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I want to start by defining who we mean by youth. In this case of my presentation today, I am referring to 15-24 years olds. I recognize that many governments use older age ranges, but we are focusing on this narrower age range, because policies and programming often need to be targeted. I focus on 15-24 year olds, because it is such an important period of transition when decisions are made related to marriage, childbearing, whether to continue school, the type of job to find. These decisions then set an important trajectory. Most importantly for the theme of our conference, during this part of the life cycle, we find that while many opportunities are opening for young men, they are often closing for young women.
Much of the policy interest in youth livelihoods is around fulfilling the demographic dividend. In many countries in Africa, there are relatively large youth cohorts owing to the progression of the demographic transition. These large youth cohorts can be seen as either threat or opportunity. Harnessing their labor supply has the potential to help realize economic growth.
At the same time, economic changes are occurring, and this means that the types of jobs available to young people are also changing, and these changes may be experienced differently by young women and young men. Under structural transformation, the share of jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors becomes larger, and the share of jobs in the agricultural sector decreases. These different types of jobs may lead to different opportunities and benefits for young men and women. As part of rural transformation, agriculture become more productive, often via mechanization, and rural institutions also change. And, large youth cohorts, relative to the population size, mean that there is increase competition for land, jobs, and training opportunities.
In the first part of our chapter, we analyzed data on individuals that we pooled together from nationally representative Demographic and Health Surveys in 25 countries, and country-level data from the World Development Indicators. I am going to highlight some of our findings, starting with landownership. For rural households, and rural youth, land is often the most valuable asset. Young people may purchase or inherit it, or they may expect to inherit it in the future. And, as highlighted by the sustainable livelihoods framework, they may own it on their own or do so jointly with a spouse, parent, or other person. Landownership may also be linked to marriage, either by signally marriageability or as inheritance received upon marriage.
Looking at descriptive statistics on landownership, we first observe that many rural youth don’t yet own land. Among rural youth who do own land young men are more often sole owners of land. Young women are more often joint owners, likely because they have married earlier and have a joint claim to the land via marriage. It is important to note that this joint claim via marriage may not always be permanent, such as in the case of divorce or widowhood.
When we looked at determinants of rural youth land ownership, we find that older youth are more likely to own land, no surprise as youth transition to becoming adults. Married young women and young men are more likely to own land. Married young men are more likely to own land solely, and married young women are more likely to own land jointly. This is consistent with our expectation that young women’s joint claim to landownership may occur via marriage.
Both rural young women and rural young men are less likely to own land at higher levels of structural transformation. But we see diverging trajectories for young men and young women at higher levels of rural transformation at which young men are more likely to own land and young women are less likely to own land. It may be that rural young women may be left out as agriculture becomes mechanized. Importantly it triggers concern, because young women are not reaping the equal benefits or rural transformation.
During this period of the life cycle, young men and young women may still be in school or some form of vocation training. They may be working, or a combination of work and school. Even still, there may be youth who aren’t involved in any of these. Often, we refer to these youth as NEET because they are Neither in Employment, Education, or Training. Typically, there are more young women classified as NEET than young men, but this definition fails to consider that NEET young women are often have significant household labor contributions.
From the descriptive table on the right where the purple bar is “in school,” the blue bar is “employed” and the grey bar is “in school and employed”, we see that, across all three regions, more young men are enrolled in school than young women and more young men are working compared to young women. Overall, approximately 2/3 of rural youth are working in on-farm activities.
When we looked at determinants of employment and NEET, we found that young women who were married and/or had young children were more likely to be NEET, but among young men, they were more likely to be working for some form of payment. This indicates that young women are likely involved in caregiving roles and contributing invisible labor, despite the NEET label that suggests they are doing nothing. It also suggests that many young fathers are working and may lose out on opportunities to participate in caregiver roles.
Both rural young men and young women are less likely to be employed in countries with higher levels of structural and rural transformation. This may be because they are in school longer or they are entering jobs that require specific training. So this isn’t necessarily a concern. However, at higher levels of rural transformation, young women are even less likely to be employed than young men. Increased efficiency of rural farms may mean that there are fewer opportunities for unskilled workers in rural areas. If women don’t have access to training or technology, they may miss out on these employment opportunities
In countries where youth cohorts were relatively large, we found that the likelihood of employment was higher for rural young men & lower for rural young women. There may be fierce intracohort competition for jobs when youth cohorts are large. This competition may be detrimental to young women.
I am going to summarize some key points before moving on to the second part of our chapter. Rural young women transition to adulthood with fewer resources (land, education) than rural young men Rural young women are less likely to own land, especially as sole owners, compared to young men Many rural young women are classified as NEET, but this label may not consider invisible household labor Rural young women and men are running uphill at higher levels of structural and rural transformation. Employment and landownership are lower and NEET higher
To me, the overarching conclusion from these findings is that we have a call to action. So, I trigger you to think, how can we foster economic opportunities that benefit both rural young women and rural young men?
In the second part of this chapter, we examine how gender-sensitive youth livelihoods programming can harness the potential of the demographic dividend. By gender-sensitive livelihoods programming we mean programming the addresses the unique needs of young men and young women so that they can achieve and benefit from employment and entrepreneurial trainings and activities.
To do this, we reviewed impact evaluations of youth livelihoods programs in which the studies looked at differential impacts for young men and young women. Not all of these programs had to be gender sensitive. They just had to have impact evaluations that looked at impacts separately by gender. I am going to summarize some of those key findings by type of intervention.
Overall, there have not been a large number of livelihoods programs for rural youth that look at differential impacts by gender in rural Africa, but we can look across the few that exist to start to draw broad conclusions about the characteristics of programs that work and don’t work. Here I am going to compare two vocations skills training programs, one in Malawi and one in Uganda. The program in in Malawi was a training and apprenticeship program for aspiring craftspersons. Young men benefitted from this program considerably more than young women did. Young women began the program with less education and less cash on hand to travel to the job cites. Even beyond money, it was difficult to travel to training sites, and they had difficulty balancing their commitments to household and family responsibilities.
BRAC’s Empowerment and Livelihoods for Adolescents program in Uganda was a vocational training program that also included life skills trainings delivered through adolescent development clubs. The program was successful in improving both vocational and sexual and reproductive health outcomes. From this we conclude that multiprong approaches that address vocational training alongside interventions that can address reproductive health needs or issues of work balance have a greater potential for success.
Given the potential for youth entrepreneurship in the informal sector, we really want programs that provide cash and credit to young entrepreneurs to be successful. There are many critiques related to the consequences of microcredit programs, and these critiques are relevant to young people too. We found that in previous interventions young women, especially, had difficulty keeping cash for business expenses on hand. Worthy household expenses arose, and they had low control over their money. We did identify one program in Northern Uganda that gave cash grants to young women entrepreneurs. There were positive impacts on income, but not on other indicators where we would hope to see impact, such as independence, their status in the community, or in freedom form intimate partner violence. This leaves us to speculate whether such a program could have led to better outcomes if it had paid attention to the simultaneous household and family responsibilities of young women.
There are many other types of programs. Additionally, cash transfer programs, which have primarily been targeted to families of adolescent girls, have been shown to strengthen the asset base by keeping them in school longer and delaying marriage and child bearing.
Youth groups can be a platform for delivering multipronged interventions. For example, the Toward Economic and Sexual and Reproductive Health Outcomes for Adolescent Girls in Ethiopia program, which benefitted from an evaluation design that compared the benefit of different program components found that those who received both the economic skills and sexual and reproductive health components experienced larger positive impacts in both of those areas.
Finally, information and mass media campaigns to emphasize labor force opportunities for women have not yet been studied in rural Africa, but can potentially help meet the demand for female labor force participation.
I am going to close with 3 concluding recommendations for gender-sensitive youth livelihoods programming.
First, livelihoods-oriented interventions must consider employment and entrepreneurial training alongside the demands of the family and household for both young men and young women. For young women, these family responsibilities often limit the amount of time available to initiate economic opportunities, as well as the scope of what is deemed suitable work. And although fathers are expected to work, programs that incorporate their household and family roles could facilitate a healthier transition to adulthood and provide the opportunity for new fathers to have caregiving roles.
Second, policies and programs need to be designed to mitigate the potential negative impacts of structural and rural transformation, and to recognize that those impacts differ by gender. Structural and rural transformation both create challenging environments for youth livelihoods, and outcomes are less favorable for young rural women. Policies need to ensure that both young women and young men can benefit from these forms of economic growth.
Finally, concerns about marriage, fertility, and parenthood are usually addressed to young women and tend to be ignore young men. Yet these transitions to adulthood affect both young men and young women in different ways. Household and family responsibilities may pressure young men to find employment. Recognizing the importance of both work and family responsibilities in both young women’s and men’s lives would be an important first step to developing youth livelihood opportunities.
Building Livelihoods for Rural Youth: A Gendered Perspective
Building Livelihoods for Rural
Youth: A Gendered Perspective
with Audrey Pereira, Cheryl Doss, Emily C. Myers, and Agnes
Changing national contexts & rural youth
Young women and men experience
different opportunities and benefits of:
• Structural transformation
• Growth in share of jobs
manufacturing and service sectors
• Rural transformation
• Agricultural productivity increases
• Rural institutions change
• Large youth cohorts
• Competition for land, jobs, training
Ethiopia’s Population Structure, 2010 and 2030
• Married young men more likely
to own land solely; married
young women more likely to
• Young women and men less
likely to own land at higher
levels of structural
• Young men are more likely to
own land at higher levels of rural
transformation (when land is
more productive); women less
East Africa Southern Africa West & Central
Sole ownership Joint ownership
Employment & NEET
• Married young women and
mothers are more likely to be
NEET (opposite from young men)
• Young men and young women less
likely to be employed at higher
levels of structural and rural
transformation; young women
even less likely at higher levels of
• Large youth cohorts higher
employment of young men & lower
employment of young women
East Africa Southern Africa West & Central Africa
School Employed School and employed NEET
• Rural young women transition to adulthood with fewer
resources (land, education) than rural young men
• Rural young women are less likely to own land, especially as
sole owners, compared to young men
• Many rural young women are classified as NEET, but this label
may not consider invisible household labor
• Rural young women and men are running uphill at higher levels
of structural and rural transformation. Employment and
landownership are lower and NEET higher
How can gender-sensitive youth
livelihoods programming harness the
potential of the demographic dividend
while creating equal benefits for young
women and young men?
• Apprenticeship training in Malawi
• Young men benefitted more than young
• Women participated with fewer
resources and experienced difficulty
traveling and household/family
• BRAC’s Empowerment and
Livelihoods for Adolescents program
• Mixed vocational and life skills trainings
• Positive impacts on vocational and
sexual and reproductive health
Photo credit: Cooperman
Credit and cash for
• Given the size of the informal sector,
credit or cash grants seem appealing
• General concerns about microcredit
programs apply to youth
• Young women had difficulty keeping
cash on hands because of worthy
• Cash grants for young women in
northern Uganda led to increases in
income, but not independence, status
in community, or freedom from
intimate partner violence.
Other youth livelihoods programs
• Cash transfers
• Delay transitions to marriage and parenthood and keep youth in school
• Youth groups
• Potential platform for different types of interventions
• In Ethiopia Toward Economic and Sexual and Reproductive Health Outcomes
for Adolescent Girls, those who received both the economic and sexual and
reproductive health components improved in both domains.
• Information and mass media
• Not yet studied in Africa, but may help meet the demand for female labor
Concluding recommendations for gender-
sensitive youth livelihoods programming
• Consider the productive and reproductive responsibilities of
young men and young women. Programs that do so, have been
• Mitigate the potential negative impacts of structural and rural
transformation and recognize that the impacts differ by gender.
• Recognize the importance of both productive and reproductive
roles in both young women’s and men’s lives.