Mass Youth Unemployment?!

By Marcia Banasko, World YWCA Programme Associate

In the preparation for its 101st session, the International Labour Organisation (ILO held last week a Youth Employment Forum at its headquarters in Geneva. This is the first time that any such forum has been organised by the ILO. The forum gathered over 100 young trade unionists, entrepreneurs, NGO members and others to take part in the three-day gathering and share their experiences and views on the employment crisis that has left 75 million youth jobless worldwide.

I had the honour of attending the conference as a representative from the World YWCA. I went to the Youth Employment Forum to raise the voice of young women within the debate and develop an understanding of the degree of the unemployment crisis and the different experiences from around the world. Young woman continue to face higher barriers for access to education and training and when entering formal employment they receive less pay and benefits than young men in similar positions. Furthermore, women and young women do part-time or precarious work, more than men and young men, and this type of work is often low paid.

With this in mind, I participated in the ‘Innovation Day’, whereby the focus was very much on solutions and creative ideas. One of the examples of an innovative entrepreneurial success came through the Youth Employment Network. In Kenya, the Youth Employment Network supported an agricultural project, which was set up to generate livestock. The project known as ‘chicken cooperative’ is a very simple idea: you buy two chickens which then go on to produce more chickens which produce more eggs so soon your two chickens become 30 chickens. Then you give two chickens back into the cooperative so that others can go on to prosper. The idea being that soon with the money generated from the chickens, you can expand production and go to buy more livestock like a goat or a cow, so now you are producing both eggs and milk. All this from just two chickens! Simple but effective.

It was a very interesting forum, as the dialogue was very open and inclusive. Participants were invited before the forum to submit a short video answering this question, ‘How is the global jobs crisis affecting the lives of young people?’ The video contest produced some really thought-provoking and creative work. In the morning there was a marketplace, which consisted of various 15-20min workshops held by different ILO departments, UN entities and youth organisations such as ILO AIDS, ILO Youth Employment programme, ILO Migrant, Peace Child International and others. I attended three workshops: ‘Disability employment initiative in Ethiopia’, ‘HIV and AIDS: What do you need to know as a young person?’, and ‘From youth to youth: Opening pathways for young entrepreneurs’.  It was inspiring to learn about the ILO project in Ethiopia as the YWCA of Ethiopia also runs a similar project seeking to reduce the risk of HIV infection of women and young women with disabilities and it would be great to see how the World YWCA can link with the ILO. Developing relationships across organisations can help strengthen the work of projects and create positive partnerships.

The main points that were made throughout the day was the need for job creation, better training and education opportunities and government initiatives to support young people in accessing affordable and quality training and education. An attractive idea was raised several times on creating a dialogue between education institutes and employers, so that young people are trained with the correct skills which meet the needs of the market.

Overall, the forum proved constructive, with the International Coordination Meeting Youth Organisations (a network of international youth organisations, of which the World YWCA is a member) presenting our key advocacy points to the ILO. We hope that the ILO takes these points on board and that a Youth Advisor position is created within the ILO, to better address the issue of youth unemployment. The ILO needs to have young people as main partners since we, the youth, are the stakeholders of the process and we know and experience the challenges directly. Moreover, I would love to see this position fulfilled by a young woman, as noted young women face higher levels of unemployment than young men, and also face more severe barriers to access employment.

Click here to video winner: one young woman’s story from the Philippines