On Wednesday, 13 May 2020, the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) held the fifth virtual session of its regional dialogue series on social protection in the Arab world. Through this series, ARDD seeks to explore the viewpoints of Arab experts and decision makers on the multidimensional impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on poverty levels, social protection and the security of individuals and societies from a comprehensive perspective. The fifth session was titled “Towards Protecting Social Protection, are Strategies Enough?” and focused on the institutionalization and sustainability of social care services and the improvement of social protection, especially in times of crisis. The session also assessed the possibility of improving current strategies and efforts and explored how to fulfill the aspiration of institutionalization and sustainability primarily through public sector institutions and in partnership with the private sector and civil society.
To initiate the session, HE Senator Dr. Al-Majali, who cooperates with ARDD in moderating this series, welcomed the panelists: HE Nisreen Barakat, National Social Protection Team Member, Former Minister of Social Development in Jordan, Ms. Dua’a Qurie, Executive Director of the Palestinian NGOs Network, and Ms. Rasha Hulool, Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, Advocate for the amendment and cancellation of discriminatory legislation against women in Iraq.
Dr. Sawsan Al-Majali reviewed the conditions of social protection in the Arab countries and the most prominent reform demands in light of the Coronavirus crisis, and said that “There are many challenges facing the social protection file in the Arab region such as: the fragility of protection strategies and their lack of inclusiveness, the complexity of their implementation as a result of the of accumulated crises – in addition to the Pandemic – the presence of discriminatory practices at other times, and the absence of legislation that paves the way for sustainable social protection.” She emphasized that the biggest challenge is the availability of sustainable economic resources for the institutionalization and coherence of social protection which are needed in order to ensure that those deserving of protection are included, and to maintain space for reform and development.
On the Jordanian front, HE Nisreen Barakat said that “The National Strategy for Social Protection has contributed to mitigating the impact of the Coronavirus crisis” and that the unified national registry has allowed for targeting groups in need, with the help of one electronic portal directed to the citizen. Regarding the strategy main areas, she indicated that most of the workers in poor families are men, and most of them work in the private sector informally and lack social security – the negative effects of which have been felt during the crisis. As for social assistance, which includes cash and in-kind support, she stressed the need to amend the criteria and target vulnerable groups that were not previously considered. This is to include workers, from the poor with insufficient income. She also mentioned enhancing services for persons with disabilities, and shed light on issues related to health insurance, cases of malnutrition, and the need to address cases of domestic violence, as the isolation of victims increases the problem. According to Barakat, it is necessary to work to integrate the national strategy within the relevant institutions or ministries and their budgets, in addition to having monitoring systems in place for activities and allocations.
Regarding the Palestinian situation, Ms. Duaa Qurie said, “The pandemic has increased the number of the marginalized people due to the fragility of the labor law and its application, with a high unemployment rate in Palestine and Gaza that reaches 48%.” She also revealed the weakness of social services in the areas of health and protection, with high disparities in access to quality services. She stressed that social protection is a right for everyone, and there is a need to invest in it. She added that strengthening the resilience of vulnerable groups, especially the disabled, daily workers, domestic workers and others, is a basic right guaranteed by law, in addition to minimum wages. However, she added that the labor law in Palestine is not applied to all wage workers and that even the social security law that was not approved covered only 17% of society, despite the important role of the law to enhance the resilience of Palestinians in facing the occupation and attempts to forcibly displace them. She noted that the network is currently leading a campaign for legislation on social protection, so it becomes a right for the people to demand.
In the context of Iraq, Ms. Rasha Hulool discussed her work in the Baghdad Women’s Association, which demands the cessation of discriminatory practices in Iraqi regimes against women. She shed light on the reality that Iraq has witnessed many wars resulting in an increased number of widow-led households to increase. She added that these widowed women are suffering from the social and psychological violations they face, which are also increased due to the ongoing protests and limit their education and employability, and their economic and social opportunities. Hulool said, “Iraq has laws for social protection and security, but these laws are not applied in an effective or holistic manner, and the salaries allocated to mothers and children do not elevate them above the poverty level, and payments are not timely and not inclusive, without the existence of alternative measures to fill these gaps. She noted that there is no law or entity for the assistance of widows, single and divorced women, and that they are included among people with disabilities and the unemployed, without attention to their specific needs, many of whom have higher degrees qualifying them for better job opportunities.
The speakers agreed on the intersection of social protection with several areas such as health, development, education, people with disabilities, etc., and stressed that there must be political will to activate the inclusiveness of protection and its quality. They also stressed the need for a clear roadmap in which responsibilities are defined to guarantee the activation of social protection systems, with the need to pressure decision-makers in the presence of inactive laws. This is in addition to supporting civil society in a way that ensures that the voices of the marginalized, and the poorest are heard, and that their role in defining their needs is enhanced, as well as building a system of protection that is appropriate to the nature and economy of the country.