Employment & Empowerment: Key Debates & Implementation Challenges
Scholar Susan Woodward claims that "the critical role of active employment in redirecting behavior and commitments toward peace is so obvious that no one disputes its importance..." and yet, "economic strategies are not aimed to overcome the problem."1 She argues that neither the International Monetary Funds macroeconomic stabilization approach nor the World Banks emphasis on large-scale infrastructure, promotes employment. "Development assistance and advice are still focused on laying the basis for economic growth in the long run, and assume that employment will naturally follow."2
The accusation that these policies are fundamentally flawed echo sentiments throughout not only the international aid and development community, but also among labor experts. The Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) outlines similar sentiments, "Many of its Washington Consensus3 policy prescriptions have become common currency, including macroeconomic stability, low inflation, primarily private-led investment and greater openness in trade and finance. Yet it has a fundamental flaw: it is based on the belief that markets can replace public policy in balancing economic, social and environmental needs. What economists call market failures are really policy failures."4 A Report on the forty-fifth session of the Commission for Social Development explained how this works: "Macroeconomic policies traditionally consider price stability as essential for the achievement of the broader objective of stability in the economy as a whole, including the achievement of full employment. That said, price stability has, in many cases, not helped to create an environment for sustained growth and adequate levels of employment. Indeed, low and stable inflation, assumed to support economic growth in the long run, may in some cases have led to slower growth and rising unemployment."5
The sharpest critique of the economic paradigm for addressing employment is less about its tenets than about what its omissions. Given the adverse impact of stabilization programs on employment and social protection, there is now "an increased awareness to find ways of reconciling market forces with the social imperative of employment at the policy level."6 Increased and sustainable economic growth is considered a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for sustainable employment generation, particularly for young people. As the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) highlights, "A range of complementary policies are needed to enhance the employment content of growth while also increasing productivity and ensuring adequate social protection. Policies must seek to strengthen enterprises and enhance labour demand as well as the quality of the labour supply."7 In other words, prioritizing job creation as a central tenet of economic policies, as well as ensuring those policies value social welfare as much as economic growth is fundamental to longer-term growth and stability. This view holds that this approach would require "macroeconomic policy supportive of increased and sustainable employment growth through expanded investment, productive capacity and aggregate demand in conditions of economic and political stability."8 Additionally, it contends that measures to address youth and macroeconomic interventions should be mutually reinforcing.9 According to Harvard economist Dani Rodrik: "While the lessons drawn by proponents and skeptics differ, it is fair to say that nobody really believes in the Washington Consensus anymore."10 Although it may find some successes in Latin American countries such as Chile where institutions are strong; more often in crisis affected state, the fragile balance of economic, social and political stability is upset by market-driven, growth-first policies that result in higher rates of poverty and underemployment.
[Back to Top] 11 In particular, "The forces of globalization and economic, social and political change affect the way in which youth is experienced and perceived, and in turn affect the capacity of young people to negotiate shifting identities in their transition to adulthood."12
While globalization can lead to opportunities for some young people, it can also mean marginalization and alienation for others.13 A UN-Habitat report is particularly critical of globalization's effects on youth. "Young people are...adversely affected by the impact of globalization on values and culture, which in some cases is rapidly destroying local cultural ties and affiliations as well as traditional inter-generational ties. It is also carrying new sets of values, which are ultimately unattainable."14 Shifts in identities and values will no doubt have an impact on youth in the labor force both in available opportunities and the ways in which young people engage in the labor market. It is also important to note that there are disparate impacts of globalization on employment. As David Freedman writes in an ILO report, "There is significant regional variation in youth employment, with some countries facing greater challenges than others due in part to the uneven impacts of globalization and the asymmetries in current global economic activity."15 One possible response to these issues is to reform policies, such as trade and foreign direct investment, to mitigate the negative effects of globalization on employment overall.16
Youth are particularly vulnerable to these pressures as they simultaneously face a daunting demographic challenge. In many developing countries, youth disproportionately carry the unemployment burden as high population growth in conflict-affected countries means intense competition among large numbers of youth entering a work force with scarce jobs. The recent World Bank report, African Development Indicators 2008/9, reported that youth in Africa comprise 60% of that continents overall unemployed. Chief economist in the Africa region Shanta Devarajan cited high numbers of rural girls out of school made up the majority, a fact partly owed to rural customs for young marriage and conflicting notions over the value of female education.17
University of Cape Town development policy research unit director Haroon Bohart cited a direct link between reduced enrollment rates in secondary and tertiary education and higher rates of unemployment. To address rural youth unemployment, the report recommends renewed attention to the agriculture sector or educational investment in rural areas of conflict-prone and violence affected regions to foster skills development programs for large numbers of at-risk youth. In urban areas, investment in education and skills training linked to improved labor market conditions are advised as a priority.18 Efforts such as these offer some optimism that sound policies which prioritize youth can help mitigate their exclusion from the global workforce, and in doing so, decrease their vulnerability to risk and conflict.
[Back to Top] 19There are debates however, regarding the best way to address the problem.
Many argue that as agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the majority of Africans, it should be prioritized and further developed to address rural poverty and unemployment. The UN states, "The importance of supporting agricultural sector growth in immediate post-conflict settings for both employment growth but also longer-term economic growth and stability should not be under-estimated."20 Expanding the agriculture sector following conflict can absorb labour demand, through both self-employment and wage employment opportunities. Increased local food production can reduce local food prices and increase household food security. Similarly, it can create immediate income-earning opportunities for ex-combatants and returning displaced persons and refugees.21
Nkurunziza alternatively makes the case for diversifying the rural economy and for promoting employment growth in sectors other than agriculture. Because of the dependence on agriculture in many rural areas, employment programs frequently focus exclusively on "agricultural" employment growth. In actuality, employment strategies should incorporate broader efforts for "rural" employment growth, such as enterprise promotion.22 "Increasing the capacity of the rural nonfarm sector to create more jobs will require improvements in the level and quality of human, social, physical, financial and natural capital."23 At the same time, rural nonfarm activities may attract those with resources and education and not benefit those that need employment the most.24 Ultimately, it is also important to focus on increasing opportunities for wage employment by encouraging the development of small and medium-size enterprises.25 Islam Rizwanul also recognizes the importance of a structural shift of employment towards higher productivity non-farm sectors. "In countries with an abundance of labour, such structural shift should involve growth of the relatively labour intensive sectors and sub-sectors, e.g. labour intensive manufactures and other non-farm activities (in both urban and rural areas)."26
Finally, it is argued that political commitment is needed to rebalance the allocation of resources between rural and urban sectors of the economy in favor of rural areas.27
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Formalizing the informal economy post-conflict is a robustly debated topic with implications for economic recovery and peacebuilding. Informal employment encompasses between one half to three-quarters of the non-agricultural employment sector in developing countries, with a remarkable 72% in sub-Saharan Africa.28 Although the informal economy often masks highly lucrative illicit trade in illegal goods, it provides more immediate opportunities for employment, is able to better respond to local market needs when formal jobs are scarce, and can offer potential directions for development of formal livelihood activities.29 Notwithstanding this valuable function, a vigorous post-conflict informal economy presents other challenges: gender disparity, debilitating state capacity, worker protection and sequencing issues could be carefully considered.
In developing countries, more women than men earn livelihoods through informal employment about 60 percent, outside agriculture. The exception is North Africa, where 43 per cent of women workers have informal employment.30 As scholar Susan Woodward has highlighted "A slow growth of paid employment leaves many with little option but to turn to illegal or informal sources of earnings. The inevitable result is to create new problems- crime, patronage, and corruption- that undermines the rule of law and are particularly difficult to root out later."31
Additionally, workers in informal jobs are not protected from hazardous working conditions, are not subject to a minimum wage, and have less bargaining power, fewer benefits and less job security.32 Although there is a relationship between the informal sector and poverty, a causal relationship is not easily established.However, informal employment means a greater likelihood of income variability and decline, especially for the elderly and women.33 This is exacerbated by the fact that formal employment offers greater protection for men than women.34
When companies informally participate in the economy, they avoid taxes and regulatory obligations, giving them a competitive advantage over their formal counterparts. This means that formal companies are prevented from competing and gaining market share, which results in lower economic growth and job creation.35 "Informalization also slows monetization and other aspects of economic normalization, delaying the effectiveness of IFI policies, and reduces the states tax base further at exactly the moment when social trust and public confidence in government and the future are at a premium."36 All of these issues can serve to undermine peacebuilding and economic recovery efforts.
Transitioning from the informal sector to a more formalized economy can be challenging and many issues must be addressed to assure that destabilizing effects are minimized. "As a rule post-conflict countries need to go through a phase of stablisation before they can attract investment. But if the informal economy that is always present in these situations is included in national programmes it can become a source of employment and tax revenues that can help the new regime become gradually less dependent on international support."37 Although the ILO and UN do not consider illegal activities, such as illegal mining or illicit drug production and distribution, to be part of the informal economy, some of the same issues apply.38 The term "alternative livelihoods" is frequently used to imply employment strategies that move people away from illegal activities and into the formal, legal economy. Towards ensuring a peaceful transition, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that, "...support for the productive sector aimed at increasing employment can prevent conflict and promote and build peace."39
[Back to Top] 40 While mechanisms are being created to foster their participation given this recognition and calls by organized youth themselves, their actual participation may not actualize in high levels. "The causes of the scarce youth involvement are generally tracked back to a lack of interest on the part of young people. As a consequence, political institutions are often called upon to be more 'youth friendly,' less bureaucratic and to 'speak the language of the youth.'"41
Greater recognition for child and youth citizenship rights to engage more directly in civic life has won growing support in the past 15 years. Greater participation in their schools and community and national programs, such as good governance and accountability, HIV prevention, health and sanitation, urban planning or child protection, has become a priority for some donors as a means of empowerment for these young civil society actors adversely affected by conflict.42
One popular tool the international community has pushed for to mobilize this participation is the use of youth councils to promote engagement, but there is disagreement on the value of these councils. The Youth Employment Network (YEN), a consortium of The World Bank, the ILO and the UN, strongly advocates for the use of youth councils. UNDP also promotes the use of youth forums, and identifies support of youth forums as one its main areas of work on youth.43 UNDP cites declining political engagement of youth, as evidenced by disproportionately low numbers of youth in local and national government,44 as the primary reason that the organization supports and promotes youth forums and councils as a way of getting youth involved in decision-making.45
While youth participation programs, such as councils and forums, find especially strong support from the international community in post-conflict areas, there are some challenges with their use as a means for bolstering youth participation in political decision-making processes. First, there is some debate over whether or not youth councils actually address the primary reason youth are opting out of the political system, which is increasingly regarded by young people "not so much as 'boring' but rather as irrelevant, inaccessible or both things at the same time."46 There is also criticism that youth councils are being promoted as a top-down strategy, whereby the international community perceives that these forums will provide incentives for participation, but there is actually no or low demand from the youth.
Another key challenge for encouraging youth participation is that youth forums may not actually be representative of the young population. There may not be an agreed upon "youth agenda." Youth are a heterogeneous group and have differing needs. Additionally, youth councils are susceptible to manipulation and exploitation for reasons that may not represent real youth needs and desires. "Such forums can also be gender-biased, especially because girls might feel more represented by womens organizations."47 Finally, while increasing support for these programs fills a prominent gap in mobilizing youth participation, data on the effectiveness of these initiatives have yet to become widely available.
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Challenge: Ensuring the right to employment and the rights of children to not be economically exploited
The right to decent work and equal opportunity is enshrined in human rights law, as are rights of the child to not be economically exploited. The implementation, protection and promotion of these rights however, are tasks challenged by numerous obstacles, particularly within the context of post-conflict settings.
Employment in International Human Rights LawEnshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a larger body of legal frameworks outlined within international human rights law, the unobstructed right to employment is considered a fundamental human right.
The text explicitly states: "All individuals, regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, race or disability, have the right to equal opportunity and decent work. Decent work and equality are important for economic development, inclusive societies, security and stability. In this regard, the importance of the four pillars of the decent work agenda, productive and freely chosen employment, rights at work and core labour standards, social protection and social dialogue should be emphasized." The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by the UN in 1948, states that the following employment-related issues are human rights for all people:
However, the promotion of such policies and protection of international legal provisions for employment are faced with numerous challenges. Challenges include low economic growth generally, inadequate private sector investment, insufficient planning, immature productive sectors (i.e. agriculture, as well as the standard post-conflict challenges of weak institutions, capacity and accountability.50 In order to create a context ripe for the promotion of these objectives, certain macroeconomic factors need to be addressed. ECOSOC advises the removal of trade barriers to poor countries, promotion of good governance, democracy and infrastructure investment,51 while critics highlight negative impacts of trade liberalization on employment. Go to Employment and Empowerment- Activities
As relative outsiders, international actors are at a disadvantage in promoting the enforcement of these legal mandates in post-conflict settings, however, in the long-term they can advocate for labor-centric policy development and in the short-term, cooperatively implement joint programming designed to offer short-term relief through job creation initiatives. Additionally, labor-intensive works programs, flexible labor policy, small and medium enterprise development, skills training and sector specific incentives for investment can improve prospects for sustainable and productive jobs.52
Employment and child protectionAn additional challenge related to employment and human rights is the issue of child protection. The Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into effect on September 2, 1990, and marked an important transition into the protection of human rights for children. The Convention "is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights- civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights."53
Specifically related to employment, Article 32 of the Convention states that children have the right "to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous, to interfere with child's education, or to be harmful to the childs health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development."54 States parties must set a minimum age or ages for employment, regulate the hours and conditions of employment, and enforce these articles through appropriate penalties and sanctions.
Under pressure to address this issue, state authorities and policy makers may contend that investment in such social protection schemes is a luxury at a time of economic hardship, or that they are unable to enforce such protections when institutional regulatory capacity and legal enforcement of the rule of law is weak, or that such phenomena occurs in a difficult to govern informal sector. When social safety nets are absent or weak, several alternative measures may offer guidance. Dialogue, partnerships and bargaining between the public and private sectors, trade unions or labor organizations can yield promising cooperative solutions. Although job access is critical for the massive youth populations at risk of conflict and poverty in post-conflict states,55 under the statute, children must be specifically protected in all circumstances.56
[Back to Top] ECOSOC highlights, "High youth unemployment in developing countries, together with conflict and a desire to improve their livelihoods, are among the main reasons for high mobility rates among the young..."57 Demographic changes and globalization increase labor mobility through expanded labor markets and further drive migration. This challenge can be examined through rural to urban migration and, South-North movements that in certain high-skill sectors where "brain drain" dislocates productive labor away from home economies.
Rural to urban migration represents an even more widespread trend. "UNDP estimates that by 60 percent of the world population will live in urban areas by 2030, and of that population, 60 percent will be under the age of 18."58 In Africa, young men disproportionately make up urban migrants by far, but young females are increasingly moving to urban areas, as well.59 It is also true that urban migration in Africa is frequently correlated to rising crime, violence and the spread of HIV and AIDS.60 "Young people migrate to the city from rural areas for a myriad of reasons - including the search for economic opportunity, boredom with traditional rural life or the escape from community disruption due to violent conflict."61 However, often once young people migrate to the cities, they are unable to find employment or outlets for their energy and skills. During and following conflict, many young refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) flee to urban cities to escape violence, to avoid camps and to seek employment; these youth are frequently unaccounted for in statistics on population and migration.62 These particular migrants face unique challenges, which are discussed further in the "Community Reintegration of Displaced Persons" section.
In relation to conflict, there are two primary types of migration, each with different causes and effects. South-North migration is correlated with globalization and increasing contact with other cultures. "The communication age puts young people in non-Western countries in unprecedented contact with Western culture...This can lead to the questioning of ones identity, or the reaffirmation of one's separateness from 'the other'- or, as it is often the case, some kind of combination of the two."63 For many youth in the Global South, the West represents freedom to escape economic and social constraints, and expanded job opportunities.64 This is particularly true for college graduates, which leads to a phenomenon known as "brain drain," whereby developing countries lose their most educated citizens to greater opportunities abroad. High rates of unemployment, low wages or poor working conditions, and limited room for professional growth at home compel those able to seek employment outside their national borders to do so.65
"Brain drain" can have devastating impacts on post-conflict recovery efforts, as countries lose their most skilled human resources precisely when they are needed the most. Macartan Humphreys and Paul Richards of Columbia University point towards the difficulty in building institutions post-conflict when a large proportion of the skilled work force has migrated or entered into new aid industry jobs. They cite the Mano River conflict as an exemplification of this "brain drain." "Government institutions, already weak, were especially badly hit by the loss in human capital that occurred during the conflict. This brain drain was perpetuated after the conflicts ended through the recruitment of skilled personnel from government positions into international and national non-governmental organizations."66 While the authors discuss a particular case, it is true anywhere that if there is a skill shortage in a post-conflict setting, recovery will be critically hindered.
Strategies to address this challenge center primarily on directing government policy to include social, political and social factors that contribute to these various forms of migration offering compelling incentives for return. Channeling public investment in targeted sectors, encouraging private sector development, creating access to capital for small businesses as well as access to training and education, individually or collectively, reduce migration trends by creating viable employment opportunities at home.
1. Woodward, Susan, "Economic Priorities for Successful Peace Implementation," in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, ed. Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, Elizabeth M. Cousens (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner, Inc., 2002), 201.
3. Washington Consensus refers to the set of standard reform policies for crisis affected countries by the World Bank, IMF and U.S. Treasury Department.
4. ILO, "Director-General's introduction to the International Labour Conference: Decent work for sustainable development," International Labour Office, ILC 96-2007/Report I (A), 2007: 4.
5. ECOSOC, "Commission for Social Development: Report on the forty-fifth session (22 March 2006 and 716 February 2007)," United Nations Economic and Social Council, Official Records, Supplement No.6, (E/2007/26), 2007: 34-35.
7. DESA, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action," Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations, 2007: 27.
9. Freedman, David H., "Youth Employment Promotion: A Review of ILO Work and the Lessons Learned," International Labour Office, Employment Strategy Department, 2005/1: 5.
10. Dani Rodrik, Goodbye Washington Consensus, Hello Washington Confusion (Cambridge: Harvard University, January 2006).
11. ECOSOC, "Commission for Social Development: Report on the forty-fifth session," 33.
12. UNDP, "Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis?," United Nations Development Programme, 2006: 27.
14. UN-Habitat, "A Global Partnership Iniative (GPI) for Urban Youth Development in Africa: Enhancing the Engagement of Youth in the Work of UN-Habitat," UN-Habitat: 1.
15. Freedman, David H., "Youth Employment Promotion: A Review of ILO Work and the Lessons Learned," International Labour Office, Employment Strategy Department, 2005/1: 61.
16. Ibid., 64.
17. Chanel Pringle, "Youth makes up 60% of Africas unemployed, World Bank report."
18.World Bank, Africa Development Indicators (ADI) 2008/9.
19. Janvier Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," United Nations Economic and Social Council, Paper presented at ECOSOCs High-Level Segment, New York, May 9, 2006: 13.
20. UN, "Employment Creation, Income Generation and Reintegration in Post-Conflict Settings," United Nations, May 2008, 6.
22. Ibid., 4.
23. Janvier Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," United Nations Economic and Social Council, Paper presented at ECOSOCs High-Level Segment, New York, May 9, 2006: 19.
24. Janvier Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," 19 and Thomas Reardon, et al., "Rural Non-farm Income in Developing Countries," in The State of Food and Agriculture 1998 (Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization, 1998).
25. Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," 19.
26. Islam, Rizwanul, "The Nexus of Economic Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction: An Empirical Analysis," Recovery and Reconstruction Department of the International Labour Office, Issues in Employment and Poverty Discussion Paper 14, January 2004: 22.
27. Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," 19.
28. ILO, "Women and men in the informal economy: a statistical picture," (United Nations, Geneva 2002).
29. Piet Goovaerts, et al., "Demand Driven Approaches to Livelihood Support in Post-war Contexts: A Joint ILO-World Bank Study," paper no. 29, (The World Bank and International Labour Office, October 2005), 7.
30. Allan Larsson. "Empowerment of the Poor in Informal Employment," Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, January 20-21, 2006, 2.
31. Woodward, Susan, "Economic Priorities for Successful Peace Implementation," in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, ed. Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, Elizabeth M. Cousens (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner, Inc., 2002), 203.
32. Larsson. "Empowerment of the Poor in Informal Employment," 3.
33. Ibid., 2.
34. Ibid, 2.
35. Ibid., 3.
36. Woodward, Susan, "Economic Priorities for Successful Peace Implementation," in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, ed. Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, Elizabeth M. Cousens (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner, Inc., 2002), 203.
37. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Peacebuilding- a Development Perspective," Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: 32.
38. UN, Employment Creation, Income Generation and Reintegration in Post-Conflict Settings, United Nations, May 2008. See also: ILO, "Guidelines Concerning a Statistical Definition of Informal Employment," International Labour Office, November 1, 2003: 1.
39. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Peacebuilding- a Development Perspective," 32.
40. UNDP, "Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis?," United Nations Development Programme, 2006: 25.
41. Ibid., 25.
42. UNICEF, Child and youth participation guide (June 2006), http://www.unicef.org/adolescence/index_38074.html.
43. UNDP, "Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis?," United Nations Development Programme, 2006: 45.
44. Ibid., 50.
45. Ibid., 25.
46. Ibid., 25.
47. Ibid., 26.
48. UN, "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," United Nations General Assembly, December 1948.
49. International Council on Social Welfare, "Commission for Social Development 45th Session, UN Chair Summary," (Utrecht: ICSW, 2007).
53. UNICEF, "Convention on the Rights of the Child," The United Nations Childrens Fund.
54. UNHCHR, "Convention on the Rights of the Child," Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
55. Youth comprise half of all people unemployed globally. International Council on Social Welfare, "Commission for Social Development 45th Session, UN Chair Summary," (Utrecht: ICSW, 2007).
57. ECOSOC, "Commission for Social Development: Report on the forty-fifth session (22 March 2006 and 716 February 2007)," United Nations Economic and Social Council, Official Records, Supplement No.6, (E/2007/26), 2007: 36.
58. UNDP, "Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis?," United Nations Development Programme, 2006: 28.
59. Ibid., 28.
60. Ibid., 28.
61. Ibid., 28.
62. Ibid., 28.
63. Ibid., 28.
64. Ibid., 28.
65. David H. Shinn, "Reversing the Brain Drain in Ethiopia" (delivered to the Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association, Alexandria, Virginia, November 23, 2002).
66. Humphreys, Macartan and Richards, Paul, "Prospects and Opportunities for Achieving the MDGs in Post-conflict Countries: A Case Study of Sierra Leone and Liberia," CGSD Working Paper No. 27, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Center on Globalization and Sustainable, October 2005: 17.