THE CHALLENGE OF PROGRESS IN NORTH AFRICA
In the region that sparked the “Arab Spring”, some momentous change has been achieved. But too often, lives remain blighted by inequality, poor education and illiteracy, and limited civic freedom. In the most extreme cases, vulnerable people in North Africa are being totally deprived of their human rights.
The countries of the Maghreb – Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania – each face distinctly different conditions. Tunisia was praised for its relatively peaceful transition to democracy, but Libya continues to be torn apart by civil conflict. And, while Algeria’s economy is one of Africa’s largest, Mauritania is one of the least developed countries in the world.
But across these contexts, some similar challenges are holding people and communities back. Freedoms, opportunities, and representation are often not available to all – and a lack of education and democratic rights prevents many North Africans from calling for change.
Unequal and vulnerable
In North African society, a person’s opportunities in life are often dependent on their gender. Men are often the decision-makers within families, while women’s lives are more restricted. Female participation in the workforce is poor – in Algeria, less than 17 percent of women are in work.
Women are also vulnerable to gender-based violence. Although Tunisia and Morocco have recently criminalised domestic abuse, they are the only North African countries to have done so. In Mauritania, FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is common, as is early marriage, with 37 percent of girls married before the age of 18.
Division and intolerance
In addition, many North African communities are divided and lacking in tolerance. Members of minority ethnic and religious groups often face discrimination, as do migrants and refugees. People with disabilities are frequently excluded from society.
The worst cases involve devastating human rights violations. In Libya, where armed groups are acting with impunity, shocking reports recently emerged of migrants being sold in slave markets. Slavery also continues in Mauritania, despite the practice being illegal. Many members of the Haratine minority in the country are enslaved as bonded labourers or domestic workers.
North Africa’s large youth population has the potential to help the region move forward, but a widespread lack of quality education is holding young people back. Students are not being prepared for today’s job markets, and youth unemployment rates are very high. In Tunisia, for example, around 40 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds cannot find jobs.
Literacy rates vary across the region but can be very low – in Libya, 91 percent of people can read and write, but in Mauritania, only 52 percent of people can. Even when students in North Africa are taught basic skills, they are usually not encouraged to think critically or be open-minded. This makes them less likely to challenge failings in society.
Deprived of rights
To make matters worse, North Africans also often lack the civic freedom to make their voices heard. In many places, corruption is rife and freedom of expression and of the press are limited. Tunisia is the only North African country rated as “free” by the independent watchdog Freedom House.
When people feel hopeless and voiceless, they are more vulnerable to radicalisation and to engaging in violent forms of protest. In a region with a challenging security situation, SAT-7’s work to encourage social development is not only important – it is vital.
Making a difference
SAT-7 uses the power of satellite television, which crosses societal divisions and bypasses illiteracy, to bring viewers together and level the playing field in North Africa.
Our innovative programs support marginalised groups and help viewers understand their rights. They offer a free basic education for all – and they promote tolerance, critical thinking, and positive civic involvement. For more information on SAT-7’s social development work, click here.
 Source: International Monetary Fund
 Source: United Nations
 Progress Towards Gender Equality in the Middle East and North Africa Region, World Bank (2017). Available from: http://documents.worldbank.org [accessed 15 August 2018].
 The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF (2017). Available from: https://www.unicef.org
 Source: British Council
 Source: CIA World Factbook
 Freedom in the World 2018, Freedom House (2018). Available from: https://freedomhouse.org [accessed 15 August 2018].