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Youth Economic Empowerment

Ensuring all children and young people have the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to succeed.

The world currently has the largest young population ever.[1] The UN World Population Prospects estimates that in 2020, there will be 1.2 billion young people worldwide[2], 90% of whom live in the Global South. Most of these young people are located in Asia (60%) and in Africa (21%). And these numbers will only keep growing by 2030. Against this demographic background, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) highlights that there are currently 63 million unemployed young people worldwide, while 40 million additional people, mostly youth, enter the workforce every year.[3] Moreover, employment no longer guarantees a way out of poverty: 141 million young people worldwide are part of the working poor.

Youth unemployment and sustainable decent job creation is an issue that is high on the political agenda and reflected notably in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth), at EU level in the European Consensus on Development and in the 5th EU-AU Summit Final Declaration. This is for a good reason. Youth unemployment and lack of opportunities has significant social repercussions and can prevent young people from fully enjoying their rights. Beyond the individual level, it affects the prosperity, stability and equality within a society and a country’s sustainable development.

Within this context, gender equality deserves particular attention. Discriminatory gender norms and stereotypes, widespread discrimination and gender-based inequalities create pervasive obstacles to the realisation of girls and young women’s rights and set the stage for economic and gender-based inequalities directly impacting girls and young women’s economic empowerment. Gender norms, in fact, affect the likelihood of a young woman entering and participating in the labour market, which types of jobs she can pursue, how much she will be paid and how far she can advance in her career. It is hence paramount for policy strategies to support inclusive sustainable youth employment by simultaneously advancing gender inequality.

Plan International’s take on YEE[4]: a lifecycle and gender transformative approach

Plan International adopts a lifecycle and gender transformative approach to economic empowerment. We believe that we need to support girls and young women from an early age and at each life stage to make economic decisions while addressing the gender norms that restrict them from reaching their full potential and unlocking their power and agency.

Economic empowerment must start at an early age as a cumulative process that allows girls and young women to develop the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to succeed:

  • In childhood (age 0-11) important factors include having equal inheritance rights to boys; a guaranteed legal identity through universal birth registration; the reduced burden of unpaid care work; and quality inclusive primary education.
  • In adolescence (age 12-17) these include the provision of market-relevant formal education, vocational and technical training; and financial literacy skills.
  • In young adulthood (age 18-24) these include access to financial assets, including credit and bank accounts; skills for business and entrepreneurship; and access to decent work.

Our calls to the European Union

We strongly believe that the EU should turn its words into actions and tackle the issue of youth unemployment with strong attention to gender equality. Therefore, we recommend the EU to:

  • Develop policies on Youth Economic Empowerment (YEE) to support partner countries and collaborate, through funding and dialogue, to create opportunities and provide young people with the skills needed to secure decent work;
  • Adopt a gender transformative approach to YEE, with specific interventions to increase girls and young women’s skills and assets to support their economic inclusion and to unlock their power to make economic decisions;
  • Include girls and boys in YEE, as youth economic empowerment is a cumulative process that starts from an early age.  




[1] Plan international considers young people to be between the ages of 15 to 24 years old.
[4] Skills & Opportunities for Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship

What do we mean by economic empowerment?
Economic empowerment involves both the ability to succeed and advance financially and the power to make and act on economic decisions. To succeed and advance economically, young people need the skills and resources to compete in markets, as well as fair and equal access to economic institutions. To have the power and agency to benefit from economic activities, young people need to know how to choose from various options, control resources and profits, etc.