The youth are probably the age group that has been underutilized in most developmental activities and overexploited for political and economic reasons. The greatest resource that Africa has is its young people and it is equally important that all development sectors put a spotlight on the same.
Africa’s Agenda 2063 (The Africa We Want) emphasizes the need for inclusive approaches and recognizes the youth as a key stakeholder in realizing the development initiatives across the continent. The United Nations (UN) defines youth as persons between the ages of 15 and 24 but also emphasizes that this age group varies depending on the context of its member states.
Persistent gender gaps
The World Bank found that as of 2019, about 70 percent of the global poor aged 15 and over have no schooling or only some basic education. International Labor Organization (ILO) in its report on Gender Gaps in Africa’s Labor Market found that the highest gender unemployment gap is found in Northern Africa and the Arab States with the female youth unemployed rate almost double that of young men, reaching as high as 44.3 and 44.1 percent respectively.
On the other hand, the UNDP Africa Human Development Report (2016) notes that the sub-Saharan Africa loses an average of USD 95 billion annually from the gender gap in the labor force participation alone.
Most of the countries in the continent still grapple with their various youth challenges ranging from limited opportunities to education and training more especially at tertiary level; limited access to use and benefit from formal financial services; limited participation and representation of youth in public and private spaces; and inadequate access to basic services and products. Girls are largely left behind and more at risk as millions are not in school.
The covid-19 pandemic has also exacerbated these gender and economic inequalities.
Pan-Africanism but not homogeneous
While Pan-Africanism still shapes the African political and cultural movement, addressing gender gaps still require contextualized responses that fully understand the social set-up of each country (and its national sub-regions/caste, traditions, norms etc.). The tendency of grouping Africa as if it is one country with its people practicing the same norms and/or gender roles leaves out a lot of dynamic contextual issues.
The socialization process (and what eventually shapes the gender and social norms) of a young person in Algeria may not be the same for a young person in South Africa. And certainly, what might be deemed as acceptable or unacceptable gender norms and roles for the youth in Sierra Leone may not be applicable to the youth in Somalia. One size fits all interventions in addressing gender issues has never worked anywhere.
Inclusive and Integrated youth approaches to addressing gender inequalities
This approach is critical in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aspirations of Agenda 2063 for Africa and also countries specific national development agendas. As discussed above, the Africa Agenda 2063 calls for:
“An Africa, whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.”
There is a need to continuously recognize that the youth are key agents in challenging gender stereotypes and negative social norms, and more importantly, they are a key resource to economic growth.
Investing in youth and women will create more opportunities for the youth in the continent and accelerate more inclusive and sustainable outcomes for the African continent. It is important to harness the potential of Africa’s youth by ensuring that gender responsive investments are made in education, creation and provision of green jobs, skills development and other social incentives. These will bring multiple benefits and outcomes and spur the continent’s development.
Recognizing youth as key agents of development in the continent would also require breaking the gender and social barriers in decision making spaces. Inclusive and meaningful participation of the youth is critical as it not only consolidates democracy, but it also validates the voices and choices of the young people themselves.
‘Are these the priorities of the youth themselves? And who are these ‘youth’ we are talking about? And from where? etc.’ – these are some of the critical questions that have to be addressed at all cost as the tendency has been more of top-down approaches (from both the donor/aid agencies and the local/national governments).
The underlying inequalities in the continent coupled with the covid-19 pandemic impacts have deepened those inequalities. For example, the hospitality and entertainment sector employs more young women than men with about 80% of youth jobs in sub-Saharan Africa being in the informal sector (Africa’s Youth Employment Challenge, UN Report of 2020). The closure of schools and lockdowns have reinforced social and economic inequalities – with a high rate (21%) among youths who were already not in employment, education or training before the pandemic struck.
Leveraging on youth green enterprise development would certainly accelerate the achievement of sustainable development in the continent. Innovation is largely associated with the youth and replacing the unsustainable enterprises with more greener jobs (environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive) and economic activities remain one of the key drivers to sustainable development.
In conclusion, the youth remain an integral part to development and they are certainly among the key agents of change in bridging the gender gap in Africa.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bertha Wakisa Chiudza is a proud Malawian and an international development expert specialized in gender equality, women’s empowerment and social inclusion in both development and humanitarian sectors. She is passionate about improving the livelihoods of most marginalized groups in society. She is also passionate about diversity, sustainable development and social entrepreneurship of individuals and groups.
Bertha currently works with the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) as its Senior Officer for Gender and Social Development. Previously, she has held different gender and child protection leadership roles with UNOPS, Oxfam International, UNFPA, UN WFP, Plan International, and Malawi’s Local Human/Women’s rights organizations.
She is an award winner of the Pan Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government conferred by the CEO of Global and Titans: Building Nations (2019). She is also recognized as a Global Goodwill Ambassador (Humanitarian) by GGA Foundation (2019) and she previously served as a Senior Advisor to the Women’s Network of Five Continents.
In 2004, she was awarded as the 3rd Best Essay writer on Safer Choices in HIV and AIDS prevention among the youth by the Eastern and Southern Health Community in Africa. Bertha holds an MA in Education, Gender and International Development from the Institute of Education, University College of London (2011), and Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education from the African Bible College (2007) and has undergone various professional trainings in leadership, feminist methodologies, project management, health and human rights, gender in humanitarian actions among others.