Posted on 28 June 2013 by wlp
By Olivia Alabaster, on behalf of WLP Lebanon/CRTD.A
CAIRO: On the opening day of WLP-Lebanon/CRTD.A’s regional conference on economic justice and women’s rights, delegates representing women’s organisations from Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco met in Cairo to discuss the implications of Egypt’s current IMF (International Monetary Fund) negotiations for women.
An Egyptian woman worker stacks bricks at a brickyard kiln factory near the town of Mansoura city, 210 km north of Cairo in March 30, 2008 (cc) Nasser Nouri
In the opening plenary, Lina Abou-Habib, director of the Lebanese NGO CRTD-A (WLP’s partner in Lebanon), said that the theme was chosen as the IMF negotiations are an urgent matter, but due to the lack of transparency surrounding the talks, “very few of us are aware of the negotiations.”
“Attention and involvement in the issue is crucial,” she added, as “it does affect all of us.”
The first speaker, Dr. Salwa al-Antari, former head of the research institute at the Bank of Egypt, laid out the economic state of the country, and detailed how the situation has deteriorated since the revolution in 2011.
“After a revolution which asked for certain slogans, it has gotten worse. Why is this?” she asked, putting the blame on a failure of management and a lack of good governance.
However she also blamed the Mubarak government for the situation today.
“The revolution was the best proof that all the policies adopted before were complete failures,” she said “the majority of population before the revolution never felt the fruits of growth rates.”
She painted a stark portrait — a country experiencing high unemployment, ever slowing growth and high poverty.
After the revolution, foreign investment left the country – some $9 billion in the first six months alone.
The tourism sector – one vital to the country – has also suffered greatly, she said, thanks to the instability and also to deliberate neglect of the sector by government officials.
“It became obvious that there are methodological efforts to prevent tourism,” she said, citing comments from politicians and the recent appointment of an Islamist governor of the Luxor region.
She criticized the current Mursi government for looking to borrowing as the only solution for a growing budget deficit, and its 2013-2014 state budget plans, which was recently passed by the Shura Council.
Sales tax increases will most seriously affect those already struggling, and income tax rules – with 25% for the highest bracket – do not go far enough, and exempt only those who earn less than 456 Egyptian pounds a month, ($65).
To summarise, she said that any “IMF loan will impact upon poor people and women will be the worst affected.”
Business journalist Musbah Katub spoke next, and was skeptical over the worth of any IMF loan.
He described the ongoing negotiations between Mursi’s government and the IMF as a “bad game,” with the latter trying to “trap countries into indebtment… when they are unable to pay it back.”
“I believe the current proposal aims at making Egypt drown in more and more foreign indebtness,” he said, adding that when Mursi assumed office there was $34 billion of debt, a figure which has increased by $11 billion in his first year of office.
He also said that the only reason Egypt has been able to ride out these economic dark days thus far is all the unpaid work that women do.
Any IMF loan, he said, would see “women paying off high costs.”
Lastly, economist Dr. Ahmad al-Hajjar slammed the current government’s policies: “we are seeing the same policies as under Mubarak, but with less efficiency.”
The government, he said, was taking out this IMF loan to manage the state budget deficit, but it is holding the next generations responsible for paying it off.
That women’s involvement in the workforce has dropped from 29% to 23%, he said, was shameful, and were this to increase it would “help the entire country have a good productive system,” rather than merely relying on foreign loans which leave the country more susceptible to external meddling.
This Conference was organised as part of a regional programme on gender equality and economic justice including Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt and funded by Oxfam-Novib. The outcomes of this event is expected to feed into a regional policy dialogue process aiming identifying strategies to support women’s involved in economic policy formulation.