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.
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.
Microwork presents a unique opportunity for jobs and income for sections of Palestinian society that face high levels of unemployment, such as youth and women. It is a new phenomenon in the digital economy: anyone anywhere can work through an online platform equipped with just a computer and internet access.
“If we are able to say that a poor, majority Muslim, and conservative society is capable of making a democracy of international standard, other countries in the region will have no excuse not to follow us,” says Amira Yahyaoui. “But Tunisia won’t succeed unless we continue to be bold. We must be audacious in our ambitions.”
Recently I attended a health strategy meeting, where indicators of health risks showed depression to be the top disease affecting women in the Middle East and North Africa but not men (where it was on average 7th place). In one sense, this is not too surprising because depression affects women more than men everywhere. On average, globally, depression ranks 6th for women and 16th for men. Still, MENA is unique.
I had never dreamed of getting the chance to pose a question to a president, but I got my chance a few months ago. In September 2012, Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansur al-Hadi paid a visit to Washington DC. Having grown up in Yemen, I was intrigued by his arrival. And as a woman, I wanted to hear about his vision for women’s role in the new Yemen.
What has impressed me the most has been the impassioned voices of men not only speaking out against violence towards women, but also taking action to prevent it. As I've listened to interviews from the region, I've come to understand the tremendous power that men's voices bring to what is viewed as "women's issues".