In a departure from my usual trips around Europe, last week I travelled to Rabat in Morocco to attend the Regional Meeting on Youth Employment, organised by SOLIDAR, Espace Associatif, REMAJEC, BADES, ANND and Movimiento por la Paz. Starting on the 24 until the 25th of November, the event examined the situation regarding youth employment for the Middle East and North Africa region, and we were joined by a large number of organisations who work on this issue.
The meeting was convened around the theme of Youth and Decent Work, and was attended by participant organisations from throughout the region. There were four panels throughout the day, on the topics of Defining decent work for youth: understanding global context and formulating what works for youth in the region; Understanding regional development challenges and youth employment; Trade and investment and privatisation policies and the impact on decent work; and the final panel, which I moderated, was Empowering youth: youth mobilisation and participation.
Throughout the day we heard case studies and facts and figures about the employment, specifically youth employment, situations across the MENA region. The countries comprising MENA have an overwhelmingly young population, with more than 28% of the Middle East’s population being between the age of 15 and 29. These figures are repeated across the region in the smaller 15 to 24 bracket, with young people constituting approximately 20% of the populations in Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. In the Arab countries’ populations, young people are the fastest growing segment, some 60% of the population is under 25 years old, making this one of the most youthful regions in the world, with a median age of 22 years compared to a global average of 28. As well as having a youthful population, many of these countries have another important similarity – large rates of youth and graduate unemployment.
During the morning’s panels, discussions and contributions from MENA organisations in attendance explored the specific contexts in different countries around the region, and the possible reasons for such a high rate of unemployment among young people. Organisations such as New Women Foundation from Egypt, Tunisian Forum for Youth Empowerment and Stars of Hope from Palestine also illuminated the impact of specific intersectional issues found in their respective countries, exploring how minority status such as being disabled, female, or a refugee frequently further excludes people from the labour market.
We heard figures on unemployment issues from around the region, such as Palestine, where 27% of youth live in poverty, with 40% youth unemployment. Furthermore, many young people in the MENA region achieve high levels of education, but are still unable to secure employment: in Palestine, 56% of graduates are unemployed, in Egypt 38.5% of women with technical training are unemployed, and 34.5% of women with master’s degrees and PhDs. In the case of Jordan, in which a large proportion of young people obtain degrees, it was suggested that the courses on offer in Jordanian universities are not fit for purpose, with barriers to employment including lack of relevant education, with universities failing to educate young people for the jobs that are actually available. Ahmed Awad, from Phenix Center in Jordan, argued that Jordanian universities are failing to teach young people the transversal skills actually required for the (few) available jobs, and that the widespread disdain for vocational qualifications – with vocational training widely seen as a place for failing students in Jordanian society – results in a young labour pool unqualified for the jobs on offer. These problems have resulted in shocking emigration figures amongst the country’s youth, with 27% of young people wanting to emigrate permanently, and 14% having thought about leaving – leaving an alarming figure of 41% of young people considering leaving the country due to lack of employment opportunities.
While I have only covered a handful of the facts presented on the day, many of these alarming figures are reflected across the region, prompting discussion around possible solutions and best practices – many of which we broached in the final panel of the day on Empowering Youth: mobilisation and participation. During this panel we focused on what organisations are actually doing to improve the employment situations in their countries. We heard case studies from Palestine (Stars of Hope), Lebanon (Mouvement Social), Morocco (REMAJEC) and the Italian trade union movement (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro/CGIL), highlighting best practices, challenges and obstacles in empowering and mobilising young people. The different perspectives and contexts facilitated lively discussions following the panel, with many audience members responding to the case studies and issues raised positively.
The event was a fantastic opportunity to network with organisations from across this region. At this year’s AGM, Volonteurope members voted to amend our statutes, allowing membership for organisations from outside Europe. As mentioned in previous blogs, we are soon to welcome our first Colombian and Costa Rican members, and this conference presented a valuable opportunity to make connections with organisations that share the same values around volunteering, active citizenship and social justice from the MENA region.