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Iraq and the World Bank to Boost Iraqi Women’s Economic Empowerment

photo: © UNICEF/Wathiq Khuzaie

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A new plan to remove constraints and create more economic opportunities for women was launched today by the government of Iraq, with support from the World Bank Group.

The Women’s Economic Empowerment Plan for 2021-2022 outlines the government’s priorities in line with its reform program. The plan follows extensive consultations with key stakeholders and is supported by the Iraqi Ministry of Planning, the Women’s Empowerment Directorate in the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, and the High Council for Women’s Affairs in Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

The World Bank Group provided technical support and advice to the government to develop the plan. Key pillars include building capacity for a more gender responsive budget, developing women’s skills in the digital and agriculture sectors; boosting access to finance for women; increasing data related to women in the private and informal sectors; implementing legislative reforms to reduce gender gaps; and strengthening knowledge and capacity around access to childcare.

The plan also includes a special focus on supporting vulnerable groups of women and targeting internally displaced women and returnees to areas liberated from ISIS.

On the launch of the plan, Dr. Yussra Kareem, National Coordinator of the MGF in Iraq and Director General for Women’s Empowerment Directorate at the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, said: “Women’s economic empowerment is one of the most important pillars focused on by the general policy for women’s empowerment, and it comes in the context of women’s rights to equality and social justice, and the 2030 sustainable development plan. In light of this, the Advisory Committee for Women’s Economic Empowerment, in cooperation with the World Bank, developed the National Action Plan for 2021-2022 for women’s economic empowerment and identified its six priorities.”

“Iraqi women have proved to be strong and resilient throughout decades of economic and security challenges. Increasing the participation of Iraqi women in the policy-making process and in leading roles is key to promote peacebuilding and social development.” said Saroj Kumar Jha, the World Bank’s Mashreq Regional Director. “The World Bank Group stands ready to support Iraq in strengthening the enabling environment for women’s economic participation and improving women’s access to economic opportunities.”

More women in the Iraqi workforce means more growth and less poverty. IFC is working with the private sector to help remove barriers that hold women back from joining the workforce,” said Abdullah Jefri, IFC’s Manager for the Levant.

Building a resilient economic recovery and ensuring inclusive long-term growth requires the full and equal participation of women in the economy. Canada continues to support Iraq in their efforts to strengthen women’s economic empowerment and welcomes the launch of this workplan under the Mashreq Gender Facility to help address the barriers to women’s participation in the labour force and enhance their opportunities to succeed,” said H.E Ulric Shannon, Ambassador of Canada to Iraq.

Sustainable development in any country cannot be achieved if women are not included in economic life and in political decision-making bodies. To ensure women participation in the labour market is smart economics, and this requires active and tireless efforts over time. The launch of the Woman Economic Empowerment Workplan 2021-2022 today is a step in the right direction, and Norway is proud to support the Mashreq Gender Facility in these vital efforts,” said H.E Erik Burger Husem, Chargè d’affaires at the Norwegian Embassy in Iraq.

The new plan will be implemented with support from national and international civil society organizations, and the private sector, in close coordination with the World Bank Group and international development partners.

The plan is a joint effort between the government of Iraq and the World Bank Group under the Mashreq Gender Facility (MGF), launched in January 2019 by the World Bank Group with  financial support from the governments of Canada and Norway. The facility provides technical support to Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to boost women’s economic participation and drive inclusive growth. Under the MGF, Iraq set the target of increasing female labor force participation of 5 percentage point by 2024.

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Development

Vaccination, Jobs, and Social Assistance are All Key to Reducing Poverty in Central Asia

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As the pace of economic recovery picks up, countries in Central Asia have an opportunity to return to pre-pandemic levels of poverty reduction – if they put in place the right policies. This was the overall message shared by World Bank economists today at a regional online event “Overcoming the Pandemic and Ending Poverty in Central Asia”.

In the early 2000s, Central Asian countries were among the world’s best performers in poverty reduction. Starting in 2009, however, the pace of progress began to slow and even stagnated in some of the countries. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted a region already struggling to generate inclusive growth and end extreme poverty. Now in the second year of the pandemic, poverty rates in Central Asia are falling again, but with high inflation and low vaccination rates, the poor and the most vulnerable continue to suffer from food insecurity, uncertainty, and limited employment opportunities, especially for women.

“Central Asia is recovering from the first shocks of the pandemic, albeit in uneven ways,” said Will Seitz, World Bank Senior Economist in Central Asia. “Migration and remittances, key drivers of poverty reduction in the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, are quickly returning to 2019 levels. Labor markets are also recovering, and work disruptions are much less common. However, the region is yet to get on a stable poverty reduction path.”

Among policy priorities to reduce poverty, the World Bank is focused on three key areas: widespread vaccination, increasing employment and wages, and strengthening social assistance programs to support the most vulnerable. To support labor market recovery, the World Bank economists outlined short-term and medium-term measures, including the need to invest in green jobs and encouraging the creation and growth of firms.

It was also stressed that employment alone will not address all drivers of poverty, and strong safety nets are essential to protect the most vulnerable. Compared with other middle-income countries, Central Asian governments typically provide smaller shares of their populations with social assistance.

“Along with ensuring fair, broad access to effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines, Central Asian countries need to urgently address vaccination hesitancy, as it threatens to slow down the recovery,” said Tatiana Proskuryakova, World Bank Regional Director for Central Asia. “For every million people vaccinated, global GDP recovers on average nearly $8 billion. We are expecting advanced economies with relatively high vaccination rates to demonstrate much better growth rates than developing economies with low vaccination rates.”

Among the main reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in Central Asian countries are worries about vaccine contraindication and safety. While people with pre-existing health conditions in other countries are usually prioritized for vaccination, in the Central Asia region they are more likely to be hesitant to get vaccinated. Providing the public with accurate information on the safety of vaccines and encouraging people with pre-existing health conditions to be vaccinated may help address hesitancy issues.

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Vietnam’s Development Agenda Receives Additional Boost

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Vietnam’s push to enhance competitiveness, reduce its carbon footprint, and improve lives and livelihoods has been given a boost with the approval of an AUD 5 million grant by the Australian Government.

This grant represents additional funding to the ongoing Australia – Bank Partnership in Vietnam (ABP), which focuses on a wide range of policy areas designed to support the country’s development agenda.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on Vietnam’s reform agenda and exacerbate inequalities, which are more pronounced and harder to close for ethnic minorities, for women and for other marginalized groups. Responding to this, Australia’s extended collaboration with the World Bank will continue to support Vietnam’s quick economic recovery and help achieve its development goals,” said Australia’s Ambassador to Vietnam HE Robyn Mudie.

The ABP will continue its work on gender equality and the sustainable development of the Mekong Delta. In addition, it will also help address new priorities set out in the country’s recently adopted Socio-Economic Development Strategy and Socio-Economic Development Plan, including the transition to a low carbon economy, social equity and inclusion, and innovation-driven growth.

“The ABP will continue providing high-quality advisory work, enabling Vietnamese policymakers to pursue substantive reforms,” said Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Vietnam. “These reforms are needed both for recovery from the economic costs of COVID, but also to set a solid basis for the pathway to higher income status.”

The ABP was established in 2017 with an initial funding amount of AUD 25 million. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ABP responded quickly and provided an additional AUD 5 million to support Vietnam to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic. The program leverages expertise from Australia and the World Bank Group to support the Government of Vietnam in strengthening its development policies and programs.

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Development

Cotton sustains more than 100 million families worldwide

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Women workers clean cotton in Multan city in Pakistan. © FAO/Aamir Qureshi

A single metric tonne of cotton provides jobs for five people on average, often in some of the world’s most impoverished regions; that adds up around 100 million families across the globe. 

To recognize these and other contributions, the United Nations is marking World Cotton Day, this Thursday. 

Cotton is an important means of livelihood for millions of smallholders and attracts export revenues to some of the poorest countries. This makes the sector a key contributor to reaching the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

For the UN, this natural fabric “represents so much more than just a commodity”, it is “a life-changing product.” 

Important source 

Cotton is a major source of income for many rural laborers, including women. With this World Day, the UN wants to raise awareness of the critical role that cotton plays in economic development, international trade and poverty alleviation. 

The initiative also wants to highlight the importance of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. 

Resilient and multipurpose 

As a crop resistant to climatic changes, cotton can be planted in dry and arid zones. It occupies just 2.1 per cent of the world’s arable land, but it meets 27 per cent of the world’s textile needs. 

Around 80 per cent of cotton is used in the clothing industry, 15 per cent in home furnishings and the remaining 5 per cent mostly accounts for non-woven applications, such as filters and padding. 

Almost nothing from cotton is wasted. In addition to textiles and apparel, food products can be derived from it, such as edible oil and animal feed from the seed. 

Other uses have been developed recently, like using cotton-based filaments in 3D printers, because they conduct heat well, become stronger when wet, and are more scalable than materials like wood. 

The ‘Cotton Four’ 

The idea for the World Day was born in 2019, when four cotton producers in sub-Saharan Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali, known as the Cotton Four -proposed a celebration on October 7, to the World Trade Organization

With the UN officially recognizing the date, it became an opportunity to create awareness of the need of market access from least developed countries, to foster sustainable trade policies and to enable developing countries to benefit more from every step of the value chain. 

For years, UN agencies have worked towards this goal. 

For instance, since 2003, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the World Trade Organization have helped the Cotton Four to improve production local processing capacity, as well as to discuss the trade reforms needed to address high trade barriers.  

Another UN agency, FAO, has long offered developing countries technical and policy support. One example is the +Cotton project, a cooperation initiative with Brazil that helps Latin American producers with innovative farming methods.

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