By Arwa Gaballa
CAIRO, Nov 12 (Aswat Masriya) – Women are the main breadwinners in as many as 30 percent of Egyptian households, a role frowned on by conservative Egyptian society but increasingly important in a country plunged into dire economic straits by the turbulent politics of the post-Mubarak era.
Many of them are poor, illiterate and lacking experience of formal employment, and are forced into menial work in the informal economy, doing poorly paid jobs with no insurance or pension and involving exposure to the public gaze that attracts the disapproval of neighbours.
“Things were difficult before the uprising too, with those in power robbing us, but at least the little we had was enough to live on,” said Zeinab Abdel Fattah, 64. “Now we have nothing. Life has become unbearable.”
Abdel Fattah, who has a family of eight, leaves her home every morning at 6 a.m. for the city centre. Sitting cross-legged on a platform in the heart of Cairo, she sells eggs, eggplants and cottage cheese to passersby, but often returns empty-handed.
“No one buys anything anymore,” she said.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of gender experts found Egypt to be the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, due to endemic sexual harassment, a surge in trafficking, high rates of female genital mutilation and a rollback of freedoms since the revolution.
Egypt scored badly on work-related issues, too. Gender-based discrimination affects many women in the workplace and is rarely punished, respondents said.
While many Egyptian women have to work because their husbands died or divorced or abandoned them, others, like Abdel Fattah, support their family because their husband’s pension is small or his work is irregular or unstable.
“My husband was only a worker before he retired; he can’t read, you see. Now his pension is 500 Egyptian pounds ($72.57), which is not enough to feed us.”
Mona Ezzat of the New Woman Foundation, an advocacy group, said that while official data estimate 16 percent of Egyptian breadwinners are women, independent sources put the figure as high as 30 percent.
“Because the majority of these women are impoverished and thus are mostly illiterate and have no skills or experience, they resort to the informal economy, cleaning houses, street vending and so on,” she said.
The problem with working in the informal economy is that these women are not entitled to pensions or health or social insurance, and they are often exposed to physical and psychological violence that they cannot challenge, as they enjoy no legal protection.
Even if Abdel Fattah’s thin grey hair weren’t showing beneath her worn-out headscarf, the wrinkles on her tired face, her missing teeth and rough, dirty hands were evidence of the difficult life she leads.
Like her husband, Abdel Fattah cannot read or write, but all her children can.
“My six children can read. Some of my children even went to university!” she said proudly with a big smile. “That was when things were easier, before they got this bad.”
The New Woman Foundation’s Ezzat said: “The struggles of breadwinners have worsened as Egypt’s economy deteriorated.” She added that there is no real plan for economic growth, as can be seen from the increase in the number of street vendors struggling to scrape a living.
The economy grew by 7 percent a year in the period leading to the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 — part of the Arab Spring that swept North Africa — but has since slowed sharply because of the collapse of tourism and the fall in foreign investment.
GDP growth last year was only 2.1 percent, down from 2.2 percent in 2011, the state news agency reported earlier this month — worryingly low for a country whose population of 85 million suffers from high unemployment and is expected to reach 100 million by 2030.
Price rises have put many goods beyond the reach of average households, and this has led the government to draw up a plan to distribute basic supplies at subsidized prices.
In Abdel Fattah’s case, her already grinding burden is made worse by her neighbours’ criticism of her for working at her age, “as if it was by choice”.
“They think there is a lot of money in what I do,” she laughed, adding that her neighbours mock her for having to work when she has six grown-up children.
Ezzat explains that the way female breadwinners are viewed and treated in Egypt is a psychological burden, especially as many of them live in poor areas which tend to be more conservative and more critical.
Female breadwinners are often criticised for spending too much time outside their home without a male figure around, a cultural judgment that is not limited to poor neighbourhoods, Ezzat said.
Neighbourly criticism and social pressure often force these women either to take their sons out of school and send them off to work in their place, or to marry off their daughters quickly to shift the responsibility for earning the family income to their husbands.
“The sons are deprived of getting an education and the daughters are married off before their time,” Ezzat said.
ANA HUNNA CAMPAIGN
Rights activists and women’s rights organizations in the Middle East posted their thoughts on female breadwinners in a Twitter campaign on Saturday.
Hundreds of activists around the Middle East joined the online debate, using the hashtags “#Loqmet3ish” and “#anahunna”. The first hashtag, Loqmet3ish, means “a piece of bread”, an Arabic phrase used widely to describe making a living.
The campaign, organized by Ana Hunna (I Am Here), said that women are the main supporters of 33 percent of Egyptian households and families.
“Despite the fact that norms (are) transforming in Egypt, women are still generally defined as dependants and subordinate to men,” Ana Hunna posted on its account.
Ana Hunna started out in 2011 as an online campaign to empower working women, but gradually expanded and now aspires to become an actual initiative, one of the organizers, Esraa Saleh, told Aswat Masriya.
The campaign used to depend on making films to raise awareness of the need for gender equality in employment, but it is now looking for more activities that could have a greater impact on the ground, Saleh said.
“If we (female breadwinners) decide to not work for just one week, this society will be paralyzed,” Rana Allam wrote on Twitter.
“It’s time we recognized Arab women; the real heroes of our generation,” said Hebbah Hussein, another participant in the campaign. “Mothers and breadwinners will shape Egypt’s future.”
|July 01, 2013 12:57 AM|
|By Olivia Alabaster|
CAIRO: Experts warn any IMF loan package to Egypt will have dangerous long-term effects on the country’s most marginalized citizens, and that the secrecy surrounding the negotiations represents a threat to democracy. The government has been in talks with the International Monetary Fund for more than a year now over a $4.8 billion loan to help tackle the growing state budget deficit, which stood at $26.4 billion in May, according to the Finance Ministry.
The IMF is due to respond to the recently submitted reform program in the coming weeks, but details of the negotiations and conditions for the loan have not been made public.
At a regional conference in Cairo over the weekend, held by the New Woman Foundation in conjunction with Lebanon-based CRTD-A, a gender research NGO, delegates went into details of the 2013/2014 budget, recently passed by the Shura Council, many elements of which they said would be crippling to the poorest and most sidelined citizens, including women.
Head of the research institute at the Bank of Egypt, Salwa al-Antari documented how the economy had suffered since the January 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
“After a revolution which asked for certain slogans, it has gotten worse,” she said, blaming the current situation on a failure of management and a lack of good governance.
She also blamed management of the economy under Mubarak, saying that “the majority of the population before the revolution never felt the fruits of growth rates.”
While it was natural, she said, that a period of instability and financial insecurity would follow any revolution – with $9 billion in foreign reserves leaving the country in the first six months postrevolution – people were initially optimistic that the country would soon get back on its feet.
“We had the necessary infrastructure and factories, so all they would need was good management, more efficient policies … people thought. But unfortunately what happened was the opposite.”
The growth rate before the revolution stood at 5.1 percent, but by the second half of 2012 it fell to 2.2 percent. The current Cabinet has set a target of 3.5 percent, but as Antari said, “There are no signs that the situation has improved. All indicators show that the situation is deteriorating and I believe that if we manage to maintain the 2.2 percent rate of last year that would be an achievement.”
On tourism, which has always been an important pillar of the economy, Antari said that she believed the current Muslim Brotherhood-led government was intentionally mismanaging the sector.
“Whenever there are efforts to revive tourism, we find there is something intentional to stop this,” she said, citing irresponsible statements that had been issued, including claims that “Pharaonic monuments are blasphemous, that tourists only wear bikinis and drink alcohol.”
“It became obvious that there are methodological efforts to prevent tourism,” she added, including the reduction of money allocated to boosting tourism in the latest state budget and the temporary appointment of a jihadist governor of Luxor, a crucial area for tourism.
Employment too has suffered, with unemployment increasing from 9 percent before the revolution to 13 percent today, and 27 percent for women.
Those living below the poverty line – which is defined as earning just $36 per month – account for 25 percent of the population.
Antari warned that the government of Mohammad Mursi saw borrowing as the only solution for this dire situation.
Egyptian business journalist Musbah Katub said that when Mursi assumed office exactly one year ago, foreign borrowing stood at $34 billion. In the last year alone this has increased by $11 billion.
He labeled the ongoing negotiations a “bad game being played between the IMF and Mursi’s government. …I believe the current system aims at making Egypt drown in more and more foreign indebtedness,” leaving it more susceptible to other country’s desires.
“It will be very easy after that to impose conditions on the country, and the first thing they will bargain with is the Suez Canal,” he added.
Decreasing the budget deficit through such austere measures, was not worth the costs to the people of Egypt, Katub said.
“This will have adverse effects on vulnerable groups, and women will pay high costs. The whole situation is really risky and dangerous,” he added.
The new state budget increases the sales tax on a number of goods, which speakers said would unfairly hit the poorest in society. Income tax of 10 percent will be imposed upon anyone earning $65 per month, and the maximum bracket, for those earning over $35,000 a year, is just 25 percent.
Mohammad Guad, another business journalist, slammed the sales tax as “a regressive tax with very violent social impact,” and one which would most affect women, as they generally are responsible for managing the household budget.
He also said the economic policies of the government “gave the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood are against social justice and democracy.”
“The short term impacts look easy and manageable, but it’s vital to look at the long-term impacts of the conditions for the loan,” Katub said.
Economist Ahmad al-Hajjar backed these comments, saying that the country was witnessing “the same policies as under Mubarak, but just with less efficiency.”
He also said it was shameful that while women used to account for 29 percent of the workforce, they had now fallen to 23 percent, while “in the rest of the Arab region the share of women in the workforce has gone up,” and called for recognition of women’s work within the home.
Delegates at the conference, which was funded by Oxfam NOVIB and held under the Women’s Learning Partnership international banner, came up with recommendations for fairer economic justice, including increased access to information for all citizens, in particular women, so that they were aware of their rights and responsibilities, in order to best achieve political and economic empowerment.
On the lack of transparency surrounding the negotiations, Lina Abou Habib, director of CRTD-A, also asked, “Can we talk about democracy when the fate of people’s lives is not being openly discussed?”
Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Business/Middle-East/2013/Jul-01/222081-experts-poor-to-bear-burden-of-egypts-imf-loan.ashx#ixzz2a37xvmzr
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)
Posted on 29 June 2013 by wlp
By Olivia Alabaster, on behalf of WLP Lebanon/CRTD.A
Saturday, June 29
CAIRO: The implications of an IMF loan package to Egypt were discussed in further detail on the second day of a regional conference on economic justice and women’s rights Saturday organised by CRTD.A/WLP-Lebanon.
Egyptian workers march to Shura Council on May Day 2013 (cc) Gigi Ibrahim
In the first session Mohammed Guad, from Al-Shourouk newspaper, spoke of how the conditions which the IMF loan deal stipulates would most negatively affect the poor and marginalized sectors of society, including women.
He also described Egypt’s regional importance, stating that were the pound to collapse here, it would undoubtedly have knock-on effects across the Middle East, and suggested that faith in a country’s economy was closely linked to the political system.
“Trust in a country’s economy happens when democracy prevails,” he said.
Talking of the new state budget for Egypt, Guad slammed the sales tax as a “regressive tax with a very violent social impact.” He added that it would have bad consequences for women, who normally have to manage the household expenses and said in general the state budget gave the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood are “against social justice and democracy.”
He also stressed the need for civil society to increase efforts to speak out against the IMF loan and said that, “As seen by the previous parliament, members of parliament are not necessarily best representatives of the people, so civil society needs to step up. ”We should not remain subject to things imposed on us by others,” he added.
In groups, participants then discussed alternative approaches to achieving economic justice and equality for women.
Proposals focused on the need to expand access to information and knowledge for women across the board, and the need for political and economic empowerment to go hand in hand. It was also suggested that NGOs better network with each other, to share information and collaborate on advocacy efforts.
Another suggestion was better lobbying of politicians, as well as the need to submit regular reports to relevant actors in government.
A grassroots approach was stressed, including the need for education on women’s rights and duties, to better enable a politically aware society and an understanding of the long-term effects of an IMF loan, which in turn could help boost opposition to it.
In conclusion, Lina Abou-Habib, director of CRTD-A, said that while the conference had focused on Egypt, the lessons learned were relevant to countries across the region. Speakers had agreed, she said, on the dangers of the secrecy surrounding the ongoing negotiations. “Can we talk about democracy when the fate of people’s lives is not being openly discussed?” she asked. Abou-Habib also introduced the launch of the WLP global campaign entitled “Stand with Women Who Stand for Democracy” and the timeliness of the Campaign for both Egypt and other Arab countries in the throes of post revolts transformations. The New Women Foundation and the Equality without Reservation Coalition, both co-organisers of the events, will be launching the Campaign on their social media.