In much of the Arab world, a decent work deficit entails that young people may struggle to find suitable employment, requiring innovation around job creation, entrepreneurship, productivity, and engaging policymakers. Across much of the region’s diverse contexts and cultures, longstanding political transitions, regional conflicts, rising poverty rates, and economic instability have disrupted progress in the world of work, including women’s and youth participation.
The challenges around decent work are particularly pertinent to the Arab world’s most populous country, Egypt, given the country’s high youth population. Launched in April 2019, the online platform Masaraat focuses on economic inclusion for young people in Egypt, where 34% of youth with secondary or higher education are unemployed.
Masaraat addresses the issues that prevent young Egyptians from participating in the labour market and advocates for solutions to these problems. This includes coaching programmes for youth about to enter the workforce, helping enable work environments for female workforce participation, training journalists and media makers on relevant aspects, and more. Masaraat’s smart, humorous online content, gripping readers through creative visuals and illustrations with catchy copy in a conversational, warm tone that almost sounds like an elder sibling or colleague, is making the platform a go-to resource for young, ambitious Arabic speakers in Egypt and beyond.
Decent work for all falls under the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), in line with the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. Labour rights and job creation fuel sustained, inclusive economic growth – in many low-income countries, staggering unemployment, lacking social protections, and challenges to financial inclusion stand in the way of forging a productive workforce.
RNW Media: Could you tell me a bit about the partnership with RNW Media and how it has been beneficial?
Masaraat: The partnership with RNW Media is one of the most successful partnerships that we’ve been part of, as an initiative implemented by the Center for Development Services. The partnership has been in existence for several years, a longstanding commitment, and this consistency is rare in the development world. This move is positive; it entails that real, tangible change is happening and achievements are reaping on the ground.
The partnership also improves our ability to work with new media, which is not a medium we were working with from the outset. Initially, we had been working physically, delivering training sessions on the ground. It’s great to work in a different way, because the world is changing at an accelerated pace. As an initiative working both with new media, as well as physically and on the ground, that’s also something unique to Masaraat.
RNW Media: I imagine, under the current context, that working in the media landscape in Egypt might pose some challenges. How does this affect you?
Masaraat: There is really nothing controversial about our work; what we’re doing in Egypt is very necessary, and very much needed in the local context. Employment, education, training, disability inclusion, or even SRHR (Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights) from the perspective of women’s rights in the workplace – these are all issues that fall under the government’s agenda. There’s nothing threatening or provocative, or undermining of the local culture, when it comes to forging opportunities.
RNW Media: What are some of the other challenges you’re working to tackle, on a programmatic level?
Masaraat: The challenge that we’re facing is how to better know our audiences/ beneficiaries. The workshops and events we attended with RNW Media helped us learn about audience engagement and targeting. After all, our platform targets young people on social media, who are typically just online for fun, to start a discussion about their future and employment prospects. We try to craft content in a way that’s engaging and light, that young people can read without it being a huge time commitment; so, we invest in Reels and short videos.
RNW Media: How does Masaraat adapt to the current economic landscape in Egypt?
Masaraat: Currently, the economic situation is very dire. In recent years, the local currency has floated three times, which means the prices of products have gone up five-fold in a few years. Add to this the difference in the price of local currency between the official rate and the black-market rate – you have the Egyptian pound trading at EGP 41 to USD 1, so prices have effectively multiplied, and everyone across income segments feels the impact.
RNW Media: It’s also shocking that, in the span of a decade, the poverty rate in Egypt has gone to 50%, from 30%.
Masaraat: Because the economic situation in Egypt is so dire, we try to focus on the economic aspect and are even writing articles on how, within the limitations of the economic crisis, you can still achieve economic self-sufficiency. For women specifically, we’re telling them now is the time to seek opportunities because you will not gain anything if you are passive. Under the current situation, SRHR and gender issues are particularly relevant. There’s a lot to be done, and Masaraat’s work is very promising.
Masaraat mainly works on economic empowerment and financial inclusion. But full agency isn’t possible if women aren’t earning their own income. We still have some incorrect practices regarding women’s rights, for instance, in many societies, because the family marries off the underage minor because they don’t have money to feed themselves or their daughter. That’s an example of both gender injustice and economic injustice.
RNW Media: Tell us more about Masaraat’s involvement in fieldwork.
Masaraat: Alongside our online content and advocacy, we work on the ground, with CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) and the private sector to discuss how they can have a work environment that’s conducive for women’s inclusion and full workforce participation. We visit rural areas in Upper Egypt and the community associations there, delivering trainings to encourage women’s entrepreneurship, content creation for businesses, or other aspects that can help businesses further an inclusive, egalitarian environment.
In rural areas, which often have access barriers, we deliver training programmes to young women about resume writing, as well as interview prep and career planning.
RNW Media: Do you also face the issue of societal stigma? And how do you push against it?
Masaraat: When we work with CSOs, we don’t really face an issue because they’re often progressive changemakers themselves. We do perhaps sometimes face an issue in more conservative social segments, such as rural areas and far-flung governorates. When we offer trainings in Minya, Egypt for example, most of those attending are women. A few hundred kilometres away, in a smaller village in Qena, most of those attending are men. However, we didn’t consider it a failure that women didn’t attend, because at the end of the day, this reflects the reality in the latter community. It’s good to start with the power holders.
RNW Media: And how do you see changes in attitudes?
Masaraat: For me to be able to measure changes in attitudes on the governorate level, somewhere like Qena for example, that requires a long time – you need to work from a very young age, for young men to grow up actively taking up these ideas. It’s often very difficult to change the minds of older people.
After we delivered one of the training programmes in Qena, one of the participants asked us for the training materials, so he could deliver the training again to women in his village, because he realized that this could make a difference in his community. This was in a village called Naqada, and it was great to see someone so proactive and receptive to new ideas, encouraging the women in his village as well. At the end of the day, their on-the-ground influence as members of the community is much more powerful than anyone else coming from outside. We might not be able to identify exact markers of change – but that’s why Egypt needs development; if it weren’t complicated, we wouldn’t have to do this work.