Empowerment of women has been identified as one of prioritized areas of the global development agenda in achieving the 2013 Sustainable Development Goals. Women play an eminent role in public sector and contributes substantially to inclusive growth in Arab countries and in many parts of the world. As being mothers responsible for wellbeing and welfare of families, communities, they witness ups and downs in the economic life in their locality as well as in the country and are always creative in finding practical solutions. Increasingly, they gain more and more recognition in all social and intellectual works. World Development Report (2012) documented the share of female directors in boards of directors of 40 percent in Norway to 21 percent in Sweden, and lower in other countries such as Korea, Japan and a number of GCC countries.
Egypt and several Arab countries are in the transition to a new path of economic development and democracy in which women act as equal citizens in public policy making as well as in the decision making. This process brings in new momentum in term of job creation as women get very involved in local production and SMEs as main generator of jobs in the region. Several UN Agencies have been supporting Egypt and various Arab countries in promotion of gender equality for poverty alleviation and for economic authority of women. This mandate remains also true for efforts under initiatives of Aid for Trade being implemented by UNDP.
World Development Report of 2012 pointed to the fact that female participation to the labor market in Middle East and North Africa stood at 26 percent, compared to 35 percent in South Asia and 64 percent in East Asia and Pacific. In Egypt, 65 percent of women aged 15 to 24 were jobless compared with 33 percent of men.
By fact, women are already actively engaged in informal cross border trade for economic survivals through gaining a small profit to reward their efforts and status of inhabitants that live in common border areas. With these, they assist to sustain livelihood of their families and communities. Composition of goods being subject to this particular trade varies from one region or one country to another; it depends much from market demands, necessities of households, and level of profits traders may earn in daily transactions. Studies documented estimates of goods being traded of US$ 50 to 1000. In accordance with findings of baseline surveys and with information from UN Development Fund for Women (UNDFW), majority of informal cross border traders are women who accounted for approximately 70 percent. In the Western and Central parts of Africa, women constitute nearly 60 percent of informal traders. A good understanding of roles of women in Arab informal trade is essential to design of corresponding policies to promote their wellbeing and make them agents of more inclusive growth.
In addition to that, women are active in public policy in several countries and promotion of their roles in administrations and public institutions in charge of revenue collection will effectively support introduction of modern practices, included in Arab countries.
According to statistics by the World Customs Organization (2013) 87.5 percent of all heads of customs administrations are men. There were a total of 22 women in that position – seven are from developed countries (representing less than 20 percent of all developed countries), and 15 are from developing countries (representing less than 10 percent of all developing countries). In the Egypt Customs Authority (ECA), the position of Chief of Staff of the Commissioner is with a dedicated senior female officer. All these point to substantial progress in acknowledging the role and potential of women in public sphere against the situation few decades ago.
Arab countries and its revenue collection administrations, included the Customs, are embarking in a comprehensive programme of modernization and restructuring aimed at better effectiveness in collection of revenues as well as adoption of corresponding measures to sustain national fiscality. This goes accompanied by activation of new practices while taking into account requirements of trade facilitation and economic development. Realization of these tasks demand important efforts of all public servants and stakeholders in various capacities; in this process, the role of women is essential.
With a view to achieve good understanding of the contribution of women in public policy making and particularly in administrations in charge of revenue collection and trade facilitation in Arab countries, a seminar would be organized by UNDP in collaboration with Egypt Customs Authority in the first stage. Similar activities would be held in a near future in other countries in the region.
Objectives of the seminar:
Objective 1: To raise awareness of the role of women in senior leadership position in the customs, revenue collection and trade administrations, particularly in the introduction of new facilitation tools.
Objective 2: To understand challenges women encounter in the conduct of informal trade across borders in the region.
Objective 3: To consult on the potential contribution of women to the modernization of practices in the pursuit of better performance of revenue collection and trade facilitation administrations.
Objective 4: To formulate recommendations for more empowered women in economic activities (introduction of new practices and reform), promotion of good governance and active involvement in the design of public policies for consideration by senior officials of concerned authorities in Egypt.
1. Initial analysis of challenges women face in decision making in the public sector as well as informal trade.
2. Identification of modalities of mainstreaming gender for better performance in revenue collection and trade facilitation administrations.
3. A set of recommendations by participants to the senior management of revenue collection and trade facilitation administrations (Ministries of Finance and Trade) for decisions.