South Africa is celebrating Youth Month, a time when the spotlight is on young people. This year’s theme is, “Live the legacy: Towards a socio-economically empowered youth”. To empower young people, and to tackle the gamut of challenges they grapple with, an evidence base is crucial.
The trade and industry department, in its Youth Enterprise Development Strategy 2013-2023, acknowledges the importance of ensuring that policies focusing on young people are based on accurate information and metrics.
Insufficient or misleading data on the lived realities of this cohort of the population limits the ability of government and other stakeholders to effectively address, for instance, the high youth unemployment rate or the concerns of young people living with disabilities.
With an evidence base, a positive learning environment is created for all role-players.
The United Nations states that, “Youth is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence”, and acknowledges that often the term refers to a “person between the ages of leaving compulsory education, and finding their first job”.
In the South African context, the National Youth Policy 2020 refers to youth as between the ages of 14 and 35. The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa indicates that the global population continues to grow by 81 million people every year with Africa the greatest contributor.
The 2016 Global Youth Development Index report notes that in various developing countries the youth population (between the ages of 15 and 29) is about one-quarter of the total population and that in Sub-Saharan Africa it is almost one-third.
Considering the significant proportion of the youth population globally, and on the African continent, generating evidence to inform all initiatives aimed at this group is critical.
An evidence base on South African youth issues, generated through robust and collaborative research, will give policymakers and other stakeholders an opportunity to understand the different transitions that young people go through.
Evidence will capture their lived realities and other neglected issues.
As acknowledged in the sustainable development goals, a consequence of the lack of accurate and current information on certain aspects of people’s lives is that their concerns remain invisible.
This may be the case in South Africa - for instance, regarding youth grappling with mental health issues and those living with various disabilities.
The World Health Organisation notes with concern the stigma around openly discussing mental health issues. The South African Human Rights Commission states that people with disabilities are mostly disadvantaged in the education system and this prevents them from accessing wage employment opportunities in the formal economy.
Youth with disabilities may also be hindered in terms of accessibility of places of work and in lacking support mechanisms to enhance their upward mobility in their education and careers.
Indeed, high-quality evidence that is innovatively disseminated will draw attention to these specific groups and the general youth population. Evidence is also crucial in crafting intervention strategies aimed at propelling change and can result in improved outcomes.
With evidence, a learning environment is created for all the relevant stakeholders to make informed decisions and formulate policies that are more likely to result in success.
Robust monitoring and evaluation of youth interventions can generate evidence to enable role-players to change course if necessary and to also identify pockets of success that can be replicated. It can inform decisions on the optimal use of resources - financial, human or others - and create the foundation for documenting this evidence for all role-players and for posterity.
Already, entities such as Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) and the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis collect crucial metrics.
They can be leveraged for generating and analysing more nuanced data that excavate the contours of, for instance, class, race and gender in relation to the youth population.
When policymakers and other role players use accurate metrics that are informed by the lived realities of young people, the outcomes of policy and other interventions are likely to improve.
The policies and interventions gain credibility and galvanise the support and co-operation of key actors such as the youth themselves.
South Africa has entities such as Stats SA, there are renowned universities in the country and we have a vibrant civil society.
These institutions, together with youth formations, youth-focused research institutions, the private sector and other actors are key in funding or generating high-quality research that is urgently needed to address the varied concerns of the youth. The future of young people and of South Africa depends on this collaboration.
nMaloma is a research intern and Tamukamoyo is managing director at the Youth Development Institute of South Africa (www.ydisa.org.za)
The Sunday Independent