Facilitating a United Nations workshop on youth employment creation in post-conflict Arab countriesS&T's David Everatt was invited by the UN to join a team of facilitators in Beirut , led by the UN's Fatiya Serour and including Julie Nielsen (UN), Dr Ali Kouaouci and Dr Bushra Nimry. The workshop was hosted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Social Policy and Development, under the patronage of Dr Assad Diab, the Lebanese Minister of Social Affairs.
Participants came from a number of ‘post-conflict' Arab countries including Lebanon , Syria , Jordan , Algeria and Egypt , although sadly those invited from Palestine and Iraq were thwarted by visa problems. Gender balance was perfect at 13 a side. Participants included youth representatives, NGO representatives, academics and government officials. The participants (including facilitators) also included representatives from three countries bidding for the 2010 World Cup, and the workshop took place during the Africa Cup of Nations, which added to the atmosphere.
The aims of the workshop were ambitious – but realised in practice – and included the following:
1. To contribute to a better understanding/assessment of the overall impact of conflict (civil or military) on youth (male/female) in relation to social capital and livelihoods because of sudden household responsibility inherited as a result of death of heads of households.
2. To assess current policies/programmes for youth employment, focusing on the four main aspects including youth employability, equal opportunities, entrepreneurship and job creation.
3. To encourage/support the development of practical strategies for programme development and implementation to improve youth employability, equal opportunities, entrepreneurship with support from the government/banks.
4. To devise an advocacy strategy targeting national institutions for mainstreaming youth issues (including the workshop recommendations) and international institutions for resource mobilisation.
5. Agree on a monitoring methodology and integrate mechanisms/indicators in the strategy.
The workshop lasted three (intensive) days, and had to consider the current situation facing youth with regard to employment, the potential for employment creation, but in the context of conflict – theoretically ‘post' but seemingly omnipresent.
The situation facing youth in these Arab states is by and large very bleak. Economic growth rates are generally low, youth unemployment high, and migration to developed countries – the brain drain – a major problem. Coupled with this is the on-going destabilisation in the region, and – so common to post-conflict societies – a failure to acknowledge the dimensions and impact of conflict on young people in particular.
Experience throughout the world has repeatedly shown that young people exposed to or participating in violence commonly suffer trauma which if not appropriately dealt with, will express itself in one way or another – commonly in more violent actions. Politicians commonly prefer to ‘look to the future' and dislike having the past ‘raked up' – despite the fact that this is important in creating the space for people to begin to talk about their experiences and acknowledge the trauma they may be suffering. Whether in South Africa or the Arab world, jobs are prioritised above all else, and job creation programmes focus on technical (and occasionally life skills) training, but rarely have the capacity to deal with unresolved trauma.
Participants worked hard, developing country strategies for youth employment creation. How these programmes should deal with issues pertaining to the impact of conflict on youth, and what mechanisms should be incorporated in programme design, was less clear and less well-developed.
The meeting concluded with the following recommendations:
- A systematic follow up to this meeting (as outlined below) should be ensured, communicating with/informing participants about all the steps.
- Arab Youth organisations should develop efficient networks both at regional and international levels in order to promote youth employment.
- The United Nations should lobby Arab governments to support youth employment strategies, including those developed during the meeting.
- The workshop report should be circulated to the different ministries in the participants' countries of origin.
- Each country-team should organise a workshop with the support of the national UNDP office in order to translate the strategy into concrete implementation steps.
- A similar meeting should be organised on a yearly basis to monitor and evaluate achievements, in a different city of the Arab world each year.
- It would be useful to produce a booklet on the topic of the meeting and circulate it among participants so that it can be used as an advocacy tool.
- The United Nations should select one of the country strategies and support its implementation in the coming years to learn the lessons from this pilot exercise.
- A message containing these recommendations should be sent to the upcoming African Head of States meeting in Ouagadougou scheduled in September 2004.
- Partnerships between youth associations in the Arab region and worldwide should be promoted and developed as a first concrete step.