OP-ED

Yemeni Youth Celebrate Their International Day with High Rates of Poverty and Unemployment

National Yemen

Yemen female youth

By NY Staff

Nations are built on the shoulders of youth, but only when they earn the youth’s support and encouragement. Unfortunately, Yemeni youth consider their country a grave for their ambitions and hopes, and most think that there are hidden agendas destroying their confidence.

The International Youth Day came in Yemen at a time when the unemployment rate is the highest in the Middle East and North Africa, at 60%. According to a report, the number increased greatly with the spread of poverty and malnutrition, and remained high among adolescent crowds, reaching 60% after the revolution in 2011.

Youth remain the largest victims. One student, Khalid, has a Masters in Information Systems from India. “Since my return to my homeland, I have applied for jobs in the government, companies, private banks, and international organizations working in Yemen, but I couldn’t get a good job opportunity because I do not have connections,” he said. Mona Mohammed, another victim of unemployment in Yemen, graduated from the Faculty of English Education. “I believed that I was going to get job easily especially after the peaceful youth revolution and the continued talking about the empowerment of women. However, I discovered that the situation is not as I expected and until now I am without a job.”

The international Youth Day came this year with the title of Youth and Mental Health. Many youth do not approve of the title. Ahmed al-Manssor said that there are problems facing youth that subjected them to psychological and social ills.

According to al-Manssor, the most prominent problem youth face is the high cost of dowries and exorbitant wedding costs that prevent them from marriage. It has become difficult for men to get married because either they don’t have a job or they have a job with a low salary. “Every man has a desire to marry, but marriage causes two concerns for youth. First is the money and second is society’s perception of unmarried men and the criticism they face by some people that challenged their manhood.”

Al-Manssor added that most families are poor and wait their sons to graduate from college and get a job to help them and improve their lives. Yet when they graduate they find themselves unemployed.

Mr. Paolo Lembo, UN Resident Coordinator in Yemen, said that since young people took to the streets in 2011 demanding fairness and justice, youth have appropriately engaged in the National Dialogue Conference with commitment and wisdom. The NDC outcomes related to youth include political empowerment, education, and economic empowerment.

Lembo added that politically, the outcomes involve creating a new independent authority with a mandate to steer and supervise public policy and monitor its implementation. This will be done to ensure protection of youth from social and health risks and violence, and institute clear policies and mechanisms for youth participation and inclusion in public policy making.

“In an ongoing survey, and thanks to pro-bono efforts by all mobile phone operators in Yemen, we ask the people of Yemen: What is important to YOU in the future? By calling 2015 for free all mobile subscribers with a Yemeni number are invited to have your say. So far, 215,000 Yemenis have participated; almost half being young people between 16 and 30 years old. On top of the list of priorities we find ‘a good education’, followed by ‘better job opportunities’ and ‘a responsive government’. Again, I wish to reassure our commitment to support you towards that future, and ensure that the priorities you have identified are heard in Yemen and beyond. Another encouraging finding from the survey so far is that Yemenis between 16 and 30 place stronger emphases on equality between men and women than older voters, giving me faith in a future of this country where the resourceful female half of the populations finds space to contribute and thrive,” Lembo added.

In Yemen, events in recent times have put youth under stress. Youth have experienced devastating personal losses and are exposed to fear, both for today and for the future. A fragile security situation, high costs, and high unemployment makes it challenging to remain calm and persistent in their demand for the future they want.

“I cannot even imagine, but only recognize, the encounters many of you have been faced with, and I am deeply in awe of the resilience you continue to demonstrate. In this context, and in line with what the Secretary General said, I encourage openness around issues of mental health and wellbeing. It also calls upon on us to protect the wellbeing of each other. Openness will ease our individual burdens and help us mend our wounds, though the wounds themselves will remain. At a different level, for Yemen to heal as a nation, I reassure our commitment as the UN to support a transparent and an independent openness around injustice that has occurred, and that has contributed to the individual traumas of many people in this country.”

In her part, Lene K. Christiansen, UNFPA Representative to Yemen, said that a safe and healthy passage from adolescence into adulthood is the right of every child and being healthy means not merely the absence of illness, but complete physical, mental and social well-being. An essential component of this is being able to realize one’s potential, cope with the stresses of life, build healthy relationships, work productively, and participate fully in society.

“Yet, the mental health of young people is largely ignored and, as a result, depression is the largest cause of disability, and suicide is one of the leading causes of death among young people worldwide. On this International Youth Day, we therefore declare that, ‘Mental Health Matters’,” she added.

According to Christiansen across the world, 1 in 4 adolescent girls are sexually assaulted and 1 in 3 young women were married before the age of 18. The situation is even worse for millions of adolescents living in areas of conflict or humanitarian crises.

“Mental health matters; and the international community has much to do to fulfill its obligations to young people. We must ensure the availability of services to prevent, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions. We must end the stigma, discrimination, and violations of human rights against people with mental disabilities. We must guarantee a safe and healthy passage through adolescence for all.”

UNFPA is working in more than 150 countries and territories around the world, including Yemen, to ensure that adolescents and youth have the knowledge, skills, and services to enable them to exercise their rights, understand their bodies, and make informed decisions about their health and well-being. Importantly, “we are also making sure young people’s voices are heard and that and their priorities are incorporated in the very development of society.”