Empowerment of Youth

Youth are at a critical, transitional stage of their lives, moving from childhood to adulthood, from economic dependency to work, and forming families of their own. Evidence shows that if these transitions have positive outcomes, they set a stable foundation for benefits which extend across the life course. However, a negative outcome, such as difficulty in finding decent work or in being able to integrate into adult society, can lead to negative long-term consequences such as poverty, alienation and rebellion. 

The unrest witnessed in many Arab countries in recent years has highlighted the precarious and marginalized situation of young people across the region. Youth represent a large share of the Arab region’s total population – almost one fifth.  They are a key group, not only because of its size, but also because progress in education across the region in recent years turned this generation of young people into the best-educated in the history of the region, bringing new ideas, immense energy, and making use of new technologies and experiences to reach out, network and find solutions to social development challenges.

Therefore, young people in the region are not only subjects of development – requiring support to make the transitions in their life – but also actors in development, providing new solutions and bringing high levels of energy and commitment to the improvement of their societies.  To date, many Arab countries have made insufficient progress in empowering young people.  Young people have never been treated as a separate group requiring a specific focus, but have instead been addressed in a general sense in broad development plans.  Moreover, their participation has not been valued in governance and political processes, nor in civil society. 

On the socioeconomic front, the situation of Arab youth has been characterized by the highest levels of youth unemployment and underemployment in the world (figure 1), low levels of return to education and marginalization in the social sphere resulting in low levels of volunteerism and participation. The development potential of this age group is underused, which also leads to discontent and social conflict.

The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has sought to redress this situation through engaging with its member countries and building their capacities to develop youth-centred national policies to unleash the potential of youth.  As recommended in global social development reports,[1] ESCWA has also emphasised the importance of taking a participatory approach to engage youth in developing and implementing these policies.  It has stressed the importance of the national-level implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth in providing a holistic approach to youth concerns, focusing not only on the economic needs of young people but also on their broader well-being, social integration and political participation. As this group will remain an important one in the years to come, ESCWA will continue to work with its member countries to assist them in designing and implementing adequate policies which will result in a richer human capital and an empowered generation, able to fulfil its potential and play a critical role in the development of the Arab countries and region.

Figure. Youth unemployment in the Middle East, North Africa and the world, 2008-2013

Estimation of the youth unemployment in the Middle East, North Africa and the world, 2008-2013: Middle East total: 2008: almost 25, 2009: almost 25, 2010: almost 27, 2011: almost 27, 2012p: almost 28, 2013p: almost 29. Middle East male: 2008: almost 22, 2009: almost 23, 2010: almost 23, 2011: almost 24, 2012p: almost 25, 2013p: 25. Middle East female: 2008: almost 39, 2009: almost 37, 2010: almost 41, 2011: almost 42, 2012p: almost 43, 2013p: almost 44. North Africa total: 2008: 20, 2009: almost 21, 2010: almost 21, 2011: almost 23, 2012p: almost 23, 2013p: almost 24. North Africa male: 2008: almost 17, 2009: almost 15, 2010: almost 15, 2011: almost 18, 2012p: almost 18, 2013p: almost 19. North Africa female: 2008: almost 28, 2009: almost 32, 2010: almost 31, 2011: almost 37, 2012p: almost 37, 2013p: almost 37. World total: 2008: almost 11, 2009: almost 13, 2010: almost 12, 2011: almost 12, 2012p: almost 12, 2013p: almost 12. World male: 2008: almost 11, 2009: almost 12, 2010: almost 12, 2011: almost 12, 2012p: almost 12, 2013p: almost 12. World female: 2008: almost 12, 2009: almost 13, 2010: almost 13, 2011: almost 13, 2012p: almost 13, 2013p: almost 13.

Note: “Middle East” includes the Islamic Republic of Iran in addition to the countries of the Mashreq and the Arabian Peninsula.

Source: International Labour Organization, Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013: A Generation at Risk, table A2 p. 80.

[1] See, for example, Report of the Secretary-General, Implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth (E/CN.5/2013/7*).