Better Gender and Youth Employment: Insights from the Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit
Global youth unemployment has hit women especially hard; young women are disproportionately unemployed, underemployed, and impoverished worldwide. Indeed, according to the International Labor Organization, more than 34 percent of young women find themselves in Neither Employment, Education, nor Training (NEET). That’s over three times the rate for young men.
So how do we tackle the gendered nature of youth unemployment in order to secure economic empowerment for young women? At this year’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit , several young female changemakers joined representatives from USAID, the International Labor Organization, Mastercard Foundation, and the Inter-American Development Bank to discuss how to address the challenge.
Higher Hurdles for Women
Community attitudes play a huge role in what girls study and what they and their families assume they can do and be. For instance, “Where I come from, a woman can’t have a leadership role,” says Mambepa Nakazwe, a young Zambian who participates in Youth Think Tank and co-founded the Seeds of Change Foundation to encourage young women to study science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). “There’s also a strong belief that girls and women cannot do math or science,” she said.
Donors like Mastercard Foundation, the Inter-American Development Bank, and USAID are funding strategies to get more women into STEM careers, like Youth Think Tank and Laboratoria, an innovative social enterprise that runs coding bootcamps for young women in Lima, Santiago, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and São Paulo.
One of USAID’s responses to young women’s unemployment is the Young Women Transform Prize. In September 2018, USAID, in partnership with the Volvo Group and Standard Chartered Bank, awarded grants to eight youth-serving and youth-led organizations from Latin America, Africa, and Asia to support employment programs for young women, including STEM training.
Approaches That Work
Karen Moore, youth livelihoods program manager at the Mastercard Foundation, pointed to five program elements that confront gender obstacles to employment and are relatively easy to implement:
- Implement gender quotas. Clear targets can nudge program managers to more actively recruit women. They may also prompt implementers to conduct more community-awareness efforts, and negotiate directly with parents or husbands to allow young women to attend.
- Arrange for childcare and/or flexible hours. “If we want to find ways of empowering young women in employment, we need to figure out childcare,” said Moore. Some programs also find it helpful to offer education on sexuality and family planning.
- Provide role models and mentorship. When a young woman has never seen a female leader, construction worker, or engineer, she’s unlikely to think she could be one.
- Develop gender-sensitive, holistic curriculum and instruction. A youth workforce development program needs to boost women’s self-confidence as well as social and emotional skills. And instructors must understand the need to call on and encourage young women as well as men.
- Actively combat sexual harassment. “Empowering young women to confront sexual harassment both in and on the way to work is crucial,” said Moore. “Working with employers and staff to understand and reduce harassment may be even more crucial.”
In addition to these five approaches, Nakazwe adds one more: to influence the influencers. In other words, in order to change deep-rooted attitudes about women’s abilities and potential, winning over community leaders is a must. She advised: “We’ve found that if you just come in and say, ‘Hey we have an organization, join us!’ people won’t listen. But if you talk to the big fish and they spread the word, then people will come to the meetings—and bring their daughters to your program.”
There’s clearly no one magic way to level the playing field. “The most important way to support gender equality in employment programs,” concludes Moore, “is to understand that gender barriers really do exist, and that they’re important.”