New Release: A Vision for Universal Social Protection Systems in the Arab Region

"الدليل نحو حماية اجتماعية شاملة في المنطقة العربية: التحديات والفرص
تم إنشاء الصورة بواسطة الذكاء الاصطناعي

(Beirut, March 19th, 2024) The Arab Reform Initiative (ARI) released today the English version of a book entitled “The Guide to Universal Social Protection in the Arab Region: Challenges and Opportunities.”. The book aims to explore the potential for expanding social protection to include the most vulnerable and excluded groups across four Arab countries: Jordan, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt. These national cases represent the reality of existing social protection systems in the region and the reforms required to make them more effective, inclusive, comprehensive, and sustainable.

Dr. Howaida Adly Roman, the book’s author, states that “this publication aims to provide evidence-based scientific recommendations that can inform policymaking in the realm of social protection.” She further notes: “The book’s approach is fundamentally political, as the challenges in social protection within the region stem from political choices with socio-political and politico-economic factors influencing these choices. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the integrated analysis offered in this book, combining both the technical and the political perspectives.”

The book focuses on children, older persons, informal workers, and young individuals not in education, employment, or training (NEETs), as some of the most vulnerable social groups. These categories were selected based on scientific justifications and quantitative indicators that highlight the need for targeted attention to them. The book examines these groups from three fundamental aspects: universal coverage for all individuals, comprehensive protection against risks, and the adequacy of provided benefits. It proposes a shift in the concept and philosophy of social protection, moving away from its current instrumental and relief-focused role towards an empowering and welfare-oriented role that promotes justice and equity, and strengthens the legal aspect of social protection policy making.

Farah Al Shami, the Director of the Social Protection Program at ARI, emphasizes, “The importance of this book stems from its treatment of the subject matter starting from setting priorities for scrutiny and intervention, be it on the level of the national contexts or the vulnerable groups in question. Given the closed policy spaces in the Arab region, which often overlook the substantial amount of knowledge produced on social protection, it becomes imperative to delve into particular case studies and consider their specificities in order to overcome the challenges hindering the capacity of research to drive policy change, as this permits incremental reforms based on identified priorities.”

The book comprises four chapters. The “Introduction and Background” section explores the international framework for social protection, the book’s objectives and its methodology, its contribution to the literature, the criteria for selecting the target social groups, and the overarching macro issues governing the social protection approach. Subsequently, the book provides an overview of the socioeconomic conditions in the four Arab countries at hand, including poverty rates and regional disparities, followed by an examination of the existing social protection landscape in these countries. Additionally, the book conducts an in-depth analysis of each target group, proposing policy options and alternatives for their inclusion into social protection schemes and outlining the necessary reforms to that end.

The book concludes with several key findings and recommendations, the most important of which is the need for a new development paradigm that deals with the structural causes of poverty and marginalization and upholds the right to decent work, which – in turn – necessitates ensuring various other rights such as the right to education, healthcare, and even development. This shift entails implementing structural policy changes aimed at the most impoverished and underserved rural areas in terms of available opportunities, infrastructure, essential public services and economic sectors. The book highlights the importance of enhancing social protection governance and avoiding limiting it to merely technical procedures. Governance is a multi-dimensional process that includes democratic, political, legal, legislative, and other aspects. Democracy is achieved with the participation of stakeholders, while the technical dimension is evident in the effective management of the provision of services and benefits. As for the political dimension, it is embodied in the transparency and accountability of legislative and executive bodies. The legal dimension is represented by the availability of comprehensive, rights-oriented legal frameworks that provide mechanisms for complaints and investigation.

In this context, this book offers an added value by presenting a well-rounded perspective and approach, contextualizing social protection within the wider realm of social policy and the broader sphere of social justice. It connects this issue with other pertinent topics such as poverty determinants, measurement challenges, development paradigms, and the balance between quality and speed of economic growth. Consequently, the book serves as a comprehensive guide towards achieving universal social protection for all.

This publication falls within the framework of ARI’s Social Protection Program. The 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 and follows a human righs-based approach. 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. 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 forms of partnerships and collaborations.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.