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International Youth Day: time to reflect on (un)employment

12 August 2014
International Youth Day is meant to recognise and celebrate the efforts of youth in enhancing global society, and to promote ways to encourage youth to make positive contributions to their communities. Yet, despite being the future’s backbone, youth is nowadays facing increasing challenges to do so.

With youth unemployment rates escalating the world over, International Youth Day might also serve as a reminder of the need for multi-stakeholder action to further the youth participation in the labour market.

Mostly hitting developing countries

With the vast majority coming from developing countries, youth makes up half of the global population. Recent estimates from the World Bank suggest that about six per cent of young people are unemployed and another 20 per cent are idle, which means no school, training or work. This is nearly 300 million young people altogether.

In addition, hundreds of millions of young people are unpaid, poorly-paid or doing unproductive work. The reasons for such high levels of un- and under-employment are complex and include factors such as insufficient work opportunities and a lack of appropriate skills for the given labour market. Indeed, the formal job market in many developing countries is limited, resulting in many finding work in low-paying, precarious and sometimes dangerous sectors.

Over the next decade, a billion people will enter the labour market. Every month one million people will do it in India alone, and the same will happen in Africa. The global economy will need to create five million jobs each month, just to keep (un)employment rates constant.

Girls, doubly affected

These obstacles are even more exacerbated when it comes to adolescent girls and young women since they face the consequences of existing social norms and gender stereotypes. Especially in developing countries, women often end up in poorly-paid jobs, without social protection and frequently in the informal sector.

It has been proven that investing in employment for girls and women brings wider development and economic benefits to a country. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), removing the barriers to women’s and girls’ full economic participation could boost the economy in the Asia-Pacific region by up to $89 billion per year.

In spite of the evidence, and the efforts of many different actors, including governments, institutions and civil society organisations (CSOs), women’s unemployment remains highly challenging.

Multi-stakeholders’ approach

The issue of youth (un)employment is high on the political agenda, but unfortunately there is no single recipe and no silver bullet which will allow actors alone to transform the current situation to one of full and decent employment. Plan is increasingly working on this issue, by addressing youth economic empowerment through its projects and programmes, one way or another, in 44 countries so far.

Yet, if we want to reduce poverty and inequality and to see people realise their right to a decent standard of living, a far higher number of decent and productive jobs must be created.  And for this to happen, a multi-stakeholder approach with a clear vision to achieve young people’s social and economic rights is crucial. Collaboration to explore together the best ways to invest in the different work sectors and increase the availability of decent jobs for youth and especially for adolescent girls and young women,will be part of the process.

At a time when the European Commission is increasingly looking at how to tackle unemployment both in Europe and abroad, the European Week of Action for Girls on 6th-11th October, will have a close look at this issue and explore how we all can help adolescent girls and young women be centre stage in the life of their communities and in the labour market.