Day at the UN: Marginalization and Inequalities Facing Youth

Day at the UN: Marginalization and Inequalities Facing Youth
Panel discusses trends, implications and solutions for Youth Unemployment across the globePhoto credit: Kate Offerdahl By Sarah Girma Half of the world’s population is under 25 years old and 1.8 billion are young people, which UN Habitat defines as age 18-40.  Within this population, 75 million are unemployed and 1.5 billion live in conflict zones or fragile states. Ahmad Alhendawi, the United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, explained to an audience of policy makers, youth activists, academics, and experts why this discussion is important:  “addressing the challenges of this population is crucial to the sustainability of future generations,” he said. In response to the recent rise in youth protests across the globe, the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth and Columbia University’s Global Policy Initiative convened a meeting at UN headquarters in New York to discuss and propose solutions for marginalization and inequalities facing youth around the world.  The panel of experts spoke on issues ranging from gender and health inequality to the lack of youth rights and political participation, seeking tangible solutions for how to move forward on these issues. Dr. Margeret Greene, President of Greeneworks, an NGO focused on health and environmental sustainability, spoke on gender and health marginalization faced by young people.  Her discussion focused on the experiences of two groups- child brides and lesbian, gay, and transgendered youth. “Over 14 million young women are coerced into marriage each year, preventing them from pursuing schooling or other opportunities” said Greene.  She discussed current policy efforts to address this issue, including the establishment of minimum legal ages for marriage and the development of viable alternatives for girls, such as quality education and job opportunities.   Dr. Hanan Morsy, a Lead Economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, discussed broad trends and implications of youth unemployment.   Unemployment rates among youth are traditionally 2-3 times higher than the average for other groups.  The recent global economic crisis has only heightened this trend.   Morsy estimates a youth unemployment rate of 24% in the Euro area, and as high as 50% youth unemployment in hard hit economies like Spain.  “There is a concern among economists that the legacy of the crisis will be a lost generation of youth” Morsy said. Economists and policy makers are worried because growing frustrations for marginalized youth lead them to give up hope of finding a job, as they lose key skills and professional ties over time.  Morsy also noted key structural issues that limit youth’s ability to find jobs- a mismatch between skills employers need and the ones youth have, the lack of an education system integrated with job market requirements, and existing legal market practices that work against youth maintaining long- term employment.  M o r s y stressed the importance of structural reforms that focus on areas of skills mismatches, better integration of skills with job market needs, and providing access to apprenticeships and skills training for youth.  Additionally, she suggested that governments can help by enticing employers to employ more youth by reducing employer social security contributions for new hires, and subsidizing firms willing to hire the long- term unemployed. Nur Laiq, Social Media/Content Officer for the Indian National Congress, focused on the importance of engaging youth in political participation to help find solutions to challenges like youth unemployment and marginalization.  “Youth are a compelling force because of their demographic strength and mobilizing power, a potential risk factor for all governments, if economic and political grievances remain unaddressed” she said.  Laiq suggested the UN and governments provide youth with conceptual and financial support for projects, open channels for direct interaction between governments and youth, as well as build strong youth wings in political parties. From an economic and social perspective, youth unemployment and marginalization leads to high costs for society at large.  As Morsy noted “underutilization of youth results in high levels of intergenerational poverty and social exclusion, and contributes to violence and social unrest, as seen in many countries, and inequality.” Sarah Girma is a second-year Master of Public Administration student. This article first ran in the print edition of The Morningside Post on May 6th, 2014.

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