Inclusive growth for more jobs for women and youth in the MENA region

Shekhar Anand Youth employment, Youth Participation

By Ahmed El Assal, Meta Bilgrav Bodenhagen and Shekhar Anand

Lamia Ghandi, Red Textiles, Tangier Marokko,
Credits: Thomas Flensted

For growth to be inclusive, decent work must be equally accessible to women and men. The Youth Participation and Employment (YPE) program has been trying to meet this objective by addressing factors of inequality. Youth Participation and Employment (YPE) programme, implemented by Oxfam IBIS, in the framework of the Arab Danish Partnership Programme (2017 – 2022) provided job and economic opportunities for more than 6,300 young people, at least half of which are women, through different employment pathways adopted and reached more than 60,000 young people. Twenty-five local partners and Oxfam teams support the implementation in the Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.

With women still less likely to participate in the labour force, and more likely to take the worst jobs —insecure, unsafe and poorly paid jobs—inclusive growth remains far out of reach. Women make up only 21% of the labor force and only contribute 18% to MENA’s overall GDP. The female labor force participation rate for women between 15 and 64 years old in MENA is the lowest globally, estimated at 21 percent in 2019, less than half globally. Women entrepreneurs have to work against widespread gender bias, and in an entrepreneurial ecosystem lacking in innovative frameworks conducive towards long-term success.

The YPE program has developed few successful examples on the ways to increase employability among young people. Capacity-building of entrepreneurs, increasing their access to finance, facilitating digitalization and focusing on gender justice are four key areas where the program has learnt important lessons.  We already know that  entrepreneurial capacity building is recognized as a vital ingredient for economic development and expanding services for women can bring economic growth. Community-based organizations like producer groups and cooperatives have helped entrepreneurs in capacity building and increasing their access to finance and markets. Digital entrepreneurship has gradually increased in the MENA region and contributed to employability potential where 60% population falls under the age of 30 and are increasingly online through smartphone and social media platforms.   

The annual learning event organized by the Youth Participation and Employment (YPE) programme  with partner and program teams unfolded interesting learning examples that can be used by practitioners and for designing new programs to support youth employment and entrepreneurship: 

  1. Capacity building and awareness raising on rights in labour markets for young aspiring workers and entrepreneurs. Facilitate good working environment in the labour market that protects rights of workers and entrepreneurs, particularly in the informal sector. Prioritize jobs that are sustainable and can stop or change restrictive social norms.    
  2. Capacity building and empowerment of women entrepreneurs to produce as per market demand and consumer needs. Plan capacity building of partners and youth-groups jointly with market actors. Build skills on both soft and vocational aspects. Design training programmes for youth through private sector service providers.  Women’s cooperative producing handicraft in Egypt is a good example to support rural entrepreneurs. Women who had no education, no finance and a lot of social obligations were able to change their course of life through the collective. This helped all groups including housewives and disabled by producing handicrafts. Marketing of products is still a challenge, but the initiative certainly showed the poor women to move forward by breaking the social norms and barriers that did not provide them equal opportunities in the first place. 
  3. Access to finance is a key obstacle for young entrepreneurs who want to start their own business or accelerate their already existing enterprises. Programs can attract investors to successful start-ups to work on green jobs and innovation.  
  4. Advocacy is crucial to regain economic opportunities, and youth can be the driver for economic recovery. The Covid pandemic badly hit sectors like hospitality and tourism in Jordan. In Morocco, young people developed soft and life skills through capacity building and empowerment workshops to be able to get a job in private sector. Despite of the COVID-19 pandemic challenges the ACTIVA intervention in Morocco was quite effective in running online workshops and connecting with industries when most of them were closed. It is crucial for youth to have access to internet so they can benefit from the online sessions.
  5.  Support digitalisation as a key approach in interventions: Develop existing platforms and explore new techniques. Address the challenge of digital divide among different category of youth and facilitate an inclusive approach.  Women are 9% less likely to own a mobile phone and 21% less likely than men to use mobile internet. 
  6. Empower youth to improve workplaces and create decent work environment. Build capacity and advocate for labour rights and decent work. Decent work is defined by the ILO as being productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity.  Working on unpaid care and women feeling safe at work approaches are very useful ways to complement policy advocacy for decent work. 

Young people are playing a prominent role in society inspiring others and through new employment opportunities. The lessons demonstrate that a holistic approach is required to support young people to get decent jobs. Increase in capacity, access to resources and empowerment can improve their employability potential.

About Authors:

Ahmed El Assal worked as Senior Advisor- Partners Capacity Building and Regional Coordination with YPE Program
Meta Bilgrav Bodenhagen is Youth Technical Advisor with YPE Program
Shekhar Anand is Learning & Knowledge management Advisor with YPE Program