Employment & Empowerment: Employment, Economic Empowerment & Peacebuilding Processes

Unemployment inhibits poverty alleviation and a key impediment to development and economic recovery in post conflict situations. Conversely, employment creation is a critical pathway for increasing consumption of the population and facilitating the realization of economic recovery and human development, cornerstones of peace. Youth in particular, need to be targeted in this process given their vulnerability to recruitment in violent conflict, particularly where there is high unemployment. These issues are addressed more in depth, while the relationship of poverty and inequality with conflict and peacebuilding more broadly is addressed in the introductory section on economic recovery.

Relationship between employment, economic empowerment and conflict risk

High levels of poverty and a poor economic and social environment generally are associated with a higher risk of civil war because it is in such situations that people have little to lose in waging war. Specifically, high levels of unemployment following a conflict are "a clear threat to peace, whether through disillusionment, lack of alternative activity and status to war, or the continued availability of the unemployed for mobilization by spoilers."1

Employment aims to improve lives by decreasing poverty and improving access of the population to social resources. Thus, assistance in "designing and implementing strategies for job creation can contribute to the objective of poverty alleviation in situations of low income and high unemployment and underemployment." It is acknowledged that the challenge of poverty reduction is made tougher by crises of some form or the other (e.g. those resulting from economic turmoil, armed conflicts or natural calamities).2

Higher levels of employment and the resulting income should result in the enabling of "workers to spend more on education and skill formation of their children, thus raising the productive capacity of the future workforce, and creating necessary conditions for achieving higher levels of economic growth."3

Youth bulge

It is increasingly recognized by leading scholars, as well as international organizations, that a youth bulge- a population comprised of a large number of youth compared to other age groups4 - is a significant risk factor for conflict. However, it is not the sheer number of youth that is the risk factor, as many developing countries have high youth populations and no civil war, but rather the high youth populations in combination with opportunity and motivation. As stated by the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, youth are considered a potential threat to security: "a 'surging youth population'- combined with unemployment, urbanization and other factors- can lead to violence."5 A recent Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) report on post-conflict economic recovery also supports the position that the underlying socioeconomic and political disenfranchisement of youth is the actual conflict risk. "Young people, men mostly but women too, are frustrated by their lack of social recognition and by deficient educational and employment opportunities. This leaves them alienated and, in many cases, susceptible to recruitment, whether by rebels or government armies, if only to secure a livelihood."6

Several studies have found that countries with a large youth population 40% or more youth between the ages of 15 and 29 were more than twice as likely to break out in civil conflict in 1990s, especially in the developing world where youth unemployment rates were extremely high in comparison to adults.7 The correlation between age and conflict is made more alarming in light of the fact that more than 1 billion people today are between 15 and 25 years of age and nearly 40 percent of the worlds population is under 20. Eighty five percent of these young people live in developing countries are especially vulnerable to extreme poverty and civil conflict.8

Youth unemployment and vulnerability to conflict

Explanations for how and why a youth bulge creates vulnerability to political violence vary. Studies have found evidence that youth bulges have the potential to increase opportunities and motivations for three types of political violence: internal armed conflict, terrorism and riots.9 "...Youth bulges provide greater opportunities for violence through the abundant supply of youths with low opportunity costs, and with an expectation that strong motives for violence may arise as youth bulges are more likely to experience institutional crowding, in particular unemployment."10 The opportunity perspective assumes that rebellions occur when the potential gains of joining outweigh the expected costs, meaning that participation in the conflict provides a better economic opportunity than another alternative income opportunity.11 On the other hand, "Motives for committing political violence can be economic-- like poverty, economic recession or inequality-- or political -- like lack of democracy, absence of minority representation or self-governance."12 The opportunity and motivation perspectives are connected with the greed and grievance debate, which is discussed in the Natural Resources and Peacebuilding section of this portal.

Some note that idleness, frustration, disempowerment and marginalization as a result of high levels of unemployment and poverty, lead youth to search for other venues for a sense of belonging.13 Young people in the developing world often cite going to school and finding a job as key priorities in their lives; a lack of education and unemployment (for both educated and uneducated appear at the top of the list of youth grievances two problematic issues singled out by most scholars focusing on youth crisis.14 The UN similarly underscores, "Young people with limited education and few employment opportunities often provide fertile recruiting ground for parties to a conflict. Their lack of hope for the future can fuel disaffection with society and make them susceptible to the blandishments of those who advocate armed conflict."15

Civil wars and social conflict in turn, can negatively impact economic growth, investments and the secure development of an entire region,16 re-creating the very conditions of marginalization and exclusion that attract more youth into conflict. As a UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) paper highlights, "Failure to adequately address the challenge of youth employment can impose large economic and non-economic costs on society."17 "The socially excluded have little or no voice in policymaking and will try to find a sense of belonging elsewhere. This may create unrest and social conflict and thereby undermine social cohesion."18

Demographic transition theory

Demographic transition theory, which has gained stature as the preeminent view of population trends based on demographic similarities seen across the globe, has important connections with youth bulges, employment and implications for conflict. The United Nations and the World Bank now base their population forecasts on the assumption of a "standard" demographic transition.19 The demographic transition is a shift in the human condition in a population from high mortality and high fertility rates to low mortality and low fertility rates.20 The transition is generally attributed to "a process of overall modernization resulting from industrialization, urbanization, education, empowerment of women, as well as substantial overall socio-economic development."21 However, population studies scholar Dudley Kirk points out that "the term 'modernization,' is not defined, nor does it include the crucial questions about causation that form the subject of much modern demographic literature."22

Demographic transitions have important implications for employment over the long run, where the working age population is reduced, and hence the number of job seekers, is also reduced. Put another way, pre- or early transition countries can expect to have high numbers of unemployed youth, who may be crowded out of the job market by older adults. In addition, a smaller workforce will likely shift "employment objectives from quantity to quality of the jobs to be created."23 There is also evidence that demographic transitions may reduce the effect of youth bulge on violence and increase positive economic effects. As fertility decreases, large youth bulges should also decline, which may lead to economic boosts.24 However, "trends in the youth bulge reveal a growing bifurcation between two sets of developing countries: those well along in the demographic transition, and countries in the early phase of the transition. Between 1990 and 2000, the numbers of states with high proportions of young adults (40 percent or more of all adults) decreased by about one-sixth, no doubt in large part because fertility was falling in East Asia, the Caribbean ad Latin America." During this same period, early-transition countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Central Asia had growing youth populations, which in some cases exceeded 50 percent of all adults.25

The reasons for the lack of transition in some countries, and especially in Africa, emanate from a wide variety of socioeconomic factors. These include high fertility rates as a result of low levels of education for girls and lack of job opportunities for women, inadequate access to contraceptives, and poor access to healthcare. In addition, low levels of education hamper human capital and skills development. The only recent indicator of the beginning of a transition is a slight decline in fertility rates in some African nations.26 Finally, the adverse impacts of HIV/AIDS and resurgence of malaria and tuberculosis, have decreased life expectancy and the quantity and quality of the labor force, and also worsened the youth bulge in some countries, as older adults have died from the disease.27

However, the demographic transition theory is not accepted by all. Criticism originated in the 1940s from studies on population transitions in Europe, on the basis that it was not entirely based on accurate data -- in particular that cultural changes, such as delayed marriage, were not considered.28 The theory is also sometimes criticized for overemphasizing universality of transition trends across regions although there is consensus that mortality decline is a prerequisite for fertility decline.29 Additionally, Kirk underscores, "No two countries have followed identical paths to transition, because there are so many possible combinations of nuptiality, fertility, mortality, and migration at each stage of the transition. However, this diversity is not irreconcilable with the universality of the transition."30

Underlying the poverty-vulnerability-conflict link is unemployment, and thus conversely, employment must drive peace efforts. Economic opportunities provide alternatives to violence generally, and specifically create less incentive for recruitment of youth and other members of society into combat forces.31

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Relationship between employment, empowerment, economic recovery and peacebuilding

Employment, economic growth and human development

Employment is critical to reducing poverty and improving economic growth and human development. It has even been argued that it is the most important channel through with poverty in Africa will be defeated.32 Supporting statics illustrate that "...countries which attained high rates of employment growth alongside high rates of economic growth are also the ones [that] succeeded in reducing poverty significantly."33 United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) findings illustrate reasons for caution however: "There is also an emerging consensus that economic growth alone does not, as has been previously assumed, automatically lead to the creation of jobs."34 Despite rates of economic growth in Africa increasing over the last decade, growth has failed to generate employment; employment creation has remained stable at 3 percent, with a slight decline between 2001 and 2003. As discussed at an ECOSOC High Level Panel, "employment creation is the missing link between economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa."35Islam Rizwanul of the ILO Recovery and Reconstruction Department further argues that the development literature frequently fails to analyze the role of employment rates in linking poverty reduction and economic growth.36

Most would agree that economic growth is not enough on its own. As the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs underscores, growth "must be combined with good governance, policies that promote equitable distribution, and environmental responsibility."37 Specifically, employment-intensive growth increases the consumption potential of the population, especially food consumption. This reduces malnutrition, which is particularly rampant in poor rural communities. The additional resources generated by growth can facilitate greater accessibility of basic services essential for a decent living, such as education and health.38 These issues are more aligned with human economic recovery that is underpinned by human development concerns. Go to Economic Recovery Strategies

Creating jobs with attention to economic empowerment means targeting vulnerable groups, like women and youth. Supporting womens livelihoods is a key catalyst for development; this "improves children's survival and has a multiplier effect in the community."39 And yet, women face extraordinary barriers to entry into the economy and workforce. In general, women participate in the labor force at lower rates and have higher unemployment than men. Additionally, women have lower income jobs, are clustered into markets considered to be traditionally appropriate for females, and have lower skill levels than men. Finally, women make up a significant portion of the informal sector workforce.40 As a result, post-conflict economic recovery programs should seek to ease the discrimination and marginalization of women in the labor market.41

Considering youth in employment creation is vital when considering that close to half of the worlds jobless are young, and in many cases they face a stark lack of opportunity42 which makes them vulnerable to engaging in conflict. In addition to being easily recruited into fighting and illegal activities, youth face distinct risks in situations of armed conflict and post-conflict. They are more likely than young children to become targets for sexual violence; need and lack reproductive health care; contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV; head households; be forced to generate a livelihood themselves and others; and miss out education opportunities.43 Compounding this situation, is the rise in income poverty that can occur both during and following conflict as employment opportunities shrink and shift to the informal sector.44 This is particularly true for youth, who may be "more inclined to engage in illegal activity when they experience inequality, feel frustration and perceive a gap between what they have and what they believe they deserve or what others have."45  Go to Challenge: Transforming informal economies

Employment and peacebuilding

As a cornerstone of economic recovery, employment is by association, also a foundation of building peace and is therefore a necessary component of the economic recovery pillar of the peacebuilding agenda. As the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has argued, "Peacebuilding should...include measure to stimulate private sector development, unemployment, trade and investment."46 Specifically, "...support for the productive sector aimed at increasing employment can prevent conflict and promote and build peace. Jobs are also particularly important in the reintegration of ex-combatants and internally displaced persons."47 In addition to longer-term processes of peacebuilding, employment is also inextricably linked to security and requires strategic coordination by all relevant actors. Susan Woodward asserts, "The two key actors in any post-conflict peace operation are the military and the development people. Without security and jobs, the peace will fail."48  Go to Economic Recovery: Private Sector and Economic Recovery: Community Reintegration

Given the vulnerability of unemployed youth in large numbers and the linkage between unemployment with a higher risk of violent conflict, the inclusion of youth and youth-related issues on the peacebuilding agenda is critical for sustainable peace. However, the linkage between unemployed youth and increased risk of conflict should not negate the positive contribution of young people to society, including their potential role in sustaining the social fabric and promoting peace.49 Youth are important agents of social change and have central roles to play in reconstruction, peacebuilding, the development of participatory democracies and the achievement of positive outcomes of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR programmes).50

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Most recent evolutions

Post-World War II and Post-colonial eras:

Following World War II, the Marshall Plan post-war recovery focused on large-scale reconstruction projects designed to reinvigorate the economy by rebuilding infrastructure and providing employment.51 Building upon traditions of microfinance, governments and donors provided agricultural credit in some countries between the 1950s and 1970s to promote productivity and income growth. However, these schemes were often supply-led and were rarely successful, leading to the erosion of capital for many rural development banks.52

Post-independence, many countries subscribed to the idea that youth lay at the heart of economic development and national liberation, especially during the nationalist period in Africa. In response to this belief, social investment in youth was high, with massive investments made in education.53

1970s and 1980s:

During the 1970s, experimental projects in Brazil and Bangladesh led to current methodologies for microfinance, including inter-group microenterprise lending where group members guarantee the loan repayments of all other members. These experimental programs were often focused on credit for income generating activities and forced saving schemes, particularly aimed at women. ACCION International, SEWA Bank and the Grameen Bank, all leaders today in microfinance, originated during this era.

Young people were the greatest casualty of both the economic crisis of the 1970s and 1980s, and of the consequent adoption of structural adjustment policies (SAPs) or reforms sponsored by the international financial institutions. They "...not only had negative effects on young peoples ability to fulfill their ambitions and to live up to the expectations placed upon them, but also impaired their capacity to master the transition out of youth and into adulthood."54 SAPs decreased the public sector, a large employer of young people, marginalized youth and decreased their capacity to support themselves and their families. SAPs undermined the ability of African states to keep promises that had been made to their youth.55 The failure to truly transition to adulthood, which in many cultures is identifies by the ability to independently earn a livelihood, has been linked to the sorts of disenfranchisement that contribute to conflict risk.56


During the early 1990s, the ILO reduced the visibility of youth employment in its priorities, while increasing attention to womens and child labour issues. During this time, the "Convention on the Rights of the Child" entered into effect, which affirmed the global commitment to protect children from economic exploitation and to set minimum ages for employment.57 By 1996, youth unemployment was once again a priority.58 During this period, the World Programme of Action for Youth, a UN policy framework and set of practical guidelines for national action and international support geared towards youth participation, began to identify the increasing difficulties for young people returning from armed conflict in integrating into the community and gaining access to education and employment.59 This represented a trend towards attention to young ex-combatants and their needs in promoting peace, particularly in the promotion of livelihood strategies.60


On October 31, 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security passed. This was the first Security Council Resolution to be passed that specifically addresses womens roles in conflicts and peace processes, as well as the impacts of war on women.61 The Resolution increased awareness of gender and empowerment issues in post-conflict peacebuilding. Go to Activities: Economic Empowerment

Around the millennium, there was a shift in microfinance programming from a top-down approach that was considered to be short-sighted and, in some cases, irrespective of local needs, to one that focuses more on participation and sustainability for long-term solutions.62 Similarly, the World Bank began to promote small and medium enterprise growth during the early phases of the peacebuilding process, which was something that the Bretton Woods institutions had been criticized for neglecting.63 At the same time, the sustainable livelihoods approach has gained traction as the predominant paradigm for livelihood development.64

The Youth Employment Network (YEN) was established in 2001 "to bring together policymakers, employers and workers, young people and other stakeholders to pool their skills, experience and knowledge in order to find new, innovative and sustainable solutions to the youth employment challenge."65

In 2002, the International Labour Conference (ILC) adopted the Decent Work and the Informal Economy Resolution, which recognized the rights of entrepreneurs and employees in the informal sector and the need for regulatory frameworks to address the informal economy.66

Scholars and policymakers increasingly see youth unemployment and disenfranchisement as a threat to global security through terrorism; yet empirical evidence linking youth unemployment with "undesirable" social behavior is still lacking.67

1. Susan Woodward, "Economic Priorities for Successful Peace Implementation," in Ending Civil Wars: The Implementation of Peace Agreements, ed. Stephen John Stedman, Donald Rothchild, and Elizabeth M. Cousens (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Reinner, Inc., 2002), 201.
2. Rizwanul Islam, "The Nexus of Economic Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction: An Empirical Analysis," Issues in Employment and Poverty Discussion Paper 14 (Geneva: Recovery and Reconstruction Department of the International Labour Organization, January 2004), ii.
3. Islam, "The Nexus of Economic Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction: An Empirical Analysis," 4.
4. United Nations General Assembly, "Prevention of Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General," A/55/985-S/2001/574, June 7, 2001, 28.
5. United Nations Development Programme, Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis? (New York: UNDP, 2006), 11.
6. United Nations Development Programme, Post-Conflict Economic Recovery: Enabling Local Ingenuity, (New York: Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, 2008), 21.
7. The World Bank, "Children and Youth: A Framework for Action," Washington, D.C.: World Bank Children and Youth Unit, 2005, 12, and Robert Cincotta, et al., "Chapter 3: Stress Factor One: The Youth Bulge," in The Security Demographic: Population and Civil Conflict After the Cold War, Oxford Economic Papers Number 51, 2003.
8. International Labour Organization, "United Nations Initiative on Youth Employment," Committee on Employment and Social Policy, (GB.286/ESP/5) (Geneva: ILO, March 2003), 1.
9. Henrik Urdal, "Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence," International Studies Quarterly, Volume 50, 2006: 607.
10. Ibid., 607.
11. Ibid., 609.
12. Ibid., 609.
13. Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, "Rethinking the Policy Objectives of Development Aid: From Economic Growth to Conflict Prevention," Research Paper Number 2007/32 (Tokyo: United Nations University, June 2007.
14. UNDP, Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis? 23.
15. UNGA, "Prevention of Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General," 28. See also: The World Bank, "The Conflict Analysis Framework (CAF): Identifying Conflict-related Obstacles to Development" (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, October 2002), 2. See also: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action," (New York: DESA, 2007), 8.
16. DESA, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action," 9.
17. United Nations Economic and Social Council, "Commission for Social Development: Report on the Forty-fifth Session," Official Records, Supplement Number 6, (E/2007/26) (New York: ECOSOC, 2007), 39.
18. DESA, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment: Putting Commitment into Action," 8.
19. Dudley Kirk, "Demographic Transition Theory," Population Studies, Volume 50, Number 3, November 1996: 366.
20. John C. Caldwell, Demographic Transition Theory (New York: Springer, 2006).
21. United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, The State of Demographic Transition in Africa, ECA/FSSDD/01/10 (Addis Ababa: UNECA, December 2001), 1.
22. Kirk, "Demographic Transition Theory," 361.
23. Janvier D. Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," Paper presented at ECOSOCs High-Level Segment (New York: United Nations Economic and Social Council, May 9, 2006), 14.
24. Urdal, "Clash of Generations? Youth Bulges and Political Violence," 607.
25. Cincotta, et al., 48.
26. Kirk, "Demographic Transition Theory," 381.
27. Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," 14.
28. Kirk, "Demographic Transition Theory," 263-364.
29. Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," 14.
30. Kirk, "Demographic Transition Theory," 386.
31. Boyce and O'Donnell cite Uganda as an area where IGOs and the government are implementing training programs and microfinance to economically empower communities and increase barriers to recruitment into rebel forces. James Boyce and Madalene O'Donnell, Peace and the Public Purse (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2007), 48.
32. Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," 2.
33. Islam, "The Nexus of Economic Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction," iii.
34. ECOSOC, "Commission for Social Development: Report on the Forty-fifth Session," 33.
35. Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," 9.
36. Islam, "The Nexus of Economic Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction," 3.
37. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Peacebuilding: A Development Perspective," 32, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
38. Nkurunziza, "Generating Rural Employment in Africa to Fight Poverty," 2.
39. Johanna Mendelson-Forman and Merriam Mashatt, "Employment Generation and Economic Development in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations," Stabilization and Reconstruction Series Number 6 (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace, March 2007).
40. Madhuri Supersad, "Decent Work and Vocational Training: The Role of the State and the Social Partners," The Inter-American Centre for Knowledge Development in Vocational Training.
41. New Zealand's International Aid and Development Agency, "Achieving Gender Equality and Womens Empowerment," NZAID.
42. ECOSOC, "Commission for Social Development," 36.
43. DESA, "Guide to the Implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth," 71.
44. Fukuda-Parr, "Rethinking the Policy Objectives of Development Aid," 3.
45. DESA, "Guide to the Implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth," 68.
46. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Peacebuilding: A Development Perspective," 32.
47. Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Peacebuilding: A Development Perspective," 32.
48. Woodward, Susan, "Issues Note," Inwent.
49. UNDP, Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis? 11.
50. DESA, "Guide to the Implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth," 74.
51. Jeroen De Zeeuw, Building Peace in War-Torn Societies: From Concept to Strategy (The Netherlands: Clingendael Institute, Research Project on Rehabilitation, Sustainable Peace and Development, August 2001), 7, http://www.clingendael.nl/publications/2001/20010800_cru_paper_dezeeuw.pdf.
52. Mercy Corps, "The History of Microfinance," Mercy Corps, http://www.globalenvision.org/library/4/1051/.
53. UNDP, Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis? 21-22.
54. Ibid.,22.
55. Ibid.
56. Ibid.,23.
57. United Nations General Assembly, "Convention on the Rights of the Child," General Assembly Resolution 44/25, November 20, 1989.
58. David H. Freedman, "Youth Employment Promotion: A Review of ILO Work and the Lessons Learned," (Geneva: International Labour Organization, Employment Strategy Department, 2005), 19-20.
59. UNDP, Youth and Violent Conflict: Society and Development in Crisis? 36.
60. World Programme of Action for Youth, http://www.un.org/events/youth98/backinfo/ywpa2000.htm
61. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, "United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security," Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.
62. ILO, "Micro-finance in Post-Conflict Situations," 11.
63. Woodward, "Economic Priorities for Successful Peace Implementation," 202.
64. Rick de Satge, "Livelihoods Analysis and the Challenges of Post-Conflict Recovery," in Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods: A Critical Review of Assistance in Post-Conflict Situations, eds. Jenny Clover and Richard Cornwell, Monograph Number 102 (Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies, August 2004), 24.
65. DESA, "Review of National Action Plans on Youth Employment," 6.
66. Allan Larsson, "Empowerment of the Poor in Informal Employment, Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor," January 20-21, 2006, 3.
67. Freedman, David H., "Youth Employment Promotion: A Review of ILO Work and the Lessons Learned," International Labour Office, Employment Strategy Department, 2005/1: 35.

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