Young people take charge (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

A conference presenting the results of a survey of young people in Egypt in 2014 was held on 9 June in Cairo under the auspices of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb, the Population Council and the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS).

It was attended by Minister of Planning and Administrative Reform Ashraf Al-Arabi, Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali, Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, Minister of State for Population Hala Youssef, Director of CAPMAS Abou Bakr Al-Guindi, Population Council Country Director Nahla Abdel-Tawwab, USAID mission Director Sherry Carlin, and diplomats from the embassies of Norway and Sweden. It also included NGOs like Healthy Egyptians and young people from different backgrounds.

The Population Council in collaboration with the government’s Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) conducted the first round of the survey in 2009 on 15,029 young men and women aged between 10 and 29 years old. Its aim was to help provide information on many aspects of the lives of young people, including education, healthcare, transport, marriage, family formation, social issues, civic and political engagement and migration.

The idea was to help assist decision-makers improve the lives of young people in terms of capabilities and living conditions. It was thought essential that such a picture be formed of Egypt’s youth before and after the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions in order to find out more about how young people have been influenced by these events. For this reason the Population Council and CAPMAS conducted a second round of the survey targeting the same group of respondents as the 2009 survey in 2014. The survey covered the whole of Egypt.

Among the results in the field of healthcare, 29 per cent of the young people surveyed believed they were in good health in 2009, while 48 per cent believed this was the case in 2014. 29 per cent believed in 2009 that the environment was polluted, while 78 per cent believed this was so in 2014. Fifty per cent of girls were subjected to harassment in 2009, while only 43 per cent were subjected to this in 2014.

In the field of youth participation in the labour market, young people aged 15-29 years old who had participated in the work market in 2009 made up 37.9 per cent of the total in 2009, while they were 36.6 per cent in 2014. As for those who had dropped out of school, their participation decreased from 86.4 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women in 2009 to 79.4 per cent of men and 17.8 per cent of women in 2014.

In 2009, the highest form of employment was informal, accounting for 43.5 per cent of the total, while in 2014 this had decreased slightly.

Despite the instability during the transitional period, 18.3 per cent of young people wanted to emigrate in 2009, while 17.2 per cent wanted to emigrate in 2014. Young people are optimistic about the future of Egypt, so the percentage of youth who voted in elections increased from 16 per cent in 2009 to 60 per cent in 2012.

“It was essential to look closely at these changes in order to help improve the future condition of young people. I hope this survey will help decision-makers and help young people’s dreams and aspirations come true,” Abdel-Tawwab said during his opening speech at the conference.

“The fact that the government is taking part in the survey reflects how it cares about this vital segment of society and what skills young people have acquired to enable them to plan for the future. Some 75 per cent of Egyptian citizens are under the age of 40, and 61.8 per cent are under 30,” Al-Guindi said during his speech to the conference. He added that many difficult circumstances had been overcome during the time of the survey, including in places that are difficult to survey, such as Northern Sinai.

“The data are a guide to decision-makers to help them to fulfil the aspirations of young people, as the latter were the trigger of the revolutions and the changes that came with them,” he said.

“The UN secretary-general has made working with young people essential in his current five-year programme. I am confident that the 2014 survey will be used in fields such as education and healthcare. Impressive changes have come about, among them a decline in female genital mutilation (FGM), showing changing mindsets,” a UN representative said during her speech to the conference, adding that next year will see preparations being made for the 2016 census.

“Reliable data are the cornerstone of development. The survey is especially valuable because of its design in interviewing the same young people interviewed in 2009,” commented Carlin during her speech at the conference. “Good planning is built on good surveys that lead to good decisions,” Al-Arabi said. “We need to transform the latent energy of young people into productive energy,” he added, saying the best investment was in human development.

“This survey is very important, especially on the level of institutions and the financial status of youth as it helps us to detect where unemployment is and makes it easier for us to connect young people with those in need of workers,” commented Wali during her speech at the conference.

She said much work had already been done on redesigning social programmes, including giving families financial support tied to their children’s record of attendance at school. This was only offered to families with three children at most, but there were also plans to join the informal sector to the formal one in the interests of workers who work in contractor companies by providing them with rights like health insurance.

Programmes were also being planned to help raise the awareness of young people of their political and social rights through NGOs.

“The media is one side of the triangle composed of the government and NGOs, and the private sector is playing a vital role in influencing young people. We need TV stars to help raise their awareness,” Abdel-Aziz commented. “Many projects are implemented at the moment in an ad hoc way, and it is very important to co-ordinate better between them,” Youssef added.

The event featured a session for young people to express their opinions. “Social development should go hand-in-hand with education. A teacher and a student must brainstorm together to find solutions to problems. Men and women should take similar jobs so the gap between them decreases. We want to build a more cohesive society,” said youth development co-ordinator in Qena Amal Farouk.

“We would like to see the government fund more internships for students as this would have a positive effect on the labour market,” said Cairo University Student Union President Hisham Ashraf.

“If we raise children to be more aware about health, they will not need someone to raise their awareness in the future,” said founder of the Healthy Egyptians NGO Mohamed Zaazou. He added that story books like Montasser yantassere ala al-eltehab al-reawy (Montasser beats pneumonia) had been particularly useful in reaching out to children, and thus far some 50,000 children had seen the cartoons.