The Path To Youth Employment In the Arab Region


BIO: Kehkashan Basu is a 15-year-old environmental and social youth activist living in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. Kehkashan is a member of the UNEP Major Groups Facilitating Committee, and she is a former Global Coordinator for Children & Youth for UNEP. Kehkashan is the founder of a youth organization, GREEN HOPE UAE, which seeks to provide a networking platform to children and youth in the region. Her passion in life is to involve and mobilise children and youth in the movement for a peaceful, sustainable and green future. Born on 5th of June which is also World Environment Day, she feels that it was pre-ordained that she should grow up to be an eco-warrior. Spreading the message of peace and sustainability has been her mission since she was only 8 years old and she has worked tirelessly to enlist the support of children and youth across geographical boundaries. Click here to learn more about Kehkashan

What are the greatest barriers to youth employment in your region?

Our region probably has the one of the highest percentages of migrant youth. Being migrants, they face insurmountable challenges of representation and accreditation, which come in the way of their employment. Several countries in our region are torn apart by strife. This has resulted in a breakdown of the education system causing several youth to forego completing their degree courses. This affects their suitability in the employment market, with many of them being forced to accept jobs far below their potential.


How do you experience the effects of mass youth unemployment in your own life?

Since I am still a secondary school student, I have personally not encountered this. However, in my role as a youth leader, I have attended several youth sessions at the UN including those pertaining to IYD (International Youth Day) wherein I interacted with youth from several countries who related their challenges with regard to employment. Education was cited as a key criterion, which aided employment. Migrant youth referred to ethnic discrimination and the current system of not considering “domicile” as an acceptable status for representation to be the main hurdles towards employment.


What do you think the Arab Spring demonstrated about youth unemployment in MENA? What has changed since, if anything?

The Arab Spring was the climax of youth frustration over the current state of governance and the apathy shown by policy makers in the affected countries towards civil society, in particular towards the youth. The youth were the largest stakeholders and yet amongst the least empowered. It helped to bring about a change in the political leadership but the effects were temporary. It has not brought about any changes with regard to improvement in youth employment. If anything, the political instability that it created has deterred foreign firms from investment in the region with many winding up or descaling operations, which has had a detrimental effect on the employment market for youth.


Can you tell us a bit about some of the initiatives you have observed or perhaps been engaged in at the UN?

I am the current Global Coordinator for UNEP’s Major Group for Children and Youth and also hold leadership positions in several international youth organisations and these have enabled me to be closely involved with several UN processes. The UN engages with civil society through the major group system and I am an active member of both the youth and women constituencies. In most UN processes the youth constituency is amongst the most engaged and vocal, however we continue to be severely challenged by resource constraints. Education, youth entrepreneurship and employment are some of the key lobbying points for us at the UN. However, our greatest challenge lies in the huge disparity in opportunities for youth that exists between the global north and the developing nations. The Rio+20 outcome document called for intergenerational solidarity and securing the rights of future generations. However, not much has been achieved since then in terms of implementation at ground level.


What do you think can be done about youth unemployment at the international or intergovernmental level?

There needs to be cross-cutting engagement across regions and countries to address the issue of youth unemployment. However, solutions to this problem lie at a local or national level, since employment policies and opportunities are typical to each nation. One important step towards youth employment would be the acceptance of domicile status as the guiding criteria for representation for youth migrants.


What do you think was the most exciting opportunity discussed at the recent Opportunity Panel? (The top opportunities discussed were closing the skills gap, entrepreneurship, and digital employment platforms)

In my opinion, the most exciting opportunity was that of digital employment platforms because it harnessed the immense potential of the web and provided opportunities to even the most marginalized youth. Its essence lay in its potential to break down geographical boundaries and bring opportunities at the click of a mouse.

What motivated you to participate in the Opportunity Panel?

The youth of today are the “Future Generations” and I believe that we must have our own voice in creating our destiny. The Opportunity Panel provided me with an opportunity to engage with experts in the field and a platform where I could express my views, thoughts and aspirations.

What, if anything, inspires you to think about opportunities instead of risks?

It is all about having a positive attitude and to have the courage and self-belief to look at the future as one of opportunity and not one of risk. In my opinion a risk is an opportunity worth taking.

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