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There is ‘no one size fits all’ when it comes to promoting youth and women’s employment. Taking into account the social and political context of employment interventions is crucial. This was the main conclusion of the biannual working conference, ‘What works to promote employment prospects for women and youth: Policy-knowledge interactions for inclusive development in Africa’ that was organized by INCLUDE, the Knowledge Platform on Inclusive Development Policies in Leiden, the Netherlands.
On 15 October, more than 80 participants from policy, civil society and academia from a wide range of countries discussed employment prospects for women and youth in Africa; a theme that is at the heart of INCLUDE’s knowledge agenda. A great deal is already known about these topics hence the conference’s aim to enrich the existing research and literature with new reports and insights. This provoked a lively discussion and relevant takeaways for research and policy.
The Dutch government was praised for taking leadership on gender equality in the international arena by Mayra Buvinic, Director of Gender and Development at UN Foundation, when she opened the floor with the main conclusions from the UN Foundation’s systematic review ‘A Roadmap to Women’s Economic Empowerment’. The roadmap includes recommendations on how to adapt interventions on women’s economic empowerment to optimize the work efforts for a range of socio-economic and demographic groups. As a key conclusion, she emphasized the importance of taking into account the heterogeneity of female entrepreneurs (You can read the one-pager that INCLUDE wrote on this Roadmap here).
It is also crucial to focus on the role of men in order for women to have time, resources and space to conduct business as Saskia Vossenberg argued, a consultant and researcher at the Gender Resource Facility.
Cultural beliefs of women in business often prevents the full potential of women’s entrepreneurship to thrive. Désiré Assogbavi, Head of Oxfam International Liaison Office to the African Union, argued that international organizations have a key role to play in eradicating such normative constraints.
The importance of targeted interventions was illustrated by the vibrant panel discussion facilitated by Roel van der Veen, an Academic Advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the following panellists: Sarah Ssewayana, Executive Director at the Economic Policy Research Centre; To Tjoelker working for the Head Civil Society Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Yvette van Dok, Owner and Founder of Briljante Onderneemster and; Sytske Groenewald representing the Impact Measurement Lead at Oxfam Novib.
Youth employment interventions took center stage in the afternoon session, which started with a presentation of the ILO’s systematic review on the topic. According to ILO researchers Felix Weidenkaff and Sara Elder, such interventions have a statistically significant and positive effect on jobs, income, and business performance, especially those that promote entrepreneurship and in combination with finance. Yet not everybody can be an entrepreneur as William Baah-Boateng, senior lecturer at the University of Ghana, stressed. Just like women, youth are not a homogeneous group thus job diversification and structural transformation is necessary.
For many young Africans, the main problem is not unemployment but underemployment. Often youngsters fall back on jobs in the informal sector where jobs are available but risky. This was illustrated by Olawale Ismail, Research Director at International Alert, who noted that a motor bike rider in Sierra Leone for example earns more than someone with a mid-level career job in the formal sector.
Stressing that the quality of employment is key, Assefa Admassie, Director of the Ethiopian Economic Policy Research Institute, noted that young people do not gain in terms of productivity when relocating from agriculture to the informal sector. In addition, he argued that evidence and research uptake are important to inform policy, so researchers need to be aware of that.
In the panel discussion, participants emphasized that both the Netherlands and African countries face a mismatch between education and labour market demand. Skills development and training are crucial, and the private sector can play a key role in this as emphasised in the panel discussion on youth employment with the following contributors: Jan Ridder, Programme Officer of CNV International; Sara Elder, Chief Technical Advisor of ILO; Johan Veul working in the Division of Sustainable Economic Development at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mangaliso Ndlovu, business consultant; Mirjam Sterk, the former Dutch Youth Employment Ambassador and; facilitated by Marije Balt, Director of SpringFactor. You can read the INCLUDE one-pager on youth employment here.
Taking away the root causes of migration from Africa to Europe implies a comprehensive approach in promoting structural employment for women and youth that must take into account the dynamics of both groups.
Watch a short video on the conference:
(Credit: Lemonshotz & Britt Myren)
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International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank)
International Labour Organization