The long road to fair employment

Gabriela Alvarez Minte Gender, Her Series, Women's Economic Empowerment, Youth

In our latest instalment of the Her series, we look at why women make up the majority of unemployed youth, the barriers women face when it comes to employment and how Plan International have been supporting women to overcome them.

For women the road to employment starts early and the many twist and turns in a girl’s life, gender discrimination and exclusion, are part of the barriers which limit women’s access to economic resources. Young women represent the majority of the 628 million unemployed young people. Besides, in 2016, the labour force participation rate for young men is at 53.9 per cent, compared to 37.3 per cent for female youth; and 13.7 per cent of young women in the labour force are unemployed – accounting for a full percentage point higher than male youth . Therefore looking at the barriers young women face is vital. Such barriers have long lasting effects on their future well-being, with their roots in every woman’s life. For example gender discrimination against girls might prevent them from accessing and staying in school. In 2013 an estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were not enrolled in school . There is also evidence that the lack of access to good quality, non-stereotyped educational and training opportunities affects girls’ future employment.

Economic independence is not only about individual access to markets and services, but also how the market and services discriminate

In addition, feminist economists have shown that in the world of work, the male breadwinner ideology and the sexual division of labour limiting women to the reproductive sphere are marginalizing many women in low paid, precarious employment.  While educated women are earning less than men in average, they are also working in the informal economy and therefore have less access to the benefits of social security and pensions.

Plan International France’s report Young, woman and unemployed: the triple challenge , highlights vulnerable young women’s challenges to gain decent jobs and self-employment opportunities while showcasing Plan’s experience in addressing these challenges by taking gender into account in its youth economic empowerment programmes. By working directly in training young people in demand-driven skills, analysing markets and supporting young people’s job placement, these have been effective in Indonesia, India, El Salvador, Vietnam and Colombia.  The report shows that to ensure success, it is key to address gender inequalities and discrimination in the process; include trainers who are aware of how gender discrimination affects women’s opportunities and tools that do not reproduce gender stereotypes; involve communities and promote women and female role models; inform parents about the benefits of involving young women in the programmes; and ensure there is representation of young women in community teams.

However, it is easier for the development community to address barriers to young women’s employment at the individual level than respond to the structural and institutional factors hindering women’s access to resources and women’s voice. Gender bias is deeply entrenched, and a girl’s path to economic independence is not only about individual access to markets and services, but also how the market and services discriminate against women and girls. For example, a recent paper in the journal PNAS showed how gender bias affects the hiring practices of faculty in science departments. A randomized double-blind study showed that recruiting faculty members rated male applicants as significantly more competent and hireable than female applicants with similar competencies, and provided them with a higher starting salary and more career mentoring. Both female and male faculty were equally likely to show these biases . This paper nonetheless refers to a highly specialized area of knowledge, where individual capacities and technical expertise are expected to weight more than gender, age or socioeconomic status -and where, however, gender discrimination is still present.

It is time for the development community to think about how these types of biases are affecting the communities where we work, and to think critically about how the market is creating obstacles to young women’s access to economic opportunities or restraining  them to the lowest paid, informal and precarious forms of employment.


Oxfam Policy & Practice