1. Young people in MENA: Coming of age in a context of structural challenges and global trends

Across most of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region,1 people from 15-29 years of age constitute nearly one-quarter (24%) of the population, compared with 19% of the population across OECD countries (Figure 1.1).2 However, the magnitude of this current youth bulge3 and future demographic projections vary significantly within the region, with the current population under 29 years old ranging from 38% in Kuwait to 67% in Yemen. By 2050, the population under 29 years old is projected to range from 28% in Qatar to 59% in Mauritania. As the region’s significant youth cohort grows older, the demographic transition presents both an opportunity and the need for renewed efforts and investments into their transition to an autonomous life and participation in economic, social and public life. However, the demographic reality in the region is often not portrayed as an opportunity but as a cause of concern given the challenges young people are facing.

Spanning from Morocco and Mauritania in the West to Gulf countries in the East, and from countries in North Africa in the North to Yemen in South, young people across the region are growing up in very different circumstances. Also within each country, the opportunities available to young people differ significantly depending on factors such as educational attainment, gender, family background, (dis)ability status, ethnicity, migration status and others. While challenges vary depending on national and personal circumstances, the region faces one of the highest youth unemployment and informality rates worldwide and is home to 15 million displaced people, many of which are young people (UNHCR, 2019[1]). After eight years of decline from 2003-2011, the population living in poverty (under 5.50 USD per day) has increased in the MENA region, from 141,690,000 in 2013 to 170,450,000 in 2018.4 Overall trust among citizens in government and public institutions remains low: 31% of people across the MENA economies5 surveyed by the Arab Barometer in 2021 reported they trusted their public institutions, and the rate decreases to only 28% among young people from 18-29 years of age (Arab Barometer, 2021[2]). Moreover, less than 1 in 2 young people from 18-24 years of age surveyed across 17 MENA economies6 in 2021 by the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey think their public administration has in place the right policies to address the issues most important to young people. Many of the structural challenges young people are confronted with lead to longer dependence on state or family support, which delays their path to an autonomous life and deprives societies and economies of the positive effects of a young demographic.

The COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated pre-existing inequalities across the region and among young people of different backgrounds. Although physical health risks have been lower for young people than the elderly, youth have been significantly impacted by the socio-economic effects of the pandemic (OECD, 2020[3]). As in countries around the world, access to formal and non-formal learning has been disrupted with the closures of schools, youth centres and youth clubs due to confinement measures and curfews. Starting from already high levels, the pandemic resulted in an increase in the share of unemployed young people (15-24 years) by 2.7 percentage points from 2019 to 2020.7 As a result, simulations estimate that under a pessimistic scenario, approximately 800 billion USD of aggregated lifetime earnings could be lost for the current cohort of learners in the region (UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank, 2021[4]). In response to Russia’s large-scale aggression against Ukraine in 2022, new concerns about the food security for the MENA population emerged as the MENA region is especially dependent on Russia and Ukraine for their wheat needs: for instance, more than 80% of Egypt’s wheat imports in 2020 came from Russia and Ukraine and more than 70% for Lebanon.8 With a view to major risks for the well-being of today’s and future generations, the implications of climate change are already felt by young people today in the form of water shortages, food insecurity and an increase in heat-related health problems and deaths and are expected to weight on unborn generations even more.

This chapter presents an overview of the situation for young people in the MENA region. It discusses global and regional trends with an impact on young people’s opportunities today and in the future and discusses differences across economies and context factors where relevant. The chapter also assesses the situation of young people in terms of their employment, educational, health and other important outcomes. It sets the scene for the analysis of the governance arrangements and practices in play to support young people based on uniting different institutional stakeholders behind a joint vision for young people (Chapter 2), the capacity of public administrations to mainstream the considerations of young people in policymaking (Chapter 3), and the opportunities for young people to shape their futures based on available opportunities to participate in public and political life and their representation in public institutions (Chapter 4).

The MENA region has experienced a number of significant developments in the last decade. From the Arab Spring uprisings in 2010-2011 to the decline in oil prices in 2014-2016, from the exposure to geopolitical instability, conflict, increased displacement and migration, and the resurgence of protests in some societies, to the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis: young people have grown up in a context of high uncertainty and instability (Muasher and Yahya, 2020[5]). In light of global trends such as climate change and digitalisation, uncertainty about the opportunities available to today’s generation of young people and those left to future generations is likely to rise.

Climate change is a global phenomenon that has significant ripple effects on today’s young people and on future generations. The World Health Organisations estimates that children and young people will suffer more than 80% of the illnesses, injuries, and deaths attributable to climate change (World Health Organisation, 2004[6]). The MENA region, home to 10 of the 18 most water-stressed economies in the world,9 is already experiencing the consequences of climate change, which will magnify as the climate warms further (Hofste, Reig and Schleifer, 2019[7]). Already over the past decade, disasters have triggered more than 1.5 million new internal displacements in the region, more than half of them the result of floods (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2020[8]).10 From 2019 to 2020, the number of undernourished individuals in the MENA region increased by nearly 5 million, reaching 69 million, bringing the prevalence of undernourishment nearly to the previous peak during the 2010-2011 Arab uprisings (FAO, 2021[9]). Besides water shortages, failed crops and an increase in heat-related health problems and deaths, climate change will have a significant social and economic fallout across the region. About 50% of the population across the MENA region may be exposed to potentially life-threatening “super-extreme” and “ultra-extreme” heatwaves by 2100 (Zittis et al., 2021[10]). Water scarcity will cost MENA governments 6-14% of their gross domestic product by 2050, more than any other region globally. In 2021, 9 out of 10 children in the region lived in areas of high or extremely high water stress, with subsequent effects on health, nutrition, and future mental and physical development (UNICEF, 2021[11]). Facing pressing risks, a number of MENA governments have made commitments to transition to renewable energy and green technologies in an effort to mitigate global warming (Wehrey and Fawal, 2022[12]).

In the context of rapid globalisation and digitalisation, young people are required to acquire vastly different skills and competences than their parents. For example, routine jobs and middle-skilled jobs, once defined as occupations in the middle of the occupation-wage distribution, are the most likely to being automated, whereas occupations that require high-level skills held by senior managers, technicians and professionals are likely to remain in demand (OECD, 2020[13]). As a consequence, the International Labour Organization (ILO) projects that young graduates may be exposed to low and unstable earnings, lower social protection when hired as "independent" contractors, and lack of bargaining power (ILO, 2020[14]; OECD, 2020[15]). With the world’s highest youth unemployment rate, increased digitalisation presents an opportunity for the MENA region with the creation of new jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities. However, existing regulations do not create an enabling environment for entrepreneurship. Only “34% of young people in MENA had an account at a financial institution or with a mobile-money-service provider in 2017”, ranging from 12% in the Palestinian Authority to 70% in Kuwait,11 and education systems have not adapted to equip students with skills needed for the future of work (Kabbani, 2021[16]). As digitalisation continues, these limitations risk exacerbating inequalities for young people.

In parts of the MENA region, the presence of war and conflicts has led to mass population displacement. As of 2019, MENA economies hosted roughly 15 million displaced persons (UNHCR, 2019[1]), many of which are young people. After a decade of conflict in Syria, 6.7 million remain internally displaced and 5.6 million are hosted as refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (UNHCR, 2021[17]). A generation of young men and women are growing up in an environment of armed conflict, where they face a higher risk of exclusion and dependence on state support to access basic services (UNHCR, 2016[18]). At the same time, governments hosting millions of displaced people and refugees, such as Jordan and Lebanon, have struggled with providing access to basic public services in the context of limited administrative capacities and resources.

According to the 2020 Revision of the United Nations Trends in International Migrant Stock dataset, the number of international migrants in MENA increased from approximately 20 million in 2000 to 50 million in 2020.12 The MENA region is marked by outward migration as well as by inward migration, especially towards Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman). Diasporas around the world are an important cultural and economic factor for many MENA societies. On the other hand, dissatisfaction with available economic opportunities and perception of corruption are important drivers of migratory ambitions among young people. According to Arab Barometer survey results, in 2021, 44% of people aged 0-29 years in MENA report that they have considered emigrating, compared to 36% of 30-49 years old and 20.5% of respondents aged 50 or above (Arab Barometer, 2021[2]).13

In the last decade only, the MENA region suffered the “highest number of terrorism casualties, experienced the outbreak of three wars that interrupted the education of 13 million children and riots and repression that are expected to have led to economic losses of $600 billion” (Gaub, 2021[19]). One in five people in MENA live in close proximity to conflict (Corral et al., 2020[20]) and 19% (2.4 million) of the internally displaced people in the region were between 15-24 years old in 2019 (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2020[8]). While the MENA region was home to 5.9% of the world’s population in 2019, it accounted for 30% of the world’s internally displaced people in the same year (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2020[8]).

Unremitting violence can impact both physical and psychological well-being and have severe implications for the social and economic prospects and aspirations of young people. Young people in vulnerable and marginalised circumstances a have a higher likelihood of recruitment into armed forces, thus further threatening their future prospects (UNDP, 2016[21]). According to a study conducted by UNHCR in 2016, the MENA region has experienced the worst deterioration of social cohesion due to increased warfare of any other region in the world (UNHCR, 2016[18]). Conflict and war has precipitated the deterioration of institutional capacity and the support structures for young people to transition to autonomy. Furthermore, conflicts can create significant spill-over effects also for young people in non-conflict areas.

In many MENA economies, young people are also exposed to volatile political environments and potential conflict. Of the 24,422 “grave violations” against young people that the United Nations documented worldwide in 2019, almost half (46%) took place in five economies in the MENA region (United Nations General Assembly, 2020[22]). Conflict and violence have direct consequences for young people as well as indirect impacts. For instance, a 2015 UNICEF report highlighted that more than 13 million children across nine conflict-affected areas in the region were not in school due to conflict (UNICEF, 2015[23]).

In 2018, young women aged 15-19 and 20-24 globally were the age cohorts with highest prevalence of intimate partner violence, reporting 16% within the past 12 months (World Health Organization, 2021[24]). The OECD report “Eliminating Gender-based Violence: Governance and Survivor/Victim-centred Approaches” (OECD, 2021[25]) presents a three-pillar approach to creating an effective, whole-of-state framework for addressing the complex phenomenon of gender-based violence, including systems, culture and access to justice and accountability.

Poor competitive environments, corruption, high rates of vulnerable or informal employment, as well as discriminatory legal frameworks and social norms lead to disproportionate consequences for women in terms of job and income loss, mounting care burdens and escalating gender-based violence (OECD, 2020[3]). Around the world, and including in the MENA region, the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated women’s exposure to gender-based violence. Across the MENA region, NGOs and governments noted an increase in both calls made to hotlines for reporting gender-based violence and in the number of cases reported (OECD, 2020[3]).

In addition to harming women and their families, gender-based violence comes at a high economic cost for the MENA region. For example, OECD estimates from 2019 suggest that gender-based discrimination in laws and social norms costs 54 billion USD for North Africa14 in income annually (OECD, 2019[26]).

Most MENA economies have experienced a period of rapid urbanisation over the past decades ( Figure 1.2). According to the 2018 Revision of the United Nations World Urbanisation Prospects Report, approximately 70% of the MENA population lives in large urban centres (UNDESA, 2019[27]). In Kuwait and Qatar, nearly 100% of the population lives in urban centres, followed by Jordan, Oman, Lebanon, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, all projected to be over 90% urbanised by 2050 (UNICEF, 2019[28]). Conversely, Yemen and Egypt are projected to remain 43% and 44% rural respectively until 2050 (UNICEF, 2019[28]). As a result, the total number of urban dwellers in the MENA region grew from 188 million in 2000 to 281 million in 2015 and is projected to reach 527 million in 2050 (UNDESA, 2019[27]).

Young people are especially vulnerable to certain consequences of rapid urbanisation, including “burgeoning youth populations, limited job prospects, overstressed infrastructure, and scarcity of resources, especially water” (NATO Strategic Direction South Hub, 2019[29]). Overcrowding in urban centres can lead to difficulties such as limited water supply, land degradation and air pollution (UNICEF, 2019[28]). Conversely, urbanisation can also lead to positive growth, as cities support the delivery of social services at much lower cost than would be required to reach the same number of people in rural areas (UNICEF, 2019[28]). Where increased mobility to urban centres is accompanied by increased employment opportunities, educated young people can also have access to better and more inclusive employment.

In turn, regional disparities can create a heightened risk of exclusion for young people in rural communities. The exclusion of certain regions from national progress and development is a fundamental driver of social, economic, cultural, and political exclusion of young people in those regions, who tend to move to larger cities, further depriving rural areas of human capital and exacerbating issues linked to urbanisation (World Bank, 2014[30]).

Young people across much of the MENA region express significant concerns about the prevalence of corruption. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International, the MENA region scored, on average, 37 points in 2021, on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), compared to an average of 67 points in OECD countries. Among the MENA economics covered in this report, rankings range from 24th out of 180 in the United Arab Emirates to 178th out of 180 in Syria (Transparency International, 2021[31]).

Young people in the MENA region are affected by corruption in various ways. First, they encounter corruption in public institutions and among public officials, which undermines the quality of services and reducing the creation of jobs. As the primary users of secondary and tertiary education and among the main users of health services, job placement and employment bureaus, the OECD Integrity Review of Tunisia underlines that the risk of corruption is particularly high in the delivery of social services on which many young men and women rely (OECD, 2016[32]). Second, petty corruption is endemic in MENA economies. For example, in a study conducted by the Tunisian Association of Public Controllers, a civil society organisation, 75% of interviewees aged 18-25 agree that petty corruption facilitates daily interactions (OECD, 2016[32]). Finally, young people suffer from political corruption that diverts public money and influence away from the centre of society and cuts funding to improve education and health services, job opportunities and other critical services for young people (OECD, 2016[32]).

The previous section analysed some key global and regional trends and challenges that affect young people’s livelihoods and future prospects. This section, in turn, analyses the situation for young people across the region in key areas of public service delivery and participation, notably education, employment, health and civic and political participation, and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis across each. While the list of key areas is not exhaustive – young people also express specific perspectives, needs and ambitions in field such as sports, culture and leisure, housing, transportation, mobility and justice, among others – the topics covered already point to the importance of an integrated and coordinated approach to supporting young people from a public governance perspective (Chapter 2).

In the decades prior to COVID-19, governments across the MENA region have made progress in providing access to education. For instance, literacy rates among people (15-24) reached 90% in 2020 (92% for young men and 88% for young women) compared to 86% in 2000 (90% for young men and 81% for young women).15 Despite the progress achieved, an estimated 15 million children in the region between the ages of 5-14 were out of school and nearly two-thirds of children in the region were unable to read with proficiency by the age of 10 before the onset of the COVID-19 crisis (UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank, 2021[4]). As of 2018, 94% of young people (95% of young men and 92% of young women) were enrolled in primary education, up from 84% in 2000,16 compared to 96% across OECD countries.17 Moreover, 75% of young men and 71% of young women were enrolled in secondary education in MENA18 as of 2018, up from 64% of young men and 58% of young women in 2000, compared to an OECD average of 89%.19 Although these statistics point to significant achievements in increasing the access to education, according to the 2021 Arab Youth Survey, nearly 87% young people surveyed expressed concerns about the quality of the education they receive (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[33]).20

Tertiary education enrolment rates vary widely across the MENA region, with the gross enrolment ratio21 ranging from 5% in Djibouti to 71% in Saudi Arabia. While overall more female students (35.8%) are enrolled in higher education than male students (31.9%), the gender balance varies within the region, with more female students enrolled in Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Palestinian Authority, and Qatar and more male students enrolled in Iraq, Yemen, Mauritania and Djibouti (UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank, 2021[4]).

The COVID-19 pandemic and associated disruptions to teaching and learning have posed a serious threat for access to education for approximately 110 million students from pre-primary to higher education in the MENA region. An entire generation of children, adolescents and young adults is affected by this unprecedented disruption, with potential long-term impacts, including on their mental health, well-being, socialisation, and employment prospects (UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank, 2021[4]).

The MENA region is marked by one of the highest rates of youth unemployment (15-24) in the world, exceeding 28% on average in 2020.22 However, youth unemployment rates vary significantly across the region, from Qatar (less than 1%), Bahrain (8%) and the United Arab Emirates (9%) all below the OECD average (16%) to Djibouti (81%) in 2020.23 Young people across the region are also three times more likely to be unemployed than their adult (25+ years) counterparts, whose average unemployment rate lies at 9.4%.24 Figure 1.4 illustrates that youth unemployment rates have been consistently high in the MENA region, with no significant progress made in the past decade due to structural barriers preventing a successful transition from education to work (ILO, 2020[14]). In line with these findings, Arab Barometer data shows that young people perceived the economic situation as the biggest challenge in their society in 2021 (41% of respondents), followed by the spread of COVID-19 (28%) and corruption (14%) (Arab Barometer, 2021[2]). Over the past decade, satisfaction with the economic situation among young people in the MENA region has further declined from 35% in 2011 to 26% in 2021 (Arab Barometer, 2021[2]; Arab Barometer, 2011[34]).25 At the same time, nearly one in two (46%) was optimistic that the economic situation would improve in the near future (Arab Barometer, 2021[2]).

In marked contrast to global patterns, more than 30% of unemployed people in the MENA region have a university degree (Kabbani, 2019[35]). Public sector employment has long represented a favoured choice for young graduates with higher education entering the labour force in many economies in the region. For instance, among people aged 18-24 surveyed in 2021 across 17 MENA economies26 by the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, 42% of them highlighted they prefer a job in the public sector, although this preference has attenuated compared to 2019 (ASDA’A BCW, 2021[33]). However, due to bloated public sectors and high competition for available jobs, opportunities may have reached a limit.

Limited opportunities for young people in formal employment have led to the expansion of informal jobs, which generally offer fewer benefits or protections. According to estimates from the ILO based on available data from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Tunisia from 2012-2015, 75% of young people in the MENA region work in the informal sector (Dimova, Elder and Stephan, 2016[36]). Limited access to credit also presents a frequent challenge for young entrepreneurs, curtailing the potential of self-employment (Anyanwu, 2013[37]).

Youth employment in the MENA region has a gendered dimension. In 2021, the regional average female labour force participation rate (19%) was well below the global average for women (46%), ranging from 6% in Yemen to 57% in Qatar.27 On average, women participated in the labour force significantly less than the average labour force participation rate of men in the region (70%), ranging from 44% in Djibouti to 95% in Qatar.28 High unemployment rates among young women point to structural barriers, including in terms of legal frameworks and traditional views on women’s roles in society, such as the allocation of family responsibilities. Women are not only more likely to do unpaid work within the household, almost 62% with a job are employed informally with less employment security (OECD, 2020[38]).29

The MENA region is also characterised by a high share of young people (15-24) who are not in employment, education, or training (NEET), with an average of 29% across the MENA region, ranging from 11% in Qatar to 45% in Iraq in 2020, compared with an average of 12% across OECD countries (Figure 1.5). This phenomenon is even more pronounced among young women, ranging from 23% in Djibouti to 68% in Iraq in 2020, all higher than the average of 11% of young women across OECD countries. The higher NEET rate among young women is partly explained by the fact that they are more likely to be inactive30 non-students, while young men are more evenly distributed between unemployed non-students and inactive non-students (Dimova, Elder and Stephan, 2016[36]).

The economic slowdown resulting from the COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated youth unemployment (OECD, 2020[3]). In 2020, youth employment in the MENA region declined by 7.5% compared to the previous year compared to a decline by 1.4% for people aged 25 and above.31 Furthermore, young people have been hit particularly hard by the crisis as they tend to be over-represented in the informal sector and in sectors severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis such as tourism, with limited opportunity for remote work (OECD, 2020[3]).

Furthermore, Russia’s large-scale aggression against Ukraine in 2022 is exacerbating concerns for divergent economic recovery across the MENA region. For example, while oil and gas exporting economies in the region stand to benefit from increasing energy prices, oil importing economies in the region are being hit by higher commodity prices. In the MENA region, real GDP growth is forecasted at 5% in 2022 (down from 5.8% in 2021), but there are marked differences between forecasts for oil and gas exporting economies (+5.4%), which includes the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as well as Algeria, Iran, Iraq and Libya, and the economies classified as “Emerging Market and Middle Income” by the International Monetary Fund (+4.4%), which includes Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Tunisia (International Monetary Fund, 2022[39]).

Policy makers will also need to factor in the impact of climate change and environmental pressures as they tackle youth unemployment, as the green transition will likely change the skills demanded: a well-functioning labour market together with an effective safety net and quality vocational education and training system will be essential in this regard (OECD, 2015[40]).

Poverty affects one in four children (29.3 million) in the MENA region (Machado et al., 2018[41]). Young people not in education, employment or training are particularly vulnerable to falling below the poverty line. Research points to imbalances in the education system, high costs of marriage and family formation and the lack of affordable housing as key drivers of such inequality (UNDP, 2016[21]).

Young people in rural areas are at a disproportional risk of growing up in poverty and facing social exclusion due to difficult labour market conditions, including due to low rates of land ownership, limited access to credit, and lower levels of education. However, the specific needs of young people in rural contexts are not always reflected in current youth policies in MENA (Kabbani, 2019[42]).32 The lack of quality services available to young people outside the capital has a detrimental impact on their opportunities (Kabbani, 2019[42]). However, a steadily growing urban population across the region, which reached 66% in 2020,33 exposes young people living in cities to other risks, including informal housing, increased exposure to pollution and higher rates of unemployment (Elgendy and Abaza, 2020[43]). As of 2018, youth unemployment rates were higher in urban areas than in rural areas in all MENA economies for which data was available (Kabbani, 2019[35]).

Addressing inequalities is important not only per se, but also to avoid ripple behavioural effects. Indeed, research finds that lack of economic, education, and leadership opportunities can lead to a sense of hopelessness and frustration, giving way to ”aspiration failure” and pessimism (Fehling et al., 2015[44]). Addressing poverty among young people is crucial as it impedes them from making longer-term investments in their future, giving origin to a vicious circle. Studies demonstrate that young people living in poverty are less likely to see themselves as intelligent and subsequently invest less in their education (Fehling et al., 2015[44]). Moreover, mothers’ aspirations for their children can impact educational attainment and future earnings. This effect varies depending on income levels of the mother: aspirations are higher for mothers from wealthier households and for mothers with higher education, which translates to additional years of schooling for their children (Serneels and Dercon, 2020[45]).

Despite significant improvements in health services over the past few decades, young people in MENA continue to experience challenges in the access of quality health services in some societies. For instance, as of 2021, only 38% of young people aged 18-29 years in the MENA region were satisfied with the healthcare system in their respective societies (Arab Barometer, 2021[2]).34

In 2020, prior to the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, nearly two in five (38%) young people aged 18-24 years in the MENA region reported they knew someone with mental health issues, compared to 31% in 2019 (ASDA’A BCW, 2020[46]). In the same survey, more than half (56%) also reported it was difficult to access quality medical care for mental health issues in their society (ASDA’A BCW, 2020[46]). Furthermore, nearly half (48%) reported seeking medical care for mental health issues was viewed negatively by most people in their society (ASDA’A BCW, 2020[46]). The COVID-19 crisis has brought concerns on young people’s mental health to the forefront of the policy debate (OECD, 2022[47]). A number of studies confirm that young people experienced higher levels of loneliness and distress compared to other age groups (Etheridge and Spantig, 2020[48]; McGinty et al., 2020[49]).

In addition, a study on young people in vulnerable circumstances across the MENA region has indicated that exposure to traumatic events at an early age can cause mental and behavioural issues. Although young men are equally (or often more) likely to be exposed to violence, young women have a higher prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, separation anxiety, and psychological symptoms than young men in the MENA region. In contrast, young men in the MENA region have a higher incidence of behavioural problems and are more likely to exhibit aggression and hyperactivity (Fehling et al., 2015[44]). These issues are further compounded by the lack of space for young people to talk about these issues, and the tendency to punish mental health issues (e.g. drug addiction) than treat them.

Gender disparities also present themselves in health provision, as young women living in rural areas are more vulnerable to reproductive health issues. Despite an overall trend toward delayed marriage across the MENA region over the past 25 years, progress has stalled in the last decade and early marriage and childbearing remains a challenge in some contexts (UNICEF, 2019[50]). According to available data, 4% of young women in the MENA region marry by the age of 15, and 20% marry by the age of 18 (UNICEF, 2019[50]). The rates of early marriage across the region vary significantly, from 0.02% in Tunisia to 33% in Yemen (UNICEF, 2019[50]). Early marriage can often lead to early childbearing, which can contribute to poor infant health as adolescents are likely to have less knowledge about family planning and sexual and reproductive health than their older counterparts (UNDP, 2016[51]).

Young people across the MENA region express low levels of trust in government and public institutions, such as parliaments and political parties. According to Arab Barometer results for 2021, only 28% of 18-29 year-olds in the surveyed MENA economies35 trust their public institutions. Furthermore, trust in government among young people (18-29 years-old) varies significantly, from 47% in Libya, to 45% in Jordan, to 44% in Morocco, 23% in Iraq, to 19% in Algeria, to 11% in Tunisia and 3% in Lebanon (Arab Barometer, 2021[2])Among people aged 18-24 surveyed in 2021 across 17 MENA economies36 by the annual ASDA’A BCW Arab Youth Survey, 49% think their public administrations has in place the right policies to address the issues most important to young people. As with trust in government, this varies significantly across the region.

The disconnect between young people and public institutions is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 4. It finds that besides legal barriers and the lack of dedicated institutions to represent the voices of young people, such as youth councils, the perception that policy decisions are dominated by an older generation of elites who are out of touch with the aspirations and needs of today’s young people is widespread across many societies in the region (Spencer and Aldouri, 2016[52]). In light of the barriers young people are facing to engage through institutionalised channels, such as political parties or voting, they tend to engage via civil society organisations, community-based projects and through informal associations as students, in their neighbourhoods, and communes (Zerhouni and Akesbi, 2016[53]). Yet, only 20% of young people aged 18-29 across the MENA region reported volunteering with a local group or organisation in 2018 (Arab Barometer, 2018[54]).However, these findings are consistent with results in OECD countries, where 22% of people aged 15-29 reported having done so across 24 OECD countries in 2019 (OECD, 2021[55]).

The demographic dividend discussed above, as well as the challenges and trends the region is facing require new efforts to overcome persisting barriers to youth participation in economic, social and public life. To improve policy outcomes across and beyond the key thematic areas discussed in this Chapter, governments across the region need to embed young people’s voices and perspectives in a systematic way across all policy areas. To support this process, this report analyses current governance arrangements and practices across 10 public administrations in the MENA region in three areas: 1) uniting all institutional stakeholders to implement a shared, integrated youth policy and deliver services to young people; 2) building administrative and institutional capacities to mainstream youth perspectives in policy making; and 3) encouraging the participation and representation of young people and youth stakeholders in public and political life.


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← 1. For the purposes of this report, the MENA region will refer to the governments of the MENA-OECD Initiative on Governance and Competitiveness for Development. The MENA-OECD Initiative covers Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

← 2. OECD calculations based on United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2019). World Population Prospects 2019, custom data acquired via website.

← 3. The “youth bulge” is a common phenomenon in many developing countries where a country reduces infant mortality, but mothers still have a high fertility rate. The result is that a large share of the population is comprised of children and young people.

← 4. Unemployment, youth total (% of total labor force ages 15-24) (modeled ILO estimate) - Middle East & North Africa. Reproduce query at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.UEM.1524.ZS?locations=ZQ (accessed 9 May 2022).

← 5. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

← 6. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

← 7. Unemployment, youth total (% of total labor force ages 15-24) (modeled ILO estimate) - Middle East & North Africa. Reproduce query at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.UEM.1524.ZS?locations=ZQ (accessed on 10 May 2022).

← 8. OECD calculations, UN Comtrade database. OECD (forthcoming), Navigating beyond COVID-19, recovery in the MENA region.

← 9. In National Water Stress Rankings order: Qatar, Lebanon, Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Libya, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman.

← 10. As the MENA region is mostly arid, poor soil absorption capacity and the lack of adequate drainage systems often cause riverine, flash and urban floods (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2020[8]).

← 11. World Bank, “Global Findex Database 2017,” custom data acquired via https://databank.worldbank.org/reports.aspx?source=1228# (accessed 24 May 2022).

← 12. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2020).

← 13. Survey response to “have you ever thought about emigrating from your country?” from survey respondents from Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

← 14. The report includes Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia as North Africa.

← 15. Literacy rate, youth total (% of people ages 15-24) - Middle East & North Africa. Reproduce query at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.ADT.1524.LT.ZS?locations=ZQ&view=chart (accessed 11 February 2022).

← 16. School enrolment, primary (% net) - Middle East & North Africa. Reproduce query at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.NENR?locations=ZQ (accessed on 11 February 2022).

← 17. School enrolment, primary (% net) - OECD members. Reproduce query at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.PRM.NENR?locations=OE (accessed on 11 February 2022).

← 18. School enrolment, secondary (% net) - Middle East & North Africa. Reproduce query at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.SEC.NENR?locations=ZQ (accessed on 11 February 2022).

← 19. School enrolment, secondary (% net) - OECD members. Reproduce query at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SE.SEC.NENR?locations=OE (accessed on 11 February 2022).

← 20. Showing % of ‘Very concerned’ and ‘Somewhat concerned.’

← 21. The Gross Enrolment Ratio represents the number of students enrolled in a given level of education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the official school-age population corresponding to the same level of education (UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank, 2021[4]).

← 22. When comparing Middle East and North Africa (MEA), Sub-Saharan Africa (SSF), South Asia (SAS), Latin America and Caribbean (LCN), Europe and Central Asia (ECS) and East Asia and Pacific (EAS).

← 23. World Bank, “World Development Indicators,” custom data acquired via https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.UEM.1524.ZS?locations=ZQ-ZG-8S-ZJ-Z7-Z4 (accessed December 2021).

← 24. Unemployment rate by sex and age -- ILO modelled estimates, Nov. 2021 (%) -- Annual. Reproduce query at https://www.ilo.org/shinyapps/bulkexplorer41/?lang=en&segment=indicator&id=UNE_2EAP_SEX_AGE_RT_A&ref_area=DZA+BHR+DJI+EGY+IRQ+JOR+KWT+LBN+LBY+MRT+MAR+PSE+OMN+QAT+SAU+SYR+TUN+ARE+YEM&sex=SEX_T&classif1=AGE_YTHADULT_Y15-24+AGE_YTHADULT_YGE25&timefrom=2020&timeto=2020 (accessed on 9 February 2022).

← 25. Showing % of ‘very good and ‘good’ in response to “How would you evaluate the current economic situation in your country?”.

← 26. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

← 27. World Bank, “World Development Indicators,” custom data acquired via https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.FE.ZS?locations=ZQ&most_recent_value_desc=true (accessed 8 March 2022).

← 28. World Bank, “World Development Indicators,” custom data acquired via https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.MA.ZS?locations=ZQ&most_recent_value_desc=true (accessed 8 March 2022).

← 29. The public sector tends to have more accommodating and flexible hours for women.

← 30. “Inactive youth” includes both “inactive students” (currently inactive and in school) and “inactive non-students” (inactive and not in school).

← 31. Employment by age and sex — ILO modelled estimates, Nov. 2021 (thousands) - Annual. Reproduce query at https://www.ilo.org/shinyapps/bulkexplorer17/?lang=en&segment=indicator&id=EMP_2EMP_SEX_AGE_NB_A&ref_area=DZA+BHR+DJI+EGY+IRQ+JOR+KWT+LBN+LBY+MRT+MAR+PSE+OMN+QAT+SAU+SYR+TUN+ARE+YEM&sex=SEX_T+SEX_M+SEX_F&classif1=AGE_YTHADULT_YGE15+AGE_YTHADULT_Y15-24+AGE_YTHADULT_YGE25&timefrom=2019&timeto=2022 (accessed on 9 February 2022).

← 32. In the cited publication, the MENA region is represented by: Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

← 33. Urban population (% of total population) - Middle East & North Africa. Reproduce query at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS?locations=ZQ (accessed on 10 May 2022).

← 34. Showing % of ‘completely satisfied and ‘satisfied in response to “How satisfied are you with the healthcare system in your country?”.

← 35. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

← 36. Survey responses were collected across Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

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