting-edge computer animation skills at a technical institute we support. And I met a crowd of women in a small village where simple street paving has made all the difference to their mobility, their children’s health and access to education, and I sensed, their civic pride. All good barometers of development you'd think except these particular students go out into an economy where youth unemployment hovers at around 50 percent with few prospects for improvement.
The Middle East and North Africa region still lags behind other comparable countries in gender equality. Women’s access to opportunities continues to be restricted by socio-structural obstacles, inflexible mentalities and deep-rooted traditions. The Arab Spring gave women hope that empowerment and greater participation in decision-making were possible, but future progress is threatened.
Yemeni women are some of the fiercest women I have ever met. Through conflicts and famine, many have had to struggle for the survival of their families. The abject poverty afflicts Yemeni women in particularly harsh ways, yet they carry on and persevere. Still, their pride in their culture and love for their beautiful country always shines through.
It was a cold and rainy afternoon in Tunisia in February of 2011. My colleagues and I were on mission, driving from the Ministry of Employment to our next meeting. We got stuck! The street was blocked with hundreds of youth chanting “3amal” (“work” in Arabic). They were outside one of the biggest public employment offices in Tunis demanding work, often violently.
The World Bank’s education strategy 2020 shifts the focus from adult to early education, by promoting investments aimed at ensuring all children have equal access to quality learning. Focusing on early childhood education is a smart investment that not only achieves better learning but also better life outcomes and greater social inclusion.
Disaster Risk Management has become a critical component of national policy and planning. In the Middle East and North Africa region, the interplay of natural disasters, together with the impacts of climate change, water scarcity, and urbanization, have emerged as serious challenges for policymaker. While the number of natural disasters around the world has almost doubled since the 1980s, in MENA, the number has almost tripled.
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity… poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” Many years later these words by Nelson Mandela still resonate with me in my work on social protection of the poor in the Arab world, where a growing middle class exists alongside severe poverty.
Tackling a myriad of challenges including cross border issues and escalating internal conflicts, the Middle East seems like the last place for serious integration – economic or otherwise. So, a long-distance walking trail across the region seems like an inconceivable notion. Even if it would exist, surely none would want to walk it. Not so, it appears.
After decades of suppressed voice, an inability to say what one thought, to protest, to offer a contrary point of view or dissent – the Arab world is at last unshackled to say exactly what it wants and wherever it wants. Nowhere is this more true than on the streets of the Arab capitals where an explosion of graffiti is voicing the views of the people in both words and pictures.