Youth Exclusion Prompts Calls for New Economic Framework in Jordan | Business | Ammon News

Youth Exclusion Prompts Calls for New Economic Framework in Jordan

[4/23/2018 6:49:17 AM]

AMMONNEWS - While Jordanian youth make up nearly two-thirds of the population, they remain largely excluded from decision-making processes. With every government reshuffle, the youth agenda — including the long-awaited National Youth Strategy — seems to be sent back to the drawing board. The message received by young Jordanians, intended or otherwise, is that we are an afterthought.

Youth and the Arab Spring

The large-scale mobilisation of youth during the early years of the Arab uprisings provided insight into the level of their political contention. Whether the demonstrations were inspired by economic grievances or events elsewhere in the region, it became clear that young Arabs were adamant that changes in the political structure that governed them could no longer wait.

Overnight, the youth agenda became a top priority for national governments. Many rushed to formulate national youth strategies; Jordan was no exception. After 17 years of youth issues falling under the purview of a Higher Youth Council, the Ministry of Youth was reinstated.

In their haste, government efforts missed crucial insight into these youth-driven movements: most of the issues raised were not youth-specific, but rather structural challenges shared by Jordanian society at large. Devising age-defined solutions thus missed the point. Youth is a transitional phase, a so-called ‘moving target’ that shares its grievances with the wider society.

Jordan’s political engagement

The active social mobilisation in Jordan at the start of the Arab uprisings drew attention to the social, economic and political pressure the country was facing. Concerns emmaniting from the economic woes, high unemployment, energy crisis, housing constraints, unprecedented influx of refugees, a Salafi-Jihadist security threat, and broader spill-over effect of the Syrian crisis brought protesters onto the streets in a manner uncharacteristic of Jordanian political engagement.

Eight years later, the same pressures remain in place. The recent government decision to lift subsidy on basic goods and raise taxes sparked popular protests across the country. Jordan did not see bread-based protests like these since 1996, when the government raised the price of bread after a substantial IMF economic adjustment. This decision triggered ‘bread riots’ in Karak, Ma’an, Tafila and Amman. And like in 1996, the population sees no ameliorating actions to counteract the negative socio-economic repercussions of lifting the bread subsidy.

These protests also shed light on the growing inequality within Jordanian society, as well as scepticism towards the neoliberal economic model against burgeoning fiscal and energy deficits. Indeed, many feel that the neo-liberal economic model has failed in delivering its promise; it is a top-down approach that eventually neither generated growth — but in fact increased foreign debt and loans —, nor ensured social equality and justice. Quite the opposite, these strategies have created the institutional conditions for excluding not only young people, but a larger segment of the society. The Jordanian state would be wise to take the unpopularity of these economic adjustments seriously.

Moving beyond the crisis

Similar to the Arab uprisings, the fragmentation between mobilised groups today means they are unlikely to significantly impact national socioeconomic policies. Moreover, the fiscal space for alternative development policies is still limited, with notable unequal development and poverty pockets still existing in the peripheries.

As a result, the discourse of young Jordanians is increasingly shaped by cynicism. Their sense of economic exclusion and mistrust in the government’s ability to address economic concerns, translates into a general sense of political disengagement favouring informal channels over formal political processes.

It is time for Jordan to move beyond crisis-management. Rather than focussing on the immediate diffusion of social unrest, the government should address the deep-rooted causes of youth’s social and economic exclusion, including through effective social protection schemes.

Adopting a national youth strategy is a sound first step. The strategy should be able to capture the nuanced dynamics of the young demography, consolidate youth initiatives, broaden partnerships, incentivise evidence-based action, and improve young people’s access to opportunities. It must be in line with (sub-)national development frameworks, as well as with international frameworks pertaining to youth and development issues, such as the UNSCR 2250 framework, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the Paris Agreement, and the broader 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Young Jordanians are not calling for a change of government, but for a change of doctrine. They demand a more effective economic framework capable of producing jobs, growth, and social programmes that allow them to meet their potential. Clearly, the “more of the same” strategy no longer delivers.

Barik Mhadeen is a researcher at the Wana Institute, specialising in human Security and countring violent extremism.

*Al Bawaba

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