The Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)’s Social Protection Program envisions an Arab region in which all people, regardless of their identities, are guaranteed social protections that secure their access to the essential goods and services needed to ensure their well-being and decent standards of living, which in turn gives them the opportunity to prosper and contribute as active members of society. The program began in 2020 as a project by an ARI-led collective of eight organizations, seeking to map, document and analyze the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions in the Arab region. As the pandemic was found to have substantially magnified the dearth of social protection that has long characterized the region, the program was established with the objective to bring together researchers, practitioners, and activists in order to devise policy solutions that support the promotion of universal social protection schemes, which are necessary to alleviate poverty and enhance social security and equity across all communities. In doing so, we aim to put the discussion towards building more inclusive social policies center stage in the post-COVID-19 recovery strategies and the concerted efforts to “build back better” in the midst of the multitude of crises and conflicts afflicting Arab countries.
Our approach to social protection is a human rights-based one. We consider social protection to be the primary responsibility of the State, and a manifestation of the social contracts that tie citizens and residents to their States. We reject the humanitarian assistance approach to social protection whereby it is primarily considered to be an aid mechanism or a service. We insist that all actors providing humanitarian assistance in times of crisis and emergency ensure that the aid they provide is complementary to the existing social protection schemes, is fully integrated where possible, and covers recipients that are excluded from existing schemes. Our program therefore examines how frail or inexistent social contracts in the region have shaped Arab social protection systems and prevented them from being effective and sustainable enough to shield people from the negative livelihood implications of the various political or socio-economic shocks that have been recurrently affecting many Arab countries.
To that end, the program’s research agenda revolves around four key pillars:
What should the priorities for expanding social protection be nowadays? Notably, what are the necessary policy, programmatic, institutional, legal and legislative reforms to fulfill this objective?
What are the needed fiscal reforms and financing mechanisms to fund the universal social protection policies and programs we aspire for?
How to overcome the politico-economic factors and the political redlines behind the prevailing inadequate social protection systems in the Arab region? How to bridge the gap between policy and politics knowing that the desired policy change requires a political will and serious – and possibly systemic – political change?
How can research initiatives accompany and work with social movements demanding universal social protection systems in the region?
As we address these dimensions, we look at the intersection between social policy and responses to other crises or issues afflicting the different Arab contexts in question; we delve deep in the specificities of the numerous vulnerable and marginalized social groups; we scrutinize the cases of a variety of sectors, industries, and specific programs or interventions; we try to propose alternatives that span national, local, and even more micro/execution-level forms of governance; we investigate the multiple faces of social activism related to welfare policies as well as the politico-sociological factors lying under them; and we probe the role of international financial institutions (IFIs) and the spillovers of external conflicts/crises, among other external factors. While doing so, we remain, however, mindful that social protection systems are not enough on their own to achieve social equality and social justice. These aims need new economic models and development paradigms that abide by all the aspects and goals of the 2030 Agenda, and where all public policies and legal frameworks are just and responsive to the different forms of social vulnerability. It is only then that our desired social protection systems can be complementary enough and thus effective.
We strive to advance our research agenda by:
Executing, encouraging, and facilitating the production, analysis, collation, and dissemination of interdisciplinary knowledge about social protection in the Arab region.
Facilitating multi-stakeholder exchanges, convening dialogues within and between professional and policy spheres, and raising awareness on the issue at hand among the wider public.
Supporting and joining collective action that amplifies advocacy efforts with other stakeholders and the decision makers.
Our efforts seek to consolidate a community of practice and knowledge on social protection in the Arab region. One that builds on the existing ecosystem, solidifies it, and expands it. One that has a coordinated vision and that strives to facilitate dialogue, exchange, partnerships, and cooperation in order to join forces, become more impactful, and ultimately achieve our shared goals. Accordingly, we have initiated the Arab Region Hub for Social Protection, a virtual go-to space where professionals who are dedicated to exploring, understanding, and advocating for better social protections in the Arab States can share ideas, success stories, and lessons learnt, as well as explore and initiate several layers of collaborative action. This joint declaration outlines our community’s proposed approach to make social protection schemes in the Arab region more integrated, effective, inclusive and viable, and unifies its members’ discourses on “building universal social protection systems in turbulent Arab contexts.”
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