Women at the rescue of the MENA Economies

Women at the rescue of the MENA Economies

Markaz of Brookings Doha Center published this article written by Firas Masri, Research Assistant at the Doha Center, on February 6th, 2017, so as to make a clear point with regards to women generally not only of the GCC countries but possibly of the wider region of the MENA countries.  These do indeed share the cultual, cultural and historical background that for centuries bore on all beings, particularly women of all ages and social backgrounds.  According to FS_Masri, employment of women would not impinge on that of the men but could also help the economies of those countries; she does make a point that preoccupied many and notably the European Union.  It said in its study that examined the economic, political and socio-cultural changes which have affected the situation of women in the Gulf region over the last decades by focusing on women’s rights and gender equality in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and provided a socio-cultural, political and economic analysis of women’s situation in the Gulf region.  Firas Masri in her essay looks at more recent trends and gives us an outlook that is not different from that of the EU’s.  So, is it Women at the rescue of the MENA Economies ?


Why the Arab world should employ more women

Governments in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continue to search for ways to repair their fragile economies. For some countries in the region, experts wonder whether high unemployment and poor economic growth could precipitate another round of political upheaval, similar to the uprisings in early 2011.

Despite this ominous scenario, there is one strategy that MENA governments persistently overlook to ease economic pressures: increasing female employment, a topic that Bessma Momani explores in a recent Brookings policy brief. Momani explains that the lack of female representation in MENA workforces limits economic growth in the region. She also argues that government policies encouraging greater female participation in the workforce will have a host of other economic and social benefits, in addition to boosting GDP. Furthermore, Momani contends: “introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries generate prosperity—as well as the normative and social imperative of change.”

Unfortunately, as Momani outlines, several barriers impede women in MENA from joining the labor force. In order to counter this, in her view, MENA governments should conduct gender impact studies for regional policymakers to understand how policies shape cultural attitudes toward gender. MENA governments manage primary and secondary school curricula, which studies have shown contain direct and indirect gender biases in the national education curriculum. Momani’s research shows that such gender impact studies could expose the types of gendered language used in textbooks that help reinforce male-dominated workforces in the region. Government-sponsored internships allocated for women could overcome stereotypes in industries previously gendered as masculine, she adds.

Other factors that prevent women from entering the workforce in MENA countries include the following: low salaries, early retirement, underwhelming job benefits, difficulty securing capital for entrepreneurial ventures, and harassment in public spaces. By addressing these concerns in the short-term, Momani argues that regional governments will lay the foundation for economic prosperity in the long-term.  Regional policymakers face an enormous challenge if they address these issues simultaneously. Nevertheless, with many economies in the region facing a grim outlook for 2017, she contends that it would behoove them to seriously consider policies that encourage more women to join the workforce.

Women’s full employment in MENA could increase household incomes by as much as 25 percent:

According to a World Bank report, “women’s employment can significantly improve household income—by as much as 25 percent—and lead many families out of poverty.” It continues that increased household income will not only positively impact MENA economies on the micro level, but it will bolster economies on the macro level as well. The IMF supports this claim by noting that from 2000 to 2011, the region

“could have gained $1 trillion in cumulative output (equivalent to doubling average real GDP growth during the past decade) if female labor force participation had been raised enough to narrow the gender gap from triple to double the average for other emerging market and developing countries.”

Momani’s new research indicates that such predictions remain relevant today.

Higher female employment rates could reduce poverty due to lower birth rates and improvements in child welfare:

As Momani further discusses, echoing other researchers, greater economic opportunity for women could contribute to reducing poverty. Research by the National Institutes of Health, for one, has shown that financially independent women demonstrate a greater ability to support their children, which greatly improves child welfare. Momani points to studies showing that women in the beginning stages of their careers—especially younger women, who make family planning decisions later in life—tend to have fewer and healthier children, as well as higher earnings, which can reduce poverty rates among  youth.


Women-led households save more money:

Momani’s brief illuminates that as working women gain financial independence—and in some cases become the breadwinner of the family—they can gain more decisionmaking power in the family. As one gender equality study she cites argues: “Women’s propensity to save is greater than men’s, and women’s consumption focuses to a greater extent on the children and on household necessities.” As another report shows, this change in the household dynamic will also boost regional economic growth in the short-term, which will lead to sustainable economic development in the long term.

Even in households where financial responsibilities are shared equally among men and women, a cross-country panel study of semi-industrialized nations found “that an increase in women’s wage share relative to men is associated with increase in the domestic savings rate.” Whether women take sole responsibility of household financial matters or share this responsibility with their spouse, the benefits of this development will make families in MENA more fiscally secure, Momani shows.

If women were employed at the same rate as men, they would contribute $2.7 trillion to regional GDP by 2025, a 47 percent increase:

According to a McKinsey report, if MENA countries close the gender gap in the labor force, the region could see an additional $2.7 trillion added to MENA countries’ GDP by 2025. Momani concludes that Arab countries must overcome numerous cultural and societal challenges to stimulate increased female participation in the labor force, but by initiating policy changes that encourage a shift in this dynamic, MENA countries will find themselves more financially secure in the future.

Filipino Overseas Contract Workers

Filipino Overseas Contract Workers

Here is an interesting article published on on November 27, 2016.  It is written by Therese Reyes and Isabella Steger.  It is about the Overseas Filipinos living in a wide range of countries, working and transferring their remittances back home.  They are, according to Wikipedia, known by a variety of terms with slightly different and sometimes overlapping meanings. The most commonly and officially used phrase is Filipino Overseas Contract Workers, acronym’d as OCWs .  

In the MENA region, the OCWs number was fast approaching a total of 2 million mark prior to the drop in oil price of June 2014.  These are concentrated mainly in the GCC countries with a predominant presence in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.  

As a good illustration of the trend, TradeArabia reported back in March 30, 2016 that  OSN, a leading pay-TV network in MENA region, has increased the breadth of content for OSN Pinoy subscribers with the roll out of six new channels taking the overall number of OSN Pinoy channels to 15.

Duterte the hero! Filipinos working abroad say they’re coming home to a better Philippines


Supporting Duterte from afar. (Therese Reyes)

Hong Kong :  Ever since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines in May, Ces, a 32-year-old Filipino domestic worker in Hong Kong, said she feels “very happy to go home.”

That’s because Duterte has done something to stamp out one of her biggest fears about flying back to Manila: “bullet planting.” Airport officials would extort huge bribes from travelers, after surreptitiously inserting bullets in their luggage and then detaining them for illegally carrying live ammunition. One Filipino domestic helper on her way back to her job in Hong Kong fell victim to the trap last year.

“I carried my bag like a baby,” Ces, who has worked in Hong Kong for two years after a stint in Kuwait, said of her previous trips home. Last year when she went home she kept pictures of Duterte, then the mayor of Davao City, in her bag so that anyone who opened it would be afraid.

Duterte’s bloody crackdown on drugs and insults of former allies have sparked criticism, but his staunch support of the rights of Filipinos working overseas—known as Overseas Filipino Workers, or OFWs—has won him widespread support from the community. They were key to him clinching the presidential election in May, and, interviews with over a dozen workers in Hong Kong show, remain among his most loyal fans.

They’re also one of the country’s economic engines. Over 10 million Filipinos working abroad send back billions of dollars every year, contributing around 10% of the country’s GDP.


Despite their hefty contributions to the economy, at great personal and social cost, many OFWs say previous presidents have not taken their plight seriously. Duterte, though, has cracked down on the airport scam, streamlined the red tape involved with working overseas, and is promising the ultimate dream for many—a domestic economy so good they no longer need to leave their families to work again. This will be the last generation of OFWs, he has promised.


An OFW working in Qatar says goodbye to her family before boarding a flight in Manila, January 12, 2015. (Reuters/Romeo Ranoco)

Previous presidents “only paid lip service to providing assistance and honoring the contributions” of OFWs, said Noel Pangilinan, an adjunct professor at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York who teaches Philippine history. Since the Ferdinand Marcos regime adopted the Labor Export Policy in the 1970s, “no Philippine government ever drafted a program to bring them home,” he said, “because they bring in money that props up the economy.”

During his presidential campaign, Duterte warned the staff of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport about bullet planting. “Everyone linked with bullet planting, kindly consider yourselves retired from government service,” he said. Then, he threatened to force anyone caught practicing the scam to swallow the bullets.

It didn’t come to that. Shortly after his inauguration, the president banned authorities from detaining passengers caught with bullets. This got rid of the fake investigation process, and scammers’ ability to intimidate and extort money from victims afraid of missing their flights or being charged. In Duterte’s first 100 days in office, transportation authorities said, there were zero reports of bullet planting.

Duterte’s Hong Kong fan club

Ces—who does not want to use her real name for fear of being attacked by Duterte’s numerous opponents on social media—belongs to the Hong Kong branch of a Duterte support group with 172 chapters around the world. She, like many others in the group, comes from Duterte’s hometown of Davao City, in the troubled southern part of the Philippines that has been long-neglected by the central government.

At an outdoor patio area of a Starbucks on a recent Sunday, the statutory day off for domestic helpers in Hong Kong, the group gathered to celebrate the birthday of Filipino senator Alan Peter Cayetano, a staunch Duterte ally and running mate. There was a chocolate cake with candles, a round of “Happy Birthday,” and a banner of Duterte and Cayetano hung on a nearby wall. Some wore big Duterte rings on their hands, and had Duterte stickers on their phones.

The women vigorously nodded in agreement at Ces’s bullet-planting fears, nearly all teared up as they discussed the husbands and children they had left behind, and were unanimous in one belief—that Duterte is the man who will give dignity and choice to the millions of OFWs around the world.

They call him Ang Huling Baraha, which in Tagalog means “the last card”—their only hope.


Duterte’s Hong Kong OFW fans strike a pose during a Sunday meeting. (Therese Reyes)

 “He feels our feelings, he walks in our shoes.” “He feels our feelings, he walks in our shoes,” said 43-year-old Jennifer Daproza, the leader of the Hong Kong chapter, who works in an international school. “My vision is that being an OFW will just be an option in the future,” she said, decked out in clothing printed with Duterte’s face. Daproza’s husband lives in Manila, and was part of a traveling band of musicians with Duterte’s presidential campaign. She hopes to return home for good in five years.

The women are dismissive of any criticism of Duterte, attributing it to misleading or false reports about him in the mainstream Filipino media. Most get their news only from blogs, they said. Some say the killings associated with his drug crackdown were carried out by police out of self-defense. Others believe drug pushers deserve their punishment, and that any collateral deaths are unfortunate.

Duterte’s critics fail to understand that as mayor, he transformed Davao City from a crime-ridden no-man’s land to what some consider the Singapore of the Philippines, his Hong Kong fans say. Ces said one of her brothers is a drug user in Davao City, so she fiercely welcomes Duterte’s tough stance on drugs.

Pro-Duterte meetings like the one in Hong Kong are happening around the world, thanks to the widespread Filipino diaspora. As of 2013, there were over 10 million OFWs, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). There are about 173,000 Filipinos working as domestic helpers in 2015 in Hong Kong, and the city isn’t even among the top five destinations.


In Hong Kong, Filipino domestic helpers earn around HK$4,110 a month ($530), three times the average non-agricultural monthly wage of $171 at home, according to Philippine government data.

The OFWs’ one-stop shop

In some cases, helping Filipinos working abroad has been as simple as streamlining bureaucracy. During a labor rally weeks before the May election, Duterte said that workers shouldn’t have a difficult time processing their application to go overseas, and that all required permits should be available in one building. That resulted in an OFW “one-stop shop” being opened in August in Manila, which had served 137,429 people as of Oct. 21, according to the POEA (pdf). There are plans to open more outside of Manila too.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

GOOD NEWS para sa mga OFWs! One-stop shop center pra sa mga overseas Filipino workers binuksan na sa Clark,Pampanga!

Before that, processing an application was a Herculean task that could take months and was extremely costly. Many OFWs come from provinces around the Philippines, and had to find room and board in the capital for the duration of the application process, as well as travel around sprawling, congested Manila to gather their paperwork.

Tin, another member of the Hong Kong group who didn’t want to use her real name, said she waited almost four months to process her papers in Manila before arrived here as a domestic helper. The 33-year-old spent some 100,000 pesos (about $2,000) in the effort. The trip from her factory workplace into the capital took two hours—and she had to make it frequently. The whole process was humiliating, she said tearfully. Still, Hong Kong wages are so much higher than what she can earn at home, that Tin stuck with it. Now she has a nine-year-old daughter in the Philippines who she sees only once every two years.
Duterte also promised throughout his campaign to start a fund of one billion pesos for every region in the Philippines to help micro, small, and medium enterprises, which is especially beneficial for OFWs who want to start their own business upon returning home. The Department of Trade and Industry’s plan for 2017 said it is devoting half of its 4.8 billion peso budget toward the initiative, with plans to promote products manufactured by small businesses in the country.

Duterte has been actively trying to help overseas workers facing difficulties abroad, too. A month-long government mission in August also aimed to help an estimated 11,000 OFWs stranded in Saudi Arabia, after their employers broke contracts as the local economy suffers under low oil prices. The problem is being compounded by Riyadh’s “Saudization” program, which aims to gradually replace foreign workers with locals, said Migrante International, an alliance founded by OFWs.
Duterte himself greeted 128 of those who were able to get back to the Philippines as they arrived at the airport. Mindful that many hadn’t been paid for months, he announced that each would be given 5,000 pesos. “Give me time to fix the economy, and you will have the opportunity to work here,” he told them.


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte poses with OFWs upon their arrival in Manila airport, Aug. 31, 2016. The workers were repatriated back to the country from Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Limits to Duterte’s power

While Duterte is building goodwill in the OFW community, some promises are wildly optimistic.
Anjo Dimacali, a representative of Migrante International, said that the impact of the government’s relief program in Saudi Arabia has been limited so far. For example, only 1,392 of the 11,000 or so workers had been repatriated as of early September, and a 500 million peso relief fund is already used up, with many affected workers unable to claim assistance.

While Duterte has the “political will” to help OFWs, “the only solution that will solve the issue of the Saudi OFWs is the [Filipino] government’s complete deviation from its labor export policy,” said Dimacali. The Philippines continues to suffer from poverty and a lack of jobs, which is why many Filipinos still want to work in the Middle East despite the worsening conditions there.

As such, Dimacali said the Saudi mission so far amounts only to a “band-aid solution to a deep wound.”

To heal that wound, the Philippines needs transform from a low-wage, agricultural economy into one that provides enough higher-paying jobs that make it economically viable for people not to leave home. The Philippines’ huge call-center industry is one bright spot, and is closing in on OFWs as the biggest contributor to GDP, but there are worries that Duterte’s ongoing anti-American rhetoric could undermine US investors’ confidence in the sector. Deep-seated corruption and poor infrastructure remain serious impediments to economic development. Duterte has vowed to tackle those problems too.

But some doubt whether the Filipinos working overseas now will see these problems fixed in their lifetime. Alejandro Reyes, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong’s politics and public administration department, called Duterte’s promise to create enough comparable jobs at home so OFWs can return a “holy grail idea.” Overseas wages are so much higher that “you’re not going to get to that level of pay in any short-term period” in the Philippines, he said.

Duterte’s Hong Kong fans are convinced, though. In between nightmarish stories about living abroad and inside jokes shared with the other women, Ces, who is single, talked about her dream of settling back in the Philippines by 2018. She’s unwavering in her conviction that Duterte will deliver on his promises, “because he succeeded in Davao.”

In her vision of the future, she is back home in crime-free Davao, and her drug-taking brother, who surrendered himself to the police earlier this year, is rehabilitated. She is running a funeral services business and knows she’ll never have to work overseas again—all made possible by Duterte.

Walk Free Foundation

Walk Free Foundation

Slavery in the world ?  Today ?  Where ?

According to a new and yet another report on the subject, this one by the Walk Free Foundation (WFF), slavery is still not only existent but prevalent in certain countries.  Qatar was ranked 5th in the world for slavery prevalence of modern day slavery.   The country has reformed its “Kafala” system in 2015 but has yet to put it into practice.   The reform of the so-calling foreign workers sponsoring into the country including regulation governing entry and exit form the country and changing jobs, migrant workers in the country were still dependent on their sponsors.

The construction sector, consisting of local and / or international employers alike, is notoriously known for all sorts of reasons to be as it were the greatest users of this type of manpower.   This was generally found to be one of the most dominant forms of slavery, reflecting the demand of cheap labour to build infrastructure related to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the country’s National Vision 2030.

The new law should allow migrant workers to change employers and be tied into residency through only their employment statuses.   It is also argued that there was “widespread reluctance” to extend this law to cover the rights of domestic workers.

The WFF recommended that Qatar’s government create an independent reform commission to review labour rights, establish a minimum wage, include domestic workers under labour reforms and properly monitor the non-payment of wages.  Here is the introduction/preface of this report.

The countries with the highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India, and Qatar. In North Korea, there is pervasive evidence that government-sanctioned forced labour occurs in an extensive system of prison labour camps while North Korean women are subjected to forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation in China and other neighbouring states. In Uzbekistan, the government continues to subject its citizens to forced labour in the annual cotton harvest.

Those countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Several of these countries provide the low-cost labour that produces consumer goods for markets in Western Europe, Japan, North America and Australia.

The countries with the lowest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are Luxembourg, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Belgium, the United States and Canada, and Australia and New Zealand. These countries generally have more economic wealth, score higher on government response, have low levels of conflict, and are politically stable with a willingness to combat modern slavery.

In summary, Qatar, according to this report that gives it a slavery prevalence rate of 1.36%, stood only behind North Korea (4.37%), Uzbekistan (3.97%), Cambodia (1.65%) and India (1.40%) in the Global Slavery Index 2016 by the Walk Free Foundation and in the MENA region, Qatar was followed by Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Yemen, which had estimated slavery prevalence rates of 1.13% each.

Read more at the above mentioned link.


GCC’s Expatriates Remittances Tax

GCC’s Expatriates Remittances Tax

Representatives to discuss tax on expat remittances . . .

Arab News 2016  reported that the Consultative (Shoura) Council of Saudi Arabia was expected to have a discussion last Sunday on a proposed tax on expatriate remittances.  The proposal from the Council’s finance committee had been drafted by a member of the committee, according to the above mentioned local media.  This comes in the wake of discussion in all GCC’s Expatriates Remittances Tax.

According to a Gulf Research Centre report released earlier this year, GCC countries are critical sources of global remittances, transferring billions of Dollars to mostly Asian countries.

The GCC countries were about 23% of the world’s $400 billion remittances in 2013 coming from the GCC region, representing nearly $90 billion, making Saudi Arabia the leading remitter not only in the GCC but also in the world.

This comes in the wake of discussions held in all GCC countries on this issue with some GCC countries are actively considering some taxation on expatriates remittances.

A GCC-wide VAT could be in place soon after the 6 countries have adopted a draft framework.  In the meantime, the UAE has already announced a 5% VAT as of 2018 with other GCC countries following shortly.

In the wake of the global oil price fall, all GCC countries are experiencing a decline in state revenues that they are trying to mitigate through finding other sources of income.

This week, Saudi Arabia unveiled its ‘Vision 2030’ plan that includes exploring new revenue streams with a view to breaking its dependency on hydrocarbon semi-annuity type of economy.  It is planning to adopt the path-breaking ‘Green Card’ but only in 5 years’ time.

Other topics that are being debated in Saudi Arabia include the annual performance reports of a number of government agencies.  Also under discussion will be other topics that include topics on water, agriculture, and environment particularly concerning the new water and power tariff.

The council’s health committee’s report on regulations concerning pharmaceutical facilities, private health facilities, and health care professions were on the agenda with a particular look at those reports to be scrutinized as included in the Human Resources Development Fund submitted by the committee on management and human resources; the report of the committee on transportation, telecommunications, and information technology on the General Authority for Civil, and the committee on economy and energy report on the Ministry of Petroleum and Minerals.  We shall report on the outcome as soon as it is available.



From Riches to Rags in the GCC and back  .

From Riches to Rags in the GCC and back .

Life of an expat worker in the GCC.

For most people, the year 2008 evokes memories of global economic collapse.

Personally, that was the zenith year of my career and I directly attribute it to being recruited to work in the Middle East.  Nothing could have prepared me for witnessing the prolific amount of construction activity, real estate development, conspicuous wealth…as well as the horrible, abject poverty.

Arriving for the first time in Abu Dhabi, the 24-hour flight from Houston, Texas landed in the early morning.  My company provided a personal escort to navigate me through the airport, Customs Department, and out to my awaiting private driver.  The chauffeured car was a luxurious new 700 Series BMW and not a “crazed taxi driver from Abu Dhabi” as I had envisioned from the 70’s American TV show, Taxi. 

The velvety black night sky was lit up only by street lights and few buildings.  When we drove past the Grand Mosque, it magnificently dominated the view.

Abu Dhabi MosqueThis gloriously awe-inspiring structure took 20 years to build as the shrine and accolade to the late and most beloved Sheikh Zayed.  Within my stay in the United Arab Emirates, I would see all the grandest architecture/construction wonders of the country including the two largest shopping malls and the tallest building in the world.  As a professional interior architect, discovering these buildings first-hand was a rewarding endeavor.  I knew that I had finally found and lived in “the promised land of milk and honey.”

By the time of my last trip to UAE in 2014, I had a turn of fortunes and a first-hand experience of living in poverty and how discrimination impacted the lives of other people.

Going from a $5,000 per month luxury hotel stay to staying in a an expat workers flop house with 20 roommates (of Indian, African and Philippines descent), I flew out of Dubai financial broke, traumatized and forever enlightened.

These housing accommodations are not apartments for rent, or rooms for rent, instead they are a single, twin-sized mattress or top/bottom of a bunk bed for rent, sharing one and a half bathroom, one kitchen and one small dining table…and no common living room nor closets, wardrobes or dressers.

Typically, they are one or two bedroom apartments that are converted to high-density living quarters for the many minority laborers.

Privacy between the beds was arranged using hung  linen sheets.  Many married couples shared a single bed and there were eight adults in one room where I stayed.

Eventually our landlord provided thin metal space partitioning dividers that were approximately 7’ high.  These enclosed tightly around each bed leaving approximately 18” space in front of one side of the bed as our personal, circulation space.  Having the enclosure with a sliding door was a relative upgrade and a very much welcomed improvement…for which the monthly rental amount was doubled.

The outside open patio was a makeshift closet to hang all clothes…not just the wet ones.  The smells of cooking rice and fried fish and shrimp constantly permeated the air as the residents worked all hours of day and night, coming back at different times and start with a cooked meal before hitting the pillow and sleep off the rest of the day or night.  The kitchen sink and counters were usually filled with pots full of preparations of exotic ethnic foods.

Expat workers rightsRegardless of their countries of origin, everyone living in our home was fluent in English and eager to speak and share their experiences and food with one another.

It was an absolute squalor by European and American standards but it was no doubt a common way of life for the expatriate working class of  the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Africa who migrate to the rich lands of the Middle East in search of employment and a better standard of living.

How much did all this cost?  600 AED or $163.36 in USD per month .

The sight and sounds of the low-flying jets that flew over my apartment…every few minutes…kept me hopeful that one day maybe, I would, after falling from riches to rags, be able to go back to my usual riches.