Introducing the Egypt Human Development Report 2010
Egypt’s young people _ those between the ages of 18 and 29 – represent about one quarter of Egypt’s population. The tasks that face them at this crucial juncture in their lives, and their accomplishments, as the next generation that will head families, communities, the government and the work force, will affect the welfare of the nation as a whole.
The purpose of the Egypt Human Development Report 2010 has therefore been to identify and assess the most pressing issues affecting youth in Egypt today, to formulate a vision for young people to participate in Egypt’s development process. The Report benefitted from five very recent and very detailed surveys to identify differences across social categories and geographic regions, as well as gender based sources of exclusion. Young people in Egypt were also actively involved in preparing and contributing to the Report, with comments solicited from a youth conference held at Cairo University in March 2010 and hosting over 1500 attendees from across Egypt. A team of young Egyptians conducted numerous focus groups with their peers and subsequently contributed a full chapter to the report themselves. Many chapters also provide young peoples’ views and proposals through direct quotations.
And, for the first time, an original Youth Well-Being Index was also designed and applied, and is featured in a full chapter. This captures all elements that can regularly and systematically measure 10 dimensions and 54 indicators that cover those features that are crucial for youth well-being and a good life, and can be used time and again over the years to provide feedback that would continually inform government youth policies.
For each of the many topics addressed throughout the 16 chapters of the Report, some issues are challenging for all youth, such as employment, whereas others are specific to categories of youth, such as the poor and include environmental threats and low to no education. In this respect, the Report highlights both expected and unexpected outcomes.
As expected, unemployment ranks high as a problem. It is highest among those who seek jobs for the first time, given that for many, their education has not equipped them with the skills required by the labor market, and by the private sector in particular. Unemployment levels are especially evident for university graduates and for graduates from the technical stream of education. The most affected group in this regard is young women, whose participation rate has for the first time in a decade, gone below 20%. Entire segments of Egypt’s young, educated females have either exited or never entered the labor market because of the very poor working conditions, including low pay, and long hours. This argues for an integrated strategy for growth, job creation and social security, as well as targeted educational interventions to help young people overcome the specific skills and vocational barriers they face in entering and remaining in the labor market.
The remnants of the socialist tradition still linger, with a strong belief in the responsibility of the state for job creation and social protection, but this expectation is eroding as more young people turn to the informal or private sectors. The Report suggests that it is therefore vital to introduce policies that support formalization of informal activities, thereby helping create fungible assets based on registered property, and improved services and social protection through revenues provided by taxation. At the same time, enforcing improved work conditions and minimum wages in the private sector would provide new incentives for work in the formal rather than in the informal economic sectors.
The Report suggests that self-employment and entrepreneurship would be one answer to the challenge of unemployment among Egypt’s youth, especially with incentives such as second-chance education and upgraded technical education and vocational training to increase youth employability. The EHDR 2010 reports on the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) where — surprisingly — Egypt is shown to have one of the highest rates of young entrepreneurs. What is needed is far more support for the higher tech end of new business, especially with support from incubators and special credit lines for higher risks. Egypt’s Social Fund for Development (SFD) is making progress on the franchising front, in addition to expanding its network of NGOs that deliver micro-credit. What is clear is that one obstacle to entrepreneurship in Egypt is the absence of assets, and the recommendation is that the state can advance youth with by highlighting potential business growth areas and by providing serviced land for their project.
As also expected related findings of the Report show that a key factor in the persistence of the cycle of poverty is the generational link. The Report indicates that poor youth emerge from and perpetuate poverty, especially in rural areas, and remain ill-equipped to grasp opportunities or hold sustainable jobs. There is a clear need, especially in rural Egypt, to break the vicious cycle of deprivation through education, income-generation and upgraded services that would enhance living and health conditions. In this respect, the Report fully endorses recent GOE efforts at integrated poverty reduction. It now has tools to identify poor families and has promised to double the number of those eligible for CCT and better access to public services. The 1000 poorest villages program proposed by the National Democratic Party is another welcome and innovative initiative.
The most striking and unusual finding of this Report is the extent to which youth are excluded from political and civic participation, especially since the definition of youth for this Report is 18-29 years, at which time youth are legally empowered to vote and make important social decisions. A portion of the blame for modest participation and little civic engagement is placed by youth themselves on the present cultural and political environment in Egypt. The potential for the creation of an enabling environment also appears to be undermined by the country’s record of democracy and by a security apparatus that is intolerant of any form of public display. However, this report clearly demonstrates that youth are interested in inclusion, discuss their society — whether on blogs or elsewhere — are critical of certain circumstances and dream about what they consider to be better conditions, especially with regard employment, freedoms and voice.
Equally surprising were the results of the World Values Survey in a special Youth Values chapter. The analysis showed how very conservative Egypt’s youth are when compared to youth in other countries, including their conviction on the importance of parental authority, religion, and specific gender roles in society. About 82% young people in a World Values Survey sample — covered extensively in this report — stressed the importance of preserving customs and traditions rooted in religion and family as characteristics that apply to them completely.
It appears that before calling for the participation of young people, via Youth Centers, NGO or volunteer work, there is need to understand why these have been unable to attract youth in large numbers. Do they provide the means by which youth are able to develop their own capabilities and pursue interests that contribute to their well-being? Are they sufficiently open to consultation and feedback from young people? Do they give young people equal opportunity to develop, to be empowered within the organization, to grow and gain influence over policy decisions and development directions? Are they aware that the voice of young people can also improve service delivery by monitoring and evaluating its quality?
All of these and other questions are tackled by Egypt’s National Youth Council which has recently produced a unified document defining a proposed National Youth Policy focusing on twelve key sector areas, including employment, civic participation and education — as a first step towards a holistic and inclusive reform strategy (see attachment). This is yet to be ratified by Parliament. At a second stage, it will develop the policies defining the relationship between the different entities charged with youth related activities and propose legislation to define and regulate all youth related activities.
The UN Secretary General’s Youth Employment Network has also prepared a National Action Plan on Youth Employment. The process has been driven and supported by the Ministry of Manpower and Migration, with multiple social partners, national and international actors, youth organizations, development agencies and donors. To date, the initiative has produced a fully comprehensive draft document that sets specific objectives and outcomes, as well as a division of labor, financial commitments and monitoring mechanisms for an integrated approach to meet the youth employment challenge in Egypt. It is to be ratified by Parliament and incorporated into Egypt’s current and next Five Year Plans.
There is therefore little argument over the need to adopt a coherent framework for a youth-inclusive strategy in Egypt. A first step would be to upgrade the status of Egypt’s National Youth Council so that it can better fulfill its mandate and implement the national youth policy. A second step would be to adopt the Youth Well-Being Index proposed in this report. This YWBI captures all aspects of health, education, poverty, employment, recreation, culture and information for young men and women that number close to 20 million citizens in the critical age group 18-29 years. The index would therefore become the benchmark whereby the government is held accountable for progress, along with the contributions of stakeholders in civil society and the business community.