Employment & Empowerment: Actors

There are many actors engaged in developing employment and empowerment policies in post-conflict situations. According to the Youth Employment Network (YEN), a consortium of international and local agencies, the following actors are both stakeholders and policy makers for employment strategies: civil society, the business community, employers, trade unions, youth organizations and relevant Government Ministries.1 In this section, we have focused on the role of national governments, women and youth, as well as prominent international actors (International Labour Office (ILO), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and The World Bank).

National actors

National governments

According to the World Programme of Action for Youth, a United Nations policy framework and guidelines for national action to improve the lives of youth people, "Every State should provide its young people with opportunities for obtaining education, for acquiring skills and for participating fully in all aspect s of society, with a view to, inter alia, acquiring productive employment and leading self-sufficient lives."2 In addition to focus on youth employment issues, States also have a responsibility to "promote the goal of full employment as a basic priority of its economic and social policies..."3 Governments can encourage employment creation and entrepreneurship through microcredit grant schemes, training and educational programs, and pro-employment macroeconomic policies.4

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Civil society

Civil society actors, including youth, women and other identity groups, social movements as well as more formally organized non governmental organizations (NGOs) and community based organizations (CBOs), are increasingly finding avenues for empowered action in proactively creating employment opportunities. The highly differentiated nature of this public sphere creates a rich platform for public opinion and deliberation. The locus of power is shifting from exclusively government monopoly to a new kind of social accountability based on informed debate and coordinated, collective action. Civic organizing is occurring at every level of governance, local to transnational, transforming the narrow citizen-state relationship to one in which power is transferred horizontally. Global civil society is now, in a way obligated to engage state structures in order to achieve democratic participation in recovery and rebuilding of social and economic well-being.5 A dense network of activities facilitates economic empowerment and the rebuilding of livelihoods, influencing the development processes in unprecedented ways. This is particular vital in post-conflict settings, when neither labor policy nor more formal avenues for job creation are functioning.


The recognition that young people have been marginalized in decision-making processes and that that they play a critical role in determining the success of peacebuilding measures or a return to violence has led to increasing focus on the need for their full participation in post-conflict recovery processes. The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) says, "...Young people form an active part of society and are important actors for social development," encourages governments to involve youth in policy making through consultations with youth-led organizations and delegations to UN forums.6
Go to Definitions: Youth and Debates: Youth participation

Governments are increasingly being encouraged to involve closely young people and to integrate their actions for youth employment into a comprehensive employment policy.7 The role of youth in participating in the development of coherent, integrated approach to policy development is underscored by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA): "Action to engage youth as essential civil society, reconstruction and development partners should be supported. If a national youth strategy does not exist, engage youth in developing one, as well as policies and programmes that immediately support their well-being and ownership of the political processes."8 The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has emphasized that calls within the youth agenda for greater participation in decision-making as well as in society more generally, offer "little explanation as to the added impact of particular focus on youth, nor does it say how to overcome to impediments that deny most citizens participation in their society."9 It takes the invaluable role of young people as peacemakers and future decision-makers is self-evident and under-emphasized the challenges that prevent youths from taking on these roles.10 UN DESA has put forward that in preparing an action plan on youth employment, strategies should involve critical review of past policies, consultation with other actors (including enterprises, employers organizations, trade unions and young people), establishing mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation, and critically, seeking assistance from the Youth Employment Network (YEN) core partners and other institutions in the process.11


It well documented that women are severely and negatively impacted by violent conflict. While women in many developing countries are subject to poverty, inequality, and abuse during the best of times, these situations are worsened during and following conflict. For many women, conflict also means additional workloads in the home and in growing food, for which they may already hold the primary responsibility. During these difficult times, girls may be withdrawn from school, in order to help earn a livelihood, which means that the cycle of generational poverty will likely be perpetuated. As scholar Alex De Waal said, "Their future is sacrificed for the immediate needs of the family."12 In addition, the post-conflict economic environment and private sector divestment means that women, who are likely less educated than men, are often marginalized into the informal economy, which exposes them to economic exploitation, gender based violence, and an increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.13

Only half of all working age women work compared to about 70% of working age men. ILO statistics consistently demonstrate higher rates of female unemployment throughout the developing world. In an examination of employment to population ratios, the lowest ratio for women is evident in the Middle East in North Africa, 24.5% compared to 69.3% in men.14

Livelihood and employment programs targeting women with some success often share common elements, including vocational training, networking skills, access to finance and education. Enhancing womens roles in the economic recovery process and mainstreaming gender into economic recovery activities are central to their economic empowerment.

Men also have a role to play in the economic empowerment of women. In fact, "Male inclusion in the gender mainstreaming process has increasingly been documented as vital to the success of mainstreaming efforts. It is well understood that the achievement of gender equality is not possible without the active involvement and support of men. Men must be reached and included so that interventions for women and girls are not derailed by male resistance."15 Additionally, employment programs in Afghanistan and elsewhere have found that aid-funded programs targeting women have adverse social consequences on family structure, identity and even domestic violence. Similar programs are advised by practitioners to consider unintended consequences. 16

Trade unions

Although not often addressed in the economic recovery literature, trade unions are often one of the most important forces for social mobilization for peace and justice. Alex De Waal describes their importance: "...Trade unions were at the forefront of the struggle against Apartheid, and they were the backbone of the 1985 popular uprising in Sudan. Their local base can be strong. Individual members of trade unions also tend to have a high level of political consciousness, especially when they are operating within the framework of union activities."17 The leaders of trade unions also frequently possess strong leadership and organizational capacities, as well as connections with international partners. With these advantages, trade unions have the potential to be utilized as strong tools for post-conflict economic recovery (when they have the motivation for peace).18 At the same time, globalization and "austerity measures" have eroded public sector employment and increased informal livelihoods, which has undermined the influence of trade unions.19

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International actors

United Nations

United Nations Peacebuilding Fund

Created in 2006, the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund provides critical financial support to countries emerging from conflict during the vulnerable immediate aftermath period when other sources of funding are not yet available to support activities to sustain the peace process. Activities aim to create a link between conflict and recovery: strengthening government institutional capacity, implementing peace agreements, bolstering administrative services and offering critical interventions. Worth US$275.5 million and supported by a coalition of 44 donors, it targets a range of projects related to peacebuilding and early recovery. For example, Burundi received US$35 million for governance, rule of law, human rights and land/property issues.20

Job creation and livelihoods are expressed priorities within this span of activities as they represent an "economic and political imperative for public policy and donor interventions. Initial peacebuilding countries of Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone all received funding for employment/livelihood programming, unanimously agreed by this group as a funding priority."21

International Labour Office (ILO)

The International Labour Office (ILO) is a tripartite UN agency that "brings together representatives of governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programmes" that advance "opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity."22 The ILO has engaged in the improvement of employment opportunities since its creation in 1919, and since the 1960s, youth employment issues have appeared in almost every ILO Program and Budget.23 In addition to general employment strategies, the ILO is increasingly broadening its engagement in "peacebuilding through employment generation, livelihoods and economic recovery."24 In 2001, the ILO, at the request of the UN Secretary-General, assumed leadership of the Youth Employment Network (YEN) and is responsible for hosting the permanent Secretariat.25 Historically, the ILO has challenged the liberalization policies of the UN and the international financial institutions (IFIs) and promoted a more bottom-up process for aid and policy development.26 Go to Economic Recovery: Public Finance and Economic Governance- Activities: Aid

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP)

UNDP supports the position that employment is a key indicator of economic growth and poverty reduction, especially in post-conflict environments. Most of UNDPs employment activities are conducted in partnership with the ILO through the Joint ILO-UNDP Programme on Employment for Poverty Reduction.27 These activities focus on:

  • Analytical work on different issues of the employment-economic growth-poverty reduction nexus;
  • Country studies on integrating employment strategies in the macroeconomic policy framework;
  • Support to countries developing overall employment strategies;
  • Help disseminating knowledge within and across regions through synthesis papers.28
Recognizing that unemployment is one of the most critical challenges facing youth, UNDP seeks to address the problem through employment generation programs, microcredit, and skills training.29

The World Bank

In 2007, the World Bank combined two units to create the Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries Group, which is now focused on building peace through economic development at the corporate, sector, and regional/country levels.30 The World Bank promotes employment through support for macroeconomic policies that generate economic growth and job opportunities, the inclusion of pro-employment policies in poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs) and participation in the Youth Employment Network (YEN). Specifically related to youth, the World Bank strives to improve the lives of young people through holistic strategies in health, education, agriculture, business development and the promotion of youth participation in decision-making processes.31 The World Bank also has new initiatives aimed at addressing economic needs of adolescent girls in conflict and post-conflict countries, building the historical success of similar programs to address gaps in education, access to jobs, productive skills and socio-cultural restraints to formal employment. Interventions based on emerging best practices include business skill development and training, job placement assistance, microfinance, mentoring and apprenticeship programs.32 Go to Strategic Frameworks: PRSPs and Economic Recovery Strategies

1. DESA, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action," Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations, 2007: 1.
2. UN, World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond," United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/50/81, December 14, 1995.
3. DESA, "Guide to the Implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations, 2006: 102.
4. DESA, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action," Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations, 2007: 3 and DESA, "Guide to the Implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth," Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations, 2006: 107.
5. Martin Albrow and Marlies Glasius, "Democracy and the possibility of a global public sphere," Global Civil Society 2007/8, (London: Sage, 2008), 11-16.
6. 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: 19-20.
7. ILO, "United Nations Initiative on Youth Employment," International Labour Office, Committee on Employment and Social Policy, (GB.286/ESP/5), March 2003: 3.
8. DESA, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action," Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations, 2007: 76.
9. UNDP, "Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis?," United Nations Development Programme, 2006: 36.
10. Ibid.
11. DESA, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action," Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations, 2007: 1, 15.
12. Alex De Waal, "Social Mobilization for Peace," in Demilitarizing the Mind: African Agendas for Peace and Security, ed. Alex De Waal (Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc., 2002), 103.
13. De Waal, "Social Mobilization for Peace," 103-104.
14. World Bank, Poverty and Growth Blog.
15. Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, Masculinities: Male Roles and Male Involvement in the Promotion of Gender Equality: A Resource Packet (New York: Womens Commission for Refugee Women and Children, September 2005), 2.
16. Lina Abirafeh, "Engaging Men in Gendered Interventions: Voices from Afghanistan," in Journal of Peacebuilding and Development, V3: N1, 2007, 82-87.
17. Alex De Waal, "Social Mobilization for Peace," in Demilitarizing the Mind: African Agendas for Peace and Security, ed. Alex De Waal (Trenton: Africa World Press, Inc., 2002), 110.
18. De Waal, "Social Mobilization for Peace," 110.
19. Ibid.
20. United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, "UN Peacebuilding Fund: Bridging the Gap Between Conflict and Recovery," UNPF.
21. United Nations Development Programme, Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity, New York: Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, 2008, 74.
22. International Labour Organization, "About the ILO," ILO.
23. Freedman, David H., "Youth Employment Promotion: A Review of ILO Work and the Lessons Learned," International Labour Office, Employment Strategy Department, 2005/1: 1.
24. ILO, "ILO Places Centrality of Employment in Post-Conflict Reconstruction," International Labour Office, Tokoyo, January 28, 2008.
25. Freedman, David H., "Youth Employment Promotion: A Review of ILO Work and the Lessons Learned," International Labour Office, Employment Strategy Department, 2005/1: 1.
26. 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: 17.
27. UNDP, "Employment for Poverty Reduction," United Nations Development Programme.
28. UNDP, "Employment for Poverty Reduction," United Nations Development Programme.
29. UNDP, "Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis?," United Nations Development Programme, 2006: 46.
30. The World Bank, "Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries," The World Bank.
31. UNDP, "Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis?," United Nations Development Programme, 2006: 64.
32. Elizabeth Katz, "Programs Promoting Young Womens Employment: What Works?" in The Adolescent Girls Initiative: An Alliance Economic Empowerment (World Bank, October 2008).

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