Participants of the Arab Ministerial Forum 2021 adopted a Declaration on the future of social protection in the region
High-level social protection representatives from 20 countries of the region participated in the event
The “Arab Ministerial Forum 2021- The future of Social Protection in the Arab Region: building a vision for a post-COVID-19 reality”, held on 30 November 2021, involved high-level representatives from Ministries in charge of social protection of the 20 countries in the region, who gathered to discuss the future of the field.
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The main outcome of the event was the adoption of a joint Declaration by the participants, based on the countries’ statements made during the technical meeting and subsequent comments received prior and during the Forum. It acknowledges previous international commitments on social protection and recognises the challenges that the region was already facing prior to the pandemic. It also reaffirms the critical role of social protection in accelerating a human-centred and green recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and the importance of continuing to strengthen social protection systems. Finally, the Declaration states the commitments of participants regarding the improvement of social protection coverage, financing, governance, and shock-responsive systems.
The Forum’s opening session provided a framing for the key topics discussed during the event and presented the Declaration of Principles. The session started with the remarks of the Regional Director of UNICEF Middle East and North Africa, Mr. Ted Chaiban, who invited all participants to reflect on a common vision for social protection in the region to “shape a truly inclusive socio-economic recovery from COVID-19”. Dr. Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of UN-ESCWA, commended the innovative ways through which countries in the region have responded to the consequences of the pandemic, providing an important learning opportunity.
According to the keynote speaker, H.E. Dr. Omar Razzaz, the former Prime Minister of Jordan, the countries of the region “are still facing difficulties and we need to deliver further measures of coverage in social protection”. In this sense, the Regional Director of ILO Arab States, Ruba Jadarat, highlighted that “the current crisis can be turned into an opportunity for transformative change”.
Fábio Veras, Research Coordinator at the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), presented the Declaration in the opening session. Participants were able to send further comments during the entire event, which could be incorporated into the document by the end of the Forum.
Four parallel sessions took place after the opening session, divided into four main themes: coverage; shock-responsiveness; financing; and governance. Then a plenary session summarised the main discussion of each parallel session. Finally, the closing session presented the Forum´s main outcomes and announced the adoption of the Declaration.
Social protection coverage expansion is still needed in the Arab Region
The session on coverage discussed how to ensure social protection measures for everyone in need. It was moderated by Carmela Godeau, Regional Director of IOM Middle East and North Africa (IOM MENA), who highlighted that “coverage is a topic which is of outmost importance for MENA; already prior to the pandemic, the region had very low coverage for the most disadvantaged groups”. In this sense, H.E. Ms. Navine El Kabbag, Egypt’s Minister of Social Solidarity, explained the importance of cash assistance directed at women, children and elderly people. Moreover, H.E. Dr. Layla Bint Ahmad, Oman’s Minister of Social Development, pointed out that “expanding social protection is essential for all countries so that we can provide a decent life for all our citizens.”
Both H.E. Mr. Jamill Bin Mohamad Ali, Minister of Labour and Social Development of Bahrain, and H.E. Dr. Abeer Al-Chalaby, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs of Iraq, indicated that, during the pandemic, their countries have implemented social insurance and financial assistance for citizens with limited income. Finally, Morocco’s Central Director of the Planning and Financial Resources Department of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection, H.E. Mr. Abdelouahab Belmadani, highlighted that the pandemic poses several challenges, but also reaffirmed the priority of having an inclusive social protection system.
Shock-responsive social protection can help Arab countries overcome previous challenges
The parallel session on shock-responsiveness aimed at discussing how to enhance the resilience of social protection systems for future shocks, ensuring they are better prepared to respond to the next crisis. The moderator, Ms. Kate Newton, Deputy Regional Director of WFP Middle East and North Africa, started by highlighting that “social protection systems can be made more shock responsive if they are designed in a way which is adaptable”. H.E. Mr. Barq Al-Dhmour, Secretary General of Ministry of Social Development of Jordan, also emphasised how the pandemic has led to increased unemployment rates. In addition, according to Somalia’s Director General of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, H.E. Mr Abdullahi Mohamed Ali, the country is strengthening its system and improving coordination to ensure an effective shock response.
The representative of Ministry of Social Work, Childhood and Family of Mauritania, H.E. Mr. Sadaf Seedi Mohammad, started his speech by highlighting that “the main pillar in the country is to eradicate poverty and strengthen social protection without any kind of discrimination”. Moreover, according to H.E. Mr Mohammad Hasan Al-Abeidli, Assistant Deputy Minister of Labour of Qatar, his country has provided health assistance and vaccines not only for its citizens, but also for non-nationals and immigrants. Finally, the representative from Yemen pointed out that, during the pandemic, social protection measures helped lower unemployment rates, as well as improve economic and social prospects.
Financing and sustainability are crucial to improve social protection in the Arab Region
Another parallel session discussed how to improve social protection financing, the need for increased investment, ensuring fiscal space, and financial sustainability. Ms. Khalida Bouzar, Regional Director of UNDP Arab States, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has “exacerbated many longstanding challenges, including existing inequalities in employment and form informality and poverty”. Saudi Arabia’s Deputy of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development for Social Rehabilitation and Guidance, H.E. Dr. Abdullah Bin Ahmad Al-Wuheibi, indicated that the country has aimed at providing support and financing to the most vulnerable groups.
Moreover, H.E. Mr Anwar Hamam, Deputy Assistant Minister for Community Development of the State of Palestine, and the representative from the Ministry of Social Affairs of Tunisia, H.E. Mr Fathi Bin Amer, highlighted that there is a gap when it comes to funding and resources, which may hamper recovery from the financial crisis. H.E. Mr Hector Hajjar, Lebanon’s Minister of Social Affairs, stated that even though the country has faced many challenges, such as the explosion in Beirut in 2020, implementing social protection, especially for the most vulnerable, with the support of international organisations, is still an important goal. The session also had the participation of H.E. Ms. Hanaa Al-Hajery, Secretary General of Social Development of Kuwait, who explained the significant funding of education and health during the pandemic.
Integration and coordination of social protection approaches are essential to improve governance in the countries of the region
Representatives from Syria, United Arab Emirates, Libya, Sudan, and Algeria participated in the session on governance. They discussed the countries’ visions on how to achieve improved governance, administration, and coordination of the social protection sector. Syria’s Minister of Social Affairs and Labour, H.E. Mr. Mohammad Seif Al-Dein, and H.E. Ms. Kawthar Krikou, Algeria’s Minister of National Solidarity, Family and Women's Issues, stressed that the countries continue to develop social protection networks as part of the national strategies, aiming at the most vulnerable segments of the population, such as women and children. Moreover, H.E. Mr. Hessa Bint Essa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development of the United Arab Emirates, indicated that countries should learn from the challenges posed by the pandemic to improve their governance.
H.E. Ms. Wafaa Al-Keilani, Libya’s Minister of Social Affairs, highlighted the country’s strong social protection legal frameworks. H.E. Mr. Ahmad Adam Bakheet, Sudan’s Minister of Social Development, clarified the important role of social protection in the recovery from the pandemic, as well as a main tool to strengthen citizenship.
Plenary and Closing Sessions
Finally, the plenary and closing sessions highlighted the key messages discussed at the event, especially during the parallel sessions, and outlined a way forward. According to the Closing Speaker Mr. Philip Mikos, from the European Commission, “Financing and sustainability are at the heart of the success of the improvement of social protection in the Arab Region”. Furthermore, "When it comes to coverage, we need to continue working to try to cover everyone, including workers from the informal sector", pointed Mounir Tabet, UN-ESCWA’s Deputy Executive Secretary.
The event was organised by the Regional UN Issue-based Coalition for Social Protection, coordinated by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), in collaboration with UN-ESCWA, with support from the IPC-IG and the socialprotection.org platform. Prior to the Forum, on 21 October 2021, a technical preparatory meeting was held with the Ministries’ top technical staff.
Read the full Declaration.
About IBC Group: The Group, co-chaired by ILO and UNICEF, was established in June 2020, bringing forward the activities started under the previous Regional UNDG group. The IBC-SP gathers regional experts from ILO, UNICEF, ESCWA, FAO, IOM, UNDP, UNHCR, WHO, UNRWA, WFP and the RCO to share knowledge, think and work together on the development of effective and inclusive social protection systems, including floors, in the MENA/Arab States region, as a key pathway for reducing vulnerabilities and building resilience to shocks and stresses, reducing poverty, and achieving the SDGs.
About socialprotection.org: socialprotection.org is an online, member-based knowledge-sharing and capacity-building platform, open to social protection practitioners, policymakers, and experts, as well as academics and students. The platform was set up to respond to a recommendation from the G20 Development Working Group in the aftermath of the triple crisis of the late 2000s to foster global knowledge sharing on social protection policies.
About the IPC-IG: The International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) is a global forum for international dialogue on innovative development policies created by a partnership between UNDP and the Government of Brazil with the objective of promoting the exchange of experiences, knowledge and technical and institutional capacities for the design, formulation and evaluation of development policies that contribute to inclusive growth, poverty, and inequality reduction and human development.