Skip to main content

UN-ESCWA Continues to Hold National Conferences on Social Policy in the Arab Countries


Integrated social policy is a major pillar for achieving equality and social justice in every society and country when it is formulated on the basis of a social contract that sets out the rights and duties of each party. On the one hand, the state guarantees human rights, equal opportunities for all, and basic services to all its citizens equally. On the other hand, citizens actively participate by extending political support and legitimacy for this policy that concerns them the most.


The ultimate aim of social policy is to curb poverty and social exclusion, reduce the sources of social tension and improve the overall well-being of all citizens regardless of their social, economic and political backgrounds or their demographic, geographic, and racial characteristics. Social policy guides Governments in devising social security networks, education, health services and employment policies. A social policy covers, among other issues, the fair and just distribution of the benefits and disadvantages of macroeconomic growth, as well as important social issues such as change in the spread of poverty, curbing the huge gap in income distribution, reduction of the persistent high rates of unemployment and under-employment and of the high cost of living in comparison to income for the majority of citizens, and the deterioration of living conditions.


Experience has shown that economic policy that is devised in isolation from social policy cannot provide for the welfare of all members of society. There are high rates of poverty, marginalization, unequal income distribution and high unemployment rates in countries that enjoy considerable economic potential and yet do not provide the necessary prerequisites for the welfare of its citizens. Likewise, there are countries with moderate economic means that have provided well-being to all their citizens by incorporating the social concept in their macro development policies.


State of Social Policy in UN-ESCWA Countries


Most UN-ESCWA member countries lack a clear social policy vision. Many existing social programmes are often designed as appendages to the mainstream policy making and are typically implemented in isolation from each other, rendering those countries unable to satisfy the needs of their societies. As a result, human and financial resources have been squandered, crises of poverty and unemployment exacerbated and social and economic inequalities worsened. Such factors have affected the fabric of Arab societies, and have the potential to lead to a state of instability and social exclusion.


Role of UN-ESCWA in Promoting Social Policy


In this regard, UN-ESCWA highlights the importance of having a cohesive, integrated social policy that is linked to other economic, cultural and political State policies. It provides support and technical advisory services to member countries with regard to social policy, programmes, and instruments in addition to the monitoring and coordination mechanisms needed to achieve a better level of social justice and improvement of the quality of life of people in the Arab region.  It also provides support and develops the individual and institutional capacities at both the civil society and the Government levels.


UN-ESCWA launched the Integrated Social Policies (ISP) Project in the Arab countries in 2002. The project reiterates the importance of linking social policy to comprehensive development and the need to incorporate human-centric policies and ensure the basic needs for a decent living within the strategic framework for development in all UN-ESCWA countries. In the early stages of the project, UN-ESCWA issued a set of publications aimed at encouraging decision-makers in Arab countries to examine those imbalances that led to the absence of a clear social policy vision.


The current phase of the ISP Project is focused on providing an opportunity for discussion, urging the countries concerned to lean towards a social policy, and facilitating this through holding national and regional conferences. These meetings are aimed at setting the priorities, discussing the right framework, involving a large number of political, economic and social players, coming up with recommendations that will translate to data and tangible programmes, and establishing the training programmes needed to create the frameworks and skills.


In this context, UN-ESCWA and the Bahraini Ministry of Social Development organized a “National Conference on Social Policies in Bahrain” in April 2006. The conference covered many important social policy subjects such as social legislation and the extent to which it is in accordance with international agreements; the impact of economic development on the social dimension; social safety nets; and the role governmental and non-governmental institutions in the kingdom.


Cairo Conference


UN-ESCWA and the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity are organizing a “National Conference on Integrated Social Policy in Egypt” under the patronage of First Lady Susan Mubarak on 7 and 8 February 2007 at the Pyramisa Cairo Hotel. Participants will include representatives from various ministries and state institutions concerned with social and economic affairs, universities, research and training centers, civil society organizations, other organizations concerned with development issues, experts and the media.


The conference seeks to present examples for formulating integrated social policy based on a number of successful experiences that had good results in several countries with different development circumstances. It also aims to qualify the case of Egypt and identify which facilitating and constraining factors need to be discussed and this means organizing and governing them so as to ensure equal opportunity, provide basic social services to all citizens equally, and compare the successful experiences of Canada, Malaysia, Tunisia Norway, and Korea with those of Egypt in order to recognize factors assisting in the formulation of integrated social policy. All this will help formulate social policy and programmes such as social safety nets, education policies, health services and employment, which can be adopted by the government at a later date.


The Conference will give participants an opportunity to formulate a general vision of integrated social policy that is in line with the status quo in Egypt and with society’s capacities and expectations. This way, general tendencies and priorities can be identified in order to assign specific roles to the various stakeholders, including civil society and UN agencies concerned with development.


Topics for Discussion and Two Working Groups


During the Conference, participants will discuss success factors in global experiences related to integrating social policies with macro-development; the result of experiences from the Arab world; the state of social policy within macro-development in Egypt; and formulating and making social policy in Egypt in light of global experiences. Two working groups will be set up at the Conference. The first working group will identify the positive and negative aspects of the social policy currently implemented in Egypt with a focus on the mechanisms for formulating, drafting and implementing social policy in Egypt; the social policy evaluation process; and the process of coordinating between institutions and concerned ministries to come out with suggestions and recommendations. For its part, the second working group will discuss the state of services, their equal distribution, the issues related to social mainstreaming and marginalization, and how Egyptian social policy can meet the needs of all segments of society. A protocol of cooperation on integrated social policy is due to be signed between UN-ESCWA and the Ministry of Social Solidarity at the end of the Conference.