“Freedom is first”, in the movies and in real life

Nada Al-Nashif

Nada Al-Nashif

By Nada Al-Nashif, Assistant Director-General & ILO Regional Director for Arab States

I used to think I was pretty good at keeping my personal and professional lives apart – no “work” conversations at dinner parties, only action movies to disengage, no watching the news late at night.

Events in the Arab world have kept us on our toes these past two years and many lines have been crossed. This last week has confirmed that no such distinction is possible.

First, I was privileged to have dinner with Clare Short, here in Beirut, at the beginning of the week.  A former UK Secretary of State for International Development, she was touring Palestinian refugee camps and meeting officials as part of a European delegation assessing the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis.  Her passion about refugee rights, her determination to tackle prejudices and myths, and her deep belief in the inevitability of justice, were incredibly inspiring.

The next day, I watched the Oscar-nominated movie “Lincoln”. Historians are quibbling about the details of this Hollywood version of the events leading to the passing of the 13th amendment of the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery, but it’s a powerful story. It contrasts President Lincoln’s unwavering commitment to a nation free of slaves, with the tactics needed to secure the vote. It’s particularly relevant now as the Arab states struggle to define a long-term vision for their societies, even as they respond to demands for social justice and freedom, re-assess economic and social constructs and re-define cultural, even ideological, norms.

It all came together a couple of days later – the official launch of our ILO-UNDP Report “Rethinking Economic Development: Towards Productive and Inclusive Arab Societies”. This was the culmination of a collective UN effort which we have led over the past year, to capture the root causes behind the failure of decades of unequal, unjust and ultimately unsustainable growth.

The Report confirms that political and economic reforms must go hand-in-hand and that the quality of growth is as important as the quantity. Transparency and accountability, it says, are core benchmarks and there is no substitute for the active participation of citizens. We will now take this debate across the region through workers’ groups, advocates of women’s economic empowerment and with young people who are no longer willing to accept exclusion.

A difficult journey lies ahead but we must believe – as they say in “Lincoln” – that “Freedom is First”, and I am proud that the ILO will have a part in it.

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