The meeting is to be organized by the Social Development Division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA), as part of its work programme on integrated social policy, in cooperation with ILO Regional Office in Beirut.

Background

Since the early 1990’s, there has been a growing realization for the need to a global response to the impact of globalization on the social sectors.  The Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and its Programme of Action, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) as well as several general assembly resolutions focused on people as generators and beneficiaries of development. UNDP has been propagating an agenda of globalization, which puts human concerns and rights at the center of global governance[1].

In addressing the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization 2004, the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in a few words warned the world body that it had come to a crossroad. In its report, the World Commission looked at globalization through the lenses of the people and called for “A Fair Globalization”. The report called for a shift from the narrow preoccupation with markets to a broader preoccupation with people. While the report recognized that globalization has promoted open societies and open economies it marked out the growing concern about the direction globalization is currently taking. Its advantages are too distant for too many, while its risk is all too real.

What was being emphasized at the international level was the approach that places human beings at the center of all global activities. It was evident the international community has gone beyond economic materialism and explicitly acknowledging the importance of achieving a globalization with a social dimension. A globalization that sustains human values and enhances the well being of people, while striving to provide decent work for women and men, and satisfying their basic needs for food, water, health, education and shelter and for livable environment. Without such a social dimension, many will continue to view globalization as a new version of earlier forms of domination and exploitation.[2]

Globalization and the Arab Region

Within the above framework, globalization is a dynamic and irreversible process; it is increasingly affecting the economic and social structures of developed and developing countries alike. Yet as a process, globalization is blamed, by many, for the perpetuation of poverty and the exacerbation of socio-economic inequity. It generates “inequity” within and across countries.[3] For the countries of the region, this issue is a priority on the social agenda. In spite of the wealth created in the Arab region, too many countries and people are not sharing in the development opportunities and benefits. They also have little or no voice in shaping the process. Seen through the eyes of the vast majority of women and men, globalization has not met their simple and legitimate aspiration for decent jobs and a better quality of life for them and for their children. All this manifests itself in the rise of unemployment, a drop in wages and living standards, and decline in services. Meanwhile the revolution in global communications heightens awareness of these disparities.

Globalization has posed a challenge to social policy and social development. Arab societies are undergoing radical changes that present a serious challenge to existing structures and their equilibrium. Social polarizations coupled with wide inequalities socially and economically are affecting the fabric of societies, creating the bases of social exclusion and crisis. Parallel to this situation is the high level of violence, as in Iraq and Palestine, exasperating social problems in the region. Yet this seemingly chronic state of crisis is matched by social policies that lack of coherence, shifting the need to focus on how to achieve integrated social policies, addressing the dichotomy of high crises and low policies. Within this context, there is an emerging consensus that globalization requires a new thinking about social policy with responses at the national, regional and international levels.

UN-ESCWA and Globalization

UN-ESCWA has already issued a number of publications dealing with various aspects and issues of globalization such as employment; the importance of quality education; regional stock market networking; skill formation and unemployment reduction; implications of globalization on financial markets; and the effects of foreign direct investment (FDI). In addition, an annual review of developments in globalization and regional integration in countries of the UN-ESCWA region[4] has been undertaken since 2002. UN-ESCWA convened several meetings addressing trade liberalization and economic integration in the context of globalization, emphasizing coordination and cooperation among member states. Such UN-ESCWA work will provide rich background for understanding opportunities and challenges of globalization and, therefore, facilitate the study of the themes of this meeting and the achievement of its objectives. 

ILO and Globalization

As a regional follow-up to the recent report of the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization (WCSDG) entitled “A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All”, ILO held a workshop in Beirut in May 2003 which explored “The Social Dimension of Globalization in the Arab Region”. Another follow-up meeting of experts in the Arab region. “Towards A Fair Globalization: A Regional Perspective” was convened in Amman from 24-25 September, 2005. This regional meeting focused on few interlinked objectives: Presentation of the report of the WCSDG and debating its findings and recommendations; discussing the relevance of the findings and recommendations of the report to the Arab region; and assessing the regional priority issues as they relate to globalization and to the WCSDG report. Within this context, the meeting tackled issues of governance, political reform and decent work in the Arab region, not only in general terms but also with special reference to the following sub-themes: Youth and Gender, Informal Economy and Poverty, Migrant Workers and Information Technology, competitiveness and Decent Work.

Objectives of the Meeting

This meeting builds on the outcome of the international and global conferences, and will therefore focus on action to promote a globalization with a social development content. In this context, the meeting will offer a multifaceted perspective on the impact of globalization on Arab societies. Within this framework, the meeting aims to:

1.         Provide a forum for experts to meet and exchange views on the impact of globalization on the social situation in the Arab region;

2.         Identify the major factors of globalization affecting the social situation in the Arab region, and the primary issues and challenges emanating from this process;

3.                  Answer questions about how and in what way the Arab countries can maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of globalization;

4.         Recommend an approach which promotes equity and social inclusion enabling Arab countries and societies to cope with globalization and make use of its opportunities.

Tracks and Issues

To meet the above-mentioned objectives, the meeting will address the impact of globalization on the Arab region, and the issues/challenges facing it, with a view to offering a multifaceted perspective on the social dimension and the social consequences of globalization. The meeting will also propose policy responses to meet such challenges. For this purpose, the thematic papers are planned for presentation under the following tracks:

1-         Globalization and Arab Society:

Impact of globalization on Arab society: Challenges and opportunities;
The Economic context of globalization in the Arab Countries.

2-         Social Impact of globalization:  

i-                   Globalization, poverty and inequality in the Arab region;
Globalization, vulnerable groups and social exclusion in the Arab region;
Globalization and Arab culture.

3-         Globalization and social issues:

Information Communication Technology (ICT) and social development in the Arab region;
Globalization ,governance and the changing role of the State in the Arab region: new perspectives;
Globalization and social protection in the Arab region.

4-         The way ahead: Conclusions and recommendations.

Participation

Participation in the meeting is open to eminent experts from government agencies, and civil society. The meeting will be attended by 30-40 experts reflecting a multidisciplinary orientation in their areas of specialization and a cross section of stakeholders.

Date, Venue and Language

The meeting is scheduled to be held in Beirut, Lebanon, from 19-21 December 2005, and will be conducted in Arabic.


[1] UNDP Human Development Report, 1999.

[2] World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization; A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All, p.5

[3] The World Development Report 2006: Equity and development, notes, “By equity we mean that individuals should have equal opportunities to pursue a life of their choosing and be spared from extreme deprivation in outcomes”, World Bank, page 2.

[4] ESCWA countries includes: Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.




 

 

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