Category Archives: Middle East and North Africa

Reforms are Needed to Help Turkish Women Gain a Greater Foothold in Politics and the Workforce

A woman runs several shops and bakeries in Kızılcahamam, Central Anatolia, Turkey. Despite important strides toward gender equality, just 32 percent of working-age Turkish women participate in the labor force.

In the past several decades, Turkish women have made important strides toward gender equality. Near-equal numbers of girls and boys now receive primary education, virtually closing the education gap. Women hold approximately half of all academic positions and comprise a third of engineers and lawyers. These gains are cause for celebration, but they only tell half the story of the quest for gender equality in Turkey. Women still hold little political power, and they struggle to maintain a presence in the labor market. With only 32 percent of working-age women employed full- or part-time, Turkey ranks last in women’s workforce participation among all 35 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Moreover, women account for just 15 percent of Turkish parliamentarians and hold only one cabinet-level position.

Pinpointing the cause of women’s absence from Turkey’s economic and political arenas is no simple task. The country has legislation in place to promote women’s equality and ease the hurdles that women face when entering the labor force. However, a combination of gaps in legal implementation and lingering traditional perceptions of women belonging in a domestic role hold women back from obtaining higher rates of employment.

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The LIFE Project, Serving up Economic Opportunities in the Food Sector

Members of the LIFE project consortium interview the owners and workers at a family-owned and operated produce store, also in Beşiktaş. Produce stores, called manavs in Turkish, are a common fixture in Istanbul.

Strolling through the streets of Fatih, it becomes clear just how many Syrians have relocated to Istanbul, Turkey. The transformed neighborhood—home to the government’s immigration office—has dozens of Syrian shops, which draw refugees looking for a taste of home and foodies eager to sample the area’s new eateries. In fact, the food industry has become a major pathway for Syrians who are looking for economic and social integration in Turkey. For this reason, CIPE and a consortium of partners recently launched the Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship (LIFE) project. The two-year project will establish two self-sustaining food business incubators in Istanbul and Gaziantep, geared towards Turkish and Syrian communities alike. The incubators, which will support more than 200 entrepreneurs and 1,000 workers in the food industry over the course of the project, will provide technical support to entrepreneurs, business formalization and mentorship services, as well as foster cultural exchange and understanding.

A member of the LIFE project consortium interviews the owners of a small gözleme shop in the Beşiktaş neighborhood of Istanbul. Gözleme is a traditional Turkish pastry.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria in 2011, Turkey has received 3.2 million Syrian refugees. Of those, 90 percent live outside of refugee camps, most of them in cities. The Turkish government has invested significantly to address the influx, spending approximately $30 billion over the past six years. This effort has included creating programs to support the integration of Syrians into Turkish society, including initiatives to help Syrians looking to open restaurants and other businesses. Even still, the refugee influx has strained government resources and services. In creating more competition for employment, the influx has also affected host communities, contributing to tensions between Turkish, Syrian, and other refugee groups. These tensions are especially pronounced in the informal sector, businesses that are not registered with the government. The informal sector, which makes up 34 percent of the Turkish economy, is where most Syrians find employment because there are fewer barriers to entry than in the formal sector.

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Subsidy Systems in MENA Nations Need Reform

Buying bread with subsidy cards at a bakery in Cairo. via REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The subsidy systems in some Middle East and North African (MENA) nations need an overhaul. In countries such as Lebanon and Egypt, poorly structured subsidies exacerbate extant problems caused by high fiscal deficits, growing populations, and unmet citizen expectations. At least, that was the key message I took away from the CIPE webinar I attended on September 26. Because subsidies affect the economic capacity of millions of low-income families, CIPE hosted a webinar focusing on electricity subsidies in Lebanon and bread subsidies in Egypt to generate dialogue on the topic. My blog aims to highlight the main points from the webinar, which was facilitated by Patrick Mardini of the Lebanese Institute for Market Studies (LIMS) and Reem Abdelhaliem of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.

Governments implement subsidies as a means to pacify discontented populations. The hope is that if the sticker price of essential commodities—such as bread, rice, oil, and electricity—is kept artificially low, citizens will have less of an incentive to protest poor economic conditions. While this may ease discontent in the short term, the subsidy systems in place often do more harm than good. By keeping prices low, the government bears consistent losses and passes those on to its citizens by elevating taxes and providing lower quality services. Furthermore, widespread corruption within the subsidy system exacerbates economic disparity and prevents the subsidies from benefiting its intended beneficiaries: the poor. Mardini and Abdelhaliem both discussed this during the webinar, using Lebanon and Egypt as prime examples.

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The Local Private Sector is Vital to Peacebuilding and Reconstruction

Two women now earn a living producing yams in their field after peace returned to Burundi. Photo by Pamela Beecroft.

By Morgan Frost and Pamela Beecroft

CIPE works with partners in a number of conflict-affected contexts around the world. While political, security and humanitarian issues typically draw the most attention, CIPE has found there are major benefits to working with the local private sector on economic issues at almost every stage of a conflict and recovery cycle. As the examples below illustrate, local businessmen and women can play a unique and indispensable role in reducing violence, building peace, and rebuilding countries and communities.

In Mexico, the notorious Tijuana Cartel, which had gathered strength during the 1990s, dominated large swaths of the city, turning it into a battlefield that endangered citizens and deterred businesses. In 2006 and 2007, local businesses, civil society, and government leaders worked together to develop solutions to effectively reclaim the community from criminal networks. For a time, their efforts succeeded in significantly reducing violence and improving the city’s economic life. In 2015, CIPE led a project that helped Tijuana tell its story, which showed how private sector leadership and collaboration with government and civil society can address high levels of criminal violence. Since then, violence has sky-rocketed again in the city for a number of reasons. CIPE will help Tijuana business leaders and their allies seek to repeat their past success and improve life for citizens and businesses again while refining the earlier model and collecting new evidence about what works.

Even in fragile environments like the Democratic Republic of Congo, economic activity continues, creating an opportunity for a peaceful and sustainable future. Photo by Pamela Beecroft.

In Syria, CIPE helped a group of Syrian business leaders build an economic think tank, now based in southern Turkey, called the Syrian Economic Forum (SEF). The organization is a leading source of information and analysis about the economic situation in Syria, as well as an originator of market-oriented solutions, which humanitarian agencies, local councils, and other stakeholders can use to respond to the situation on the ground. SEF has also expanded opportunities for displaced Syrian businesspeople in Turkey by negotiating access to an underutilized free economic zone and facilitating the transition of Syrian-owned businesses into the formal economy. Other initiatives encourage entrepreneurship, including a new CIPE-led project to incubate food-based enterprises and provide workforce training in the food sector.

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Democracy that Delivers Podcast #85: Hans-Joachim Hogrefe on Refugees and Economic Growth

From left: podcast guest Hans-Joachim Hogrefe, with guest host Stephen Rosenlund and host Ken Jaques

This week’s guest is Hans-Joachim Hogrefe, director of policy and advocacy at Refugees International, a nonprofit organization that advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people.

Hogrefe was a panelist at CIPE’s LIFE (Livelihood Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship) project launch on September 15. LIFE aims to develop entrepreneurship skills and drive job creation for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

In this podcast, Hogrefe explains that the LIFE project will benefit the Turkish economy by providing refugees with formal jobs and integrating them into Turkish society. Hogrefe believes that this project could also play an invaluable role in other countries with large refugee populations.

A native of Germany, Hogrefe moved to the United States as a fellow with the American Political Science Association. As a fellow, Hogrefe worked closely with the late U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor to have served in Congress and a human rights advocate. Hogrefe credits Lantos for influencing the trajectory of his career as a champion for human rights. Following his fellowship, Hogrefe worked for the Physicians for Human Rights and the U.S. State Department.

Want to hear more? Listen to previous podcasts at CIPE.org/podcast.

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Funding for the LIFE Project in Turkey provided by the United States Government

Democracy that Delivers Podcast #84: Johanna Mendelson-Forman on Food Diplomacy

From left: guest host Stephen Rosenlund, podcast guest Johanna Mendelson-Forman and host Ken Jaques

This week’s guest on Democracy that Delivers is food diplomacy expert Johanna Mendelson-Forman. She is an adjunct professor at American University and distinguished fellow with the Managing Across Boundaries Initiative at the Stimson Center.

Mendelson-Forman explains the little-known social benefits of food. For example, food builds a sense of community by connecting people with food from a different culture. Food also reduces social tensions and division because of the bond created with others while enjoying the pleasurable act of eating together.

She also explains that food is also a major source of employment because it provides jobs for people who grow and transport food.

Finally, Mendelson-Forman discusses the importance of CIPE’s partnership with the Stimson Center to create the LIFE (Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship) project. LIFE aims to develop entrepreneurship skills and drive job creation for Syrian refugees in Turkey. The LIFE project will launch on Friday, September 15.

Want to hear more? Listen to previous podcasts at CIPE.org/podcast.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or on your Android device.

Like this podcast? Please review us on iTunes.

 

Promoting Government Transparency and Empowering Citizens through Open Data

Young participants at the Code for Good Hackathon for Girls Who Code in New York (via Flickr)

As our lives become increasingly digitized, governments must respond to calls to make information available for public consumption on the Internet. Proponents of open data advocate for the release of information collected by governments in formats accessible to all citizens. But what is open data, and how can it help people make sense of their world?

Governments routinely collect facts affecting constituents and regarding a variety of topics including health, the environment, and the economy. According to Open Knowledge International, a global non-profit committed to empowering civil society to harness the power of open data for social impact, data is considered “open” when it is accessible, reusable, and available to all. It is not enough for governments to partially release data or limit its distribution. Instead, for a government to be truly open, datasets must be published in full, in machine-readable formats, and on a central, accessible online platform. Governments should also publicize the release of data, rather than publish information silently. Data.gov, a website administered by the U.S. government, is an example of a government making data publically available online. The website’s information is organized into 14 categories including climate, health, education and public safety.

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