The skills gap poses a genuine threat to economic progress and could leave nations stalled, millions unemployed and prosperity dwindling.
Only one in five working-age women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has a job or is actively looking for one, according to the World Bank and the region has one of the lowest female labour force participation rates in the world.
If the MENA region continues along this trajectory, it could take at least another 150 years to match the current global average for female labour force participation.
Despite good progress in some countries, challenges and inequities persist.
Increasingly, there is a realisation that the levels of female unemployment are not simply a mirror of the business cycle, but a persistent structural issue that has distinct causes and requires specific solutions that cut across socio-economic and education policies.
This not only represents a great loss of human capital, but it also seriously hinders the region’s potential for social and economic development.
Across MENA, restrictive barriers including limited mobility, restrictive laws and closed industries, coupled with long-standing political and social issues, continue to impede women’s access to the labour market.
However, one factor that stands out is that education does not always lead to employment. There is a persistent mismatch between employers and jobseekers – whether in terms of skills, attitudes or expectations.
For example, in Saudi Arabia, female enrolment in tertiary education has doubled in the last decade (68.5% in 2017 compared to 34.2% in 2007), but still only two in ten working-age women participate in the labour force.
In Egypt, unemployment among women with advanced education is almost six times that among those with basic education only, according to World Bank Development Indicators. While in Tunisia, only 41% of women are enrolled in tertiary education and they represent just 26.5% of the total labour force in the country.
This skills gap poses a genuine threat to economic progress and has the potential to leave nations stalled, millions unemployed and prosperity dwindling.
I believe that women can be change-makers for the political, economic and social development of MENA.
However, participation from governments, employers and education providers is needed to bridge the gender gap, increase regional output, and put MENA on a more sustainable and inclusive growth path in the long run.
Companies can do their part by engaging in thoughtful planning, cooperating with others and getting strategic about their staffing practices. This could range from supporting access to soft and technical skills programmes, endorsing philanthropic partnerships, designing policies and spearheading discussions among the education community to pushing inclusive job opportunities.
Over the next decade, it is estimated that 50 million women will come of working age in the region. Therefore, corporations are in a unique position to bring about significant change through empowering a previously untapped human resource.
Despite increased focus and spending over the past decade, MENA governments still have a long road ahead in improving women’s social and political barriers to employment. Without a drastic overhaul of personal development and soft skills programmes, companies will continue to struggle to fill jobs across the region.
The influence and investment of companies is crucial to start to re-shape the position of women across MENA and successfully bring them into the workforce – ultimately shaping a stronger, more inclusive economy.
Carmen Haddad is the Chief Country Officer of Citigroup Saudi Arabia and the Citi Saudi Arabia Business Governance Head. Citi Foundation has partnered with international NGO Education for Employment to tackle the MENA unemployment crisis.
* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The MENA region according to a UNICEF report, without improved education and meaningful work opportunities will have to face the critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children, and over a 10 per cent rise in youth unemployment by 2030. Xinhua came up with the following article edited by Mu Xuequan.
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) — Without improved education and meaningful work opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the region faces a critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children by 2030, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report: MENA Generation 2030, which was published Thursday.
MENA Generation 2030 is the first report to make a direct link between investment in children, economic growth and social development.
The report warns that over a 10 per cent rise in youth unemployment by 2030 is expected, if the situation remains unchanged.
According to the report, the region has the highest youth unemployment rates in the world; nearly 15 million children are out of school due to a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning, violence in schools and armed conflict.
“We are at a serious risk of not meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in the MENA region with devastating consequences on children and young people,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The only way out is through the implementation and budgeting of policies for children, ending violence and armed conflict, having a politically and socially stable environment, and promoting gender equality,” Cappelaere added.
The report urges governments to increase financing for early childhood development, improve basic education and simultaneously nurture the skills needed to match the rapidly changing economy.
According to UNCHR, those fleeing their own countries for fear of persecution travel collectively around two billion kilometres per year to reach a safe haven. To honour their resilience and determination and to remind us of the long and tortuous journeys they are forced to make on their way to safety, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched the www.stepwithrefugees.org campaign to mark 2019 World Refugee Day.
The number of migrant and refugee school-age children around the world has grown by 26% since 2000. Eight years on from the beginning of the Syrian conflict, a new paper released today and at an event in the Netherlands looks at the importance of making sure that education systems are set up to address the trauma that many of these children face before, and during their journeys to new countries. In particular, teachers need better training to provide psychosocial support to these children, including through social and emotional learning.
In Germany, about one-third of refugee children suffer from mental illness, and one-fifth suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Unaccompanied minors are particularly vulnerable. One third of 160 unaccompanied asylum seeking children in Norway from Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Somalia suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Among 166 unaccompanied refugee children and adolescents in Belgium, 37-47% had ‘severe or very severe’ symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD.
Rates of trauma among the displaced in low and middle income countries are also high. For instance, 75% of 331 internally displaced children in camps in southern Darfur in Sudan met diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, and 38% had depression.
In the absence of health centres, schools can play a key role in restoring a sense of stability. Teachers are not and should never be leant on as mental health specialists, but they can be a crucial source of support for children suffering from trauma if they’re given the right training. But they need basic knowledge about trauma symptoms and providing help to students, which many do not have. NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee, iACT, and Plan International, are training teachers to face this challenge through their programmes, but their reach is not enough.
In Germany, the majority of teachers and day-care workers said that they did not feel properly prepared to address the needs of refugee children. In the Netherlands, 20% of teachers with more than 18 years of experience working in mainstream schools reported that they experienced a high degree of difficulty dealing with students with trauma. The vast majority of these teachers (89%) encountered at least one student with trauma in their work. A review of early childhood care and education facilities for refugee children in Europe and North America found that, although many programmes recognized the importance of providing trauma-informed care, appropriate training and resources were ‘almost universally lacking’.
The paper shows the importance of social and emotional learning, as an approach to psychosocial support which targets skills, such as resilience, to manage stress, and is often rolled out through interactive, group-based discussions or role play. It shows the importance of this approach for less acute situations but emphasizes that for more challenging cases trained specialists are needed.
It is also important to involve parents in social and emotional learning so that activities can continue at home. One programme in Chicago looked at addressing symptoms of depression among Mexican immigrant women and primary school children with in- and after- school programmes and home visits, for instance, and improved school work, child mental health and family communication.
Learning environments must be safe, nurturing and responsive.
Teachers working with migrant and refugee students who have suffered trauma face particular hardships and need training to cope with challenges in the classroom.
Psychosocial interventions require cooperation between education, health and social protection services.
Social and emotional learning interventions need to be culturally sensitive and adapted to context. They should be delivered through extra-curricular activities as well.
Community and parental involvement should not be neglected.
East Africa is famously the birthplace of humankind and the location where our ancient hominin ancestors first invented sophisticated stone tools. This technology, dating back to 2.6m years ago, is then thought to have spread around Africa and the rest of the Old World later on.
But new research, published in Science, has uncovered an archaeological site in Algeria containing similar tools that may be as old as 2.44m years. The team, led by the archaeologist Mohamed Sahnouni, excavated stone tools at the site Ain Boucherit that they estimate are between 1.92m and 2.44m years old. This suggests that human ancestors spread to the region much earlier than previously thought or that the stone tool technology was simultaneously invented by earlier hominin species living outside east Africa.
The artefacts belong to the “Oldowan” – the oldest known stone tool industry. Rounded river cobbles, used as hammer stones, were used to flake other cobbles, turning them into simple cores. The flakes were then transformed into scrapers and various knives by resharpening their edges. Essentially this was a tool kit for processing animal tissue, such as marrow, bone and brain tissue, but also plant material. However, it is not known for sure which hominin species first created Oldowan tools – potentially Australopithecus or Homo habilis.
The stone tools are very similar to those of early Oldowan sites in East Africa. Bones at the site even have cut marks, where a stone tool has gouged into the bone during butchery. The cut marks may mean these hominins were actively hunting.
But we have only ever found early Oldowan tools in the east African rift valley before, more than 4,000km away. We have always assumed that it started there some 2.6m years ago, so we shouldn’t find it so far from its original home at that age unless we have missed something.
Many archaeologists do indeed suspect there is an unseen ghost somewhere in the machine. There have been discoveries of early hominin sites to the south, in Chad, that suggest that some of our earliest ancestors lived well beyond East Africa. Oldowan-like sites have also been found outside of Africa, in Georgia, beginning at 1.8m years ago – which seems surprisingly early.
The new discovery is telling us that our focus on East Africa as the birthplace of early humans is too narrow – we should be doing what Sahnouni and others have done all along and looking elsewhere. The same team recently published findings about another Oldowan site in Algeria that is about 1.75m years old, but to find early Oldowan tools well over half a million years earlier is a bit of a game changer.
It all hinges on how reliable that 2.44m-year-old date really is. Dating specialists will be scrutinising the details very carefully. According to the paper, four different techniques were used. Palaeomagnetic dating measures the direction and intensity of the Earth’s magnetic field in sediments – this is locked into rocks when they form, helping to tell us how old they are.
The team found that the upper level mapped onto a short period of normal polarity taking place between 1.77m and 1.94m years ago. The lower level’s sediments fitted into a long period of reversed direction at between 1.94m and 2.58m years ago.
To get more precise dates, the team turned to a dating technique called electron spin resonance dating, which measures radioactive decay in quartz sand grains. However, they used a less common version of the technique that was operating close to its upper limit of reliability at this age range. The measurement delivered an age of 1.92m years old, younger than suggested by paleomagnetism.
There are some concerns about how suitable this last method is but the team has been honest about that. They also compared the dates with extinction times of animals present at the site, which suggested the date wasn’t impossible.
To get a better idea of the maximum age of the tools, they used a technique for estimating the rates of sedimentation – basically how long the different layers at the site took to build up. You have to throw in some fancy statistical work though, and map it onto the palaeomagnetic results. Extrapolating backwards in time, the team calculated that the actual age of the lower level is 2.44m years old. I suspect dating specialists will be looking at this carefully.
Now to our ghost. The oldest tools ever found outside of Africa are the ones from Georgia dated to 1.8m years ago. There is a small Oldowan-like site in Pakistan from around the same time and more core-and-flake sites in east China at 1.66m years ago. If the Georgian site represents the first move out of Africa, then these early African migrants got to Pakistan and China extremely quickly.
In Georgia, the tools may have been made by early Homo erectus, which dates back to about 1.8m years ago. As there is a Homo erectus specimen from China dated to 1.6m years old, it is easy to assume that Homo erectus must have been the species that spread the tool technology around the world – and much quicker than we had thought.
But we cannot be sure of that. What if our ghost was an earlier hominin species from Africa predating Homo erectus – such as Homo habilis? Perhaps the Oldowan actually began earlier than 2.6m years ago, and was already widespread throughout Africa by 2.4m years ago.
Maybe our mysterious hominin began to migrate out from Africa before 1.8m years ago, and carried its core-and-flake industry eastwards. That would certainly give it more time to cover those huge distances. Perhaps Homo erectus only migrated eastwards out of Africa later, following in the footsteps of an earlier traveller that we know nothing about.
So that’s a lot of maybes, but then nobody expected there to be Oldowan tools in Georgia when they were first found. It caused a lot of controversy, but now most archaeologists are comfortable with the finding. The Georgian archaeologists went back, did more work and proved their case. I don’t doubt Sahnouni and his team will be doing the same.
ANCIENT WIPEOUT Preliminary evidence indicates that a low-altitude meteor explosion around 3,700 years ago destroyed cities, villages and farmland north of the Dead Sea (shown in the background above) rendering the region uninhabitable for 600 to 700 years. Fightbegin/istock.com
DENVER — A superheated blast from the skies obliterated cities and farming settlements north of the Dead Sea around 3,700 years ago, preliminary findings suggest.
Radiocarbon dating and unearthed minerals that instantly crystallized at high temperatures indicate that a massive airburst caused by a meteor that exploded in the atmosphere instantaneously destroyed civilization in a 25-kilometer-wide circular plain called Middle Ghor, said archaeologist Phillip Silvia. The event also pushed a bubbling brine of Dead Sea salts over once-fertile farm land, Silvia and his colleagues suspect.
People did not return to the region for 600 to 700 years, said Silvia, of Trinity Southwest University in Albuquerque. He reported these findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on November 17.
Excavations at five large Middle Ghor sites, in what’s now Jordan, indicate that all were continuously occupied for at least 2,500 years until a sudden, collective collapse toward the end of the Bronze Age. Ground surveys have located 120 additional, smaller settlements in the region that the researchers suspect were also exposed to extreme, collapse-inducing heat and wind. An estimated 40,000 to 65,000 people inhabited Middle Ghor when the cosmic calamity hit, Silvia said.
The most comprehensive evidence of destruction caused by a low-altitude meteor explosion comes from the Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hammam, where a team that includes Silvia has been excavating for the last 13 years. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the mud-brick walls of nearly all structures suddenly disappeared around 3,700 years ago, leaving only stone foundations.
What’s more, the outer layers of many pieces of pottery from same time period show signs of having melted into glass. Zircon crystals in those glassy coats formed within one second at extremely high temperatures, perhaps as hot as the surface of the sun, Silvia said.
High-force winds created tiny, spherical mineral grains that apparently rained down on Tall el-Hammam, he said. The research team has identified these minuscule bits of rock on pottery fragments at the site.
Examples exist of exploding space rocks that have wreaked havoc on Earth (SN: 5/13/17, p. 12). An apparent meteor blast over a sparsely populated Siberian region in 1908, known as the Tunguska event, killed no one but flattened 2,000 square kilometers of forest. And a meteor explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 injured more than 1,600 people, mainly due to broken glass from windows that were blown out.
Audiovisual Heritage of the UN News came up with this call to action for all to try and ‘bring to life’ any audio-visual recordings of their life, be it private or public, all presumably for posterity’s sake.
Old, grainy film and video footage from years gone by, not only stirs powerful memories – it’s also a vital resource for future generations, the United Nations cultural agency has highlighted, urging everyone to safeguard audio-visual heritage and make archives more accessible.
These images and sounds recorded on film, video and audio tape, “feed into our collective memory and establish links between generations”, Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said in her message marking the official World Day for Audio-visual Heritage.
“[However,] this memory, which has remained alive and is essential to historians, scientists and ordinary citizens seeking knowledge of their past, is nonetheless fragile,” she added, noting the increasing neglect of archives which are made up of what is now obsolete analogue media, like LP records and quarter-inch audio tape.
Focusing this year on the theme, “Your Story is Moving,” UNESCO, in partnership with the Coordinating Council of Audio-visual Archives Associations (CCAAA), is calling on everyone to showcase personal and family archives.
“Bringing them out of lofts and cellars, sharing slices of life, moments captured on film or videotape, can bring alive, with emotion, an existence that has become a thing of the past,” continued Ms. Azoulay in her message.
“Heritage is not an inanimate object; it is full of meaning, significance and all the emotions that have accompanied the lives of past generations,” she added.
Alongside events globally to mark the World Day, UNESCO is also appealing on everyone to share their stories with the hashtag #AudioVisualheritage to bring their own “moving stories” to the world.
Preserving world history at the UN
In this special video, take a peek into the work of our expert UN archivists, as they protect tens of thousands of records documenting the history of diplomacy from the last century, preserving them for future generations.
Marked annually, on 27 October, the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage aims to raise awareness of the importance of audio-visual documents, redouble efforts to safeguard them and promote greater access to archives.
The World Day is a commemoration of the adoption, in 1980, of the Recommendation for the Safeguarding and Preservation of Moving Images by the 21st UNESCO General Conference.