BY RAFAT AL-AKHALI
After ten months of extensive negotiations and discussions, Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference (NDC) concluded on the January 21, 2014. It is critical to analyze the NDC outcomes and assess whether it addresses the calls for change that Yemeni youth initiated in 2011.
The final NDC report compiled the outcomes of the following nine working groups of the conference: Independence of Special Entities, Comprehensive and Sustainable Development, Military and Security, Sa’ada Issue, Rights and Freedoms, Good Governance, State Building, Southern Issue, and Transitional Justice working groups. However, there are a number of cross-cutting issues/sectors (such as outcomes related to youth) that require further analysis to identify them across the different working group reports. The following is based on the contents of a study commissioned by the Yemeni Youth Observatory, and supported by the UNDP in Yemen, to analyze the outcomes of the NDC related to youth.
The main outcomes of the NDC related to youth can be summarized in three areas: political empowerment, economic empowerment, and education. The following sections highlight the key NDC decisions in each of these areas.
One outcome involves creating a new independent authority named the “Supreme Council for Youth” with a mandate to steer and supervise public policy and monitor its implementation 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.
The state also agreed to guarantee a youth quota of 20 percent in varios branches of government, including legislative, executive, and judicial powers. Boards of political parties and organizations and bodies involved in all political, economic, social, and cultural state affairs are also expected to adhere to this quota.
This standard also applies to the Constitution Drafting Committee, perhaps the most important body to incorporate the concerns of Yemeni youth in the upcoming national charter.
Lastly, national consultative councils that work to improve social development (the situation of families, youth and children) and protect their rights will also benefit from the mandatory youth quota.
The state will guarantee “care for women and youth, and developing them spiritually, morally, culturally, scientifically, physically, psychologically, socially, and economically, and [enable] their effective political participation.” To mitigate unemployment, the state promises to institute a “Skills Development Fund,” achieving its goals in a decentralized manner through training qualified youth. Small agricultural, fishing, and cooperative projects aim to provide quick opportunities for youth unemployment. Yemen also plans to “take the necessary measures to achieve a wider youth participation in social, economic, cultural and political development of the country.”
In the hopes of providing more of a social safety net, NDC outcomes include guarantees for providing social security for all youth in cases of sickness, disability, unemployment or loss of income provider, particularly for the families of youth martyrs according to the law.
The State also committed to microfinance youth projects with no interest loans that could have a knock-on effect for the country’s economy, expanding entrepreneurship and providing more job opportunities. To help ensure equality in the general provision of loans, the Outcomes also require that the law stipulate the facilitation of loans for business women and youth. A supplemental measure includes modifying the current tax and fiscal laws to provide temporary tax breaks for projects that target economic empowerment of women and youth.
As part of the concerns with foreign companies tapping Yemen’s energy reserves, the NDC also decided to explicit give priority to Yemeni citizens in private and public sector jobs, in accordance with the law.
In an effort to promote gender equality and improve education for young Yemenis across the country, the NDC reiterated its commitment to the right to free, high-quality education. making it mandatory at the primary level for all Yemenis. The Outcomes also commit the state to providing the necessary incentives and appropriate environment to ensure girls education, and an independent supreme authority for Education, Training, and Scientific Research will be responsible for designing and approving national education, training, and scientific research policies.
The NDC outcomes are binding statements of principle. Some of the NDC outcomes related to youth are concrete and, if adopted properly in the upcoming constitution and implemented on the ground, could lead to a substantive shift in the reality of Yemeni youth and their future. Such outcomes include creating institutional frameworks for youth-related policies (Supreme Council for Youth), and guaranteeing youth quotas.
Other outcomes are ambitious and will face difficulty in being implemented, such as no-interest loans and free higher education. Finally, some outcomes are vague and intangible, such as guarantees for women and youth care, and developing them spiritually, morally.
Despite these significant youth-related outcomes from the NDC, the majority of Yemeni youth continue to lack trust and confidence in the NDC outcomes. This is mainly due to two reasons:
- There continues to be a gap in communicating the NDC outcomes to the public, despite some efforts by the NDC Secretariat. The outcomes need to be distilled down to the level where different groups (such as youth) can relate to it.
- Due to the experience of the past few decades, Yemeni youth (and citizens in general) do not have much trust in the constitution or any laws, let alone the NDC outcomes document.
Yemeni youth need to see some of these outcomes implemented on the ground before they can be expected to trust in them. There is a need for focused advocacy, mobilization, and lobbying efforts to ensure that the upcoming constitution drafting committee reflects all the NDC youth-related outcomes in the new constitution, and to ensure that these outcomes are implemented properly. One key step in implementing these outcomes is to adopt a common definition of “youth” in Yemen, as the different entities that currently work on youth issues in Yemen have multiple age definitions.
The NDC itself can be seen as a case study for further youth political inclusion in the coming period. It is important to study, analyze, and learn from the experience of youth inclusion in the NDC.
*This article is based on a study by the author Rafat Al-Akhali titled “National Dialogue Conference Outcomes related to Youth.” The study was commissioned by the Yemeni Youth Observatory under the support and supervision of the United Nations Development Programme in Yemen.