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'HIV and Aids are barriers to employment for youth in the Pacific'

The Guardian, 20 August 2014 - Harry James, Commonwealth youth representative for the Pacific, on the social discrimination behind unemployment
Harry James
Harry James is the Commonwealth youth council representative from the Pacific region. Photograph: Mridul Upadhyay

How would you describe the issue of youth unemployment in the developing world?

It is major issue. In the Pacific region for example, the region I represent, young people are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.

What are the main causes?

A key issue is the mismatch between training, skills and education. In the Pacific there is a lack of relevant education. We also need more entrepreneurship to encourage young people to generate their own opportuntites. Social and cultural issues, rural to urban migration, HIV and aids, and the persistence of gender inequalities all also help to drive, and sustain, unemployment.

In the Pacific region, society often views young people as the beneficiaries of the development process, rather than a part of the process. Often it is a case of 'adults do stuff and it just affects young people'.

Aids, HIV and STIs are a growing issue in the region that often brings stigmatisation and discrimination. This is one of the many barriers young people are facing in getting work. Young people with these diseases often face real problems when seeking employment and hostility within their communities.

Is there any gender discrimination in employment in the Pacific?

Yes. In the Pacifc region it's considered that girls should be seen and not heard. Girls are expected to do house work, and not thought to be potential bread winners. We tell girls to stay in the house and do the washing, rather than finding employment.

Young women have started to advocate at a regional level to help convince policymakers to pursue for girls rights and access to employment. However, it is taking time for policymakers and also community leaders to change traditional perspectives towards young women. It is really quite a challenge for young people to change attitudes because the cultural practices in the Pacific are very strong and guided by elders.

Where should youth employement sit in the international agenda?

Young people should be seen as important in the areas on poverty reduction and targets on universal primary education. If we manage to create a good foundation in education, it will really help young people. We also need to ensure there is a good labour policy in 2015 that benefits young people looking for work.

What are the solutions to the crisis?

We need to mobilse young people at the national, regional and international level. We also need to build their capacity and lobbying power at the street level. We also need to help young people to understand what the post 2015 goals are because right now especially in my region, young people are politically disengaged. We have low voting turn out among young people.

Young people really struggle to have their voices heard. Leaders talk about youth participation but often they just do it as part of a check list. Leaders are not seeing young people as equal partners in the implementation of the 2015 agenda. I think young people have a different persepective on how to tackle the problem, but we have not influenced policies. We might have different ideas but at the end of the day governments still make all the decisions.


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