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Decent work as tool for economic growth

CHIPETA—Our focus is on participation of women
in decent work

Over 80 percent of the youth take to the streets in Malawi’s cities, major towns and trading centres whenever Human Rights Defenders Coalition organises mass protests.

Reason? The protests have become a platform for the youth to express their anger against the government over rising unemployment rates and increasing disparities between the rich and poor, which are mainly affecting the youth.

As politicians continue embarking on political-destruction-missions, the youth will be busy on the streets carrying out demonstrations against the status quo.

And it would appear if nothing is done to solve the problem of youth unemployment; the youth will not stop disturbing the country’s peace and security.

Youth unemployment is at 23 percent compared to the national unemployment rate of 21 percent, according to Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Minister.

The ministry adds that most of the available employment and work is in the informal sector, which faces serious work deficits.

“The youth find themselves in this sector because they have no alternative means of livelihood. In other words, they are in this sector not by choice, but rather for survival,” the ministry’s former principal secretary Joseph Mwandidya said recently.

Youth unemployment, according to African Development Bank, stands at a staggering 83 percent across the globe.

There is no unique determinant of the youth employment challenge in the African region.

Rather, a combination of factors contributes to compound a situation that has become a top political priority for the region.

In sub-Saharan Africa, unemployment rates remain relatively low, as the vast majority of employable active youth cannot afford not to work.

However, these youth regularly suffer from under-employment and lack of decent working conditions.

Of the 38.1 percent estimated total working poor in sub-Saharan Africa, young people account for 23.5 percent.

The upward trend of youth unemployment has rendered many youths hopeless, idle and vulnerable to crime and radicalisation.

Youth unemployment and under-employment are also on the rise among graduates.

It has not spared university graduates, and some have devised mobilisation skills to influence others to confront the status quo through antagonistic means.

Although the majority of graduates have not resorted to petty crime, a number of them are strategic enough to mobilise their uneducated counterparts to engage in radicalised or subversive activities such as looting shops during peaceful demonstrations.

Joyce Wong and Uma Ramakrishnan of International Monetary Fund Western Hemisphere Department observe that high crime rates have created a vicious cycle by which young people struggling with lack of economic opportunities turn to illegal activities and crime, further depressing growth.

There are many reasons for growing unemployment among Africa’s educated youth, including more secondary level graduates due to the growing population, a rapid increase in access to primary school and improving access to secondary and tertiary institutions.

At the same time, the pace of expansion in job demand in Africa’s formal sectors has not matched the pace of graduation from secondary and tertiary institutions, while graduates cannot meet all the job demand in the formal sector because of poor quality of their education.

Experts have pointed out that weak growth reduces economic opportunities for the young, increasing their vulnerability to victimisation or gang membership.

These trends further hurt growth by discouraging investment through lower productivity, higher security costs and reduced competitiveness.

They also divert the government spending from growth-enhancing investment in health, education, and productive infrastructure, create uncertainty for businesses and investors, and cause the emigration of highly trained people (also known as brain drain).

And as the Action Aid Malawi acting head of fundraising Yandura Chipeta stated, women bear 75 percent of unpaid work and this affects their participation in paid economy as such they cannot do something that is productive.

Chipeta disclosed during the 2019 Global Decent Work in Lilongwe last Monday that, in the absence of the gender-sensitive labour laws, girls and women have always been at the mercy of employers.

“Action Aid has a particular interest to ensure that those particular public services should have a gender lens to ensure that they are meeting practical and strategic gender needs for men and women. And as we are cerebrating this day, our focus is on participation of women in decent work and how it relates to unpaid work that women do at home and in the community,” she said.

Malawi Congress of Trade Union Deputy Director, Jessie Ching’oma, said women and girls are exposed to all forms of violence and discrimination in the world of work for example low or no wages ,poor working conditions and also exposure to HIV and Aids as well as exploitation, among others.

She added that the high rate of unemployment has also fuelled violence to women at work places as most young women are involved in voluntary work or internship which makes them more venerable to abuse.

Ching’oma said decent work involves opportunities for work that is productive, formal and informal.

She, therefore, urged women who are experiencing such problems at work to report to organisations, which deal with such issues and those who are aware that such incidents are happening in their offices to report the perpetrators.

“Apart from that we want to lobby with the government and authorities to make sure there is an enforcement of labour law and also consider ratifying some of the international labour organisations conventions that are speaking to issues of decent work,” she said.

So, what should Malawi do—particularly considering its bulging youth population, which needs the appropriate skills to graduate into good jobs –avert danger?

Goal 8 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work, and is a key area of engagement.

Furthermore, key aspects of decent work are widely embedded in the targets of many of the other 16 goals of the United Nations (UN)’s new development vision.

Luckily, Malawi is party to International Labour Organisation Convention and many other protocols that promote a decent work agenda.

However, despite these international and domestic provisions that seek to promote the decent work agenda, the country still falls short of achieving this agenda.

Issues of unpaid care work, violence in the workplace, poor wages and unemployment and vulnerability of the youths are some of the major deficits.

Phenomena such as volunteerism, internships, working poverty, poor public service delivery, which relinquishes the burden of care on women, gender wage pay gaps and institutionalised patriarchy, are some of the manifestations of these deficits.

Sadly, it is young women, in the formal and informal economies, who seem to bear the heaviest brunt of these challenges.

As Chipeta states, young girls tend to be more disadvantaged than young men in access to work and experience worse working conditions than their male counterparts, and employment in the informal economy or informal employment is the norm.

“[The] government should take progressive steps to create decent work to sum up the aspirations of people in their working lives. This decent work should involve opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration,” she said.

She said this decent work should strive to create freedom for people to express their concerns, organise and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

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