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Interview: The European Commisison on youth economic empowerment

Alessandro Batazzi, Programme Officer at DG DEVCO's "Migration, Employment, Inequalities" Unit took a moment to talk to Tanya Cox, Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager at Plan International EU Office about the European Commission's work on addressing youth unemployment and youth economic empowerment, with a focus on girls and young women.

 Where does the European Commission place youth economic empowerment and youth employment in terms of addressing inequality?

Youth employment and youth economic empowerment are priorities for all development partners, because young people are particularly vulnerable to the current trends of high rates of unemployment and workers in vulnerable employment. 

Our work on inequality and youth employment starts from there. We look at empowering youth by increasing their access to the labour market and improving their skills, as well as by working with partner countries to create an enabling environment.

In November 2017 during the fifth AU-EU Summit, the European Commission will present possible actions that can be implemented to empower young people. For example, to attract responsible sustainable investments, promote vocational and educational training, or improve the different value chains, including the business culture.

Currently there is more and more research into vertical inequalities, how to recommend different policies that can improve things like fiscal distribution and income equality for all age groups, but especially for youth.

How do you think the European Commission could prioritize girls more in its youth economic empowerment work?

The European Commission is one of the many development organisations and actors that take a rights-based approach. It allows us to include the most vulnerable and marginalised populations and groups of society and to apply the non-discrimination principle, which helps us avoid contributing to established patterns of discrimination.

Gender is a cross-cutting issue in all our work, and mainstreamed in all our actions. For projects in the garment sector for example, we know that girls and women represent the main working group, so any kind of intervention will take into account the needs of women and girls as workers, and as individuals. The EU also have a specific action plan on gender which calls directly for actions on improving access for women of all ages to decent work and national social protection services.

Does the European Commission has new ideas on how to work across Units to better address getting young people into jobs?

We have to recognize linkages between different topics. When we talk about youth employment there is a gender dimension so we must involve specialists, NGOs for example who have a record of working on gender such as Plan International, but we also need to look at the health aspect, or in the long term even at early childhood care projects.

Internally we have different mechanisms to make sure all different units and experts are consulted to decide of the best intervention. Externally we periodically have meetings with the private sector, NGOs and other actors.

An interesting tool developed is the European External Investment Plan, which is trying to link with the private sector to promote investments in areas in Africa where there would normally be very few or no investments.

Given the scale of the youth unemployment problem, what kind of innovative approaches do we need?

The External Investment Plan is one of those new approaches. But we also need to improve the knowledge base, which requires cooperation between different actors as well.

Digitalisation and innovation are very important. For traditional sectors like agriculture -  which will be the main absorber of the youth labour force in Africa -  technology can play a part in increasing productivity to solve food crises in Africa. It can also contribute to generating an income which will perhaps mean that those household micro enterprises, which usually have only one young person working on them, could be scaled up and become small enterprises that create more jobs, and hire more young people.


Learn more about our work on youth economic empowerment.