UN Volunteers supported the Women’s Association Korobororu “Ye bii ki” in Parakou, Benin. (UNV, 2008)

Volunteer solutions for poverty reduction and economic empowerment of women and youth

Many low-income countries lack proper social protection laws, which despite overall economic growth, results in a vicious circle of poverty, where basic human needs remain unmet. Volunteers are well-placed to support poverty reduction strategies and create pathways to economic empowerment of women and youth.

On the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the UN pays homage to the victims of hunger and social exclusion to encourage multilateral partnerships that are based on solid, compassionate responses to their struggles. Poverty has numerous repercussions: hunger and food insecurity, increased crime and child mortality rates, political instability, corruption and dysfunctional governance. We are seeing now that poverty is a prime driver of violent extremism, breeding and intensifying conflicts worldwide.

Many households in countries with high-poverty rates are vulnerable to exploitation due to their limited access to employment, made worse by poorly enforced labour laws, inadequate political and trade-union representation, and general economic deficits. These factors when combined can force entire families to spend their lives in neglected circumstances. It is women and youth who more often find themselves in such precarious situations with no other options but temporary, low-income and low-quality jobs. In the worst of circumstances, those most at risk may become subject to forced labour while others who have the means opt to migrate in search of income, leaving their families and communities behind.

Throughout the world, women represent the largest share of the people living in poverty. Social inequality, access to resources, and gender roles greatly influence the distribution of poverty, burdening women disproportionately with the negative outcomes of insufficient national economic performance or distribution of wealth. Feminized poverty can be addressed by providing women with access to education, economic autonomy, and developing pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies to make crucial steps towards global eradication of poverty. The need to equally invest in youth cannot be overstated.

UNV’s programmes support the efforts of UN partner organisations in the fight against poverty by securing access to basic social services of impoverished and vulnerable groups, advocating for community resilience, and providing capacity building programmes through volunteer schemes.

In Malawi, in a collaboration with the Women Economic Empowerment programmatic unit of UN Women, UNV worked on projects focused on empowering women, providing them with entrepreneurship training, uniting them with private sector partners and integrating them into the workforce, giving them much needed access to income.

When private sector partners sign the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), we work with those companies to ensure that gender equality is a priority in the way they do business, not only because it is right, but also because the inclusion of women makes financial sense, and leads to economic gains." —UN Volunteer Andrea Medaa, UN Women in Malawi

In Lesotho, international and local volunteers were tasked with designing and implementing training programs for more than 400 youth leaders in an entirely volunteer-run initiative. Key activities included cultivating youth leadership sensibility and skills for the prioritization of the SDGs and providing comprehensive sexual health education in a country suffering the significant threats of HIV/AIDS pandemics. Using social media and civic engagement, the project taught young community leaders to establish their own platforms and engage other young people.

When I joined UN in 2015, I never imagined that I can make an exceptional difference to the community of Quthing. Through the programme, I learned conflict management skills, how to organise an event and how to exercise patience when working with young people.” —Ntheosi Patience Makara, National UN Volunteer, UNDP/DDP in the Quthing District, Lesotho

In Burkina Faso, a partnership between the Ministry of Youth and Employment, UNDP, UNV and France Volontaires led to the establishment of programs specifically targeting the employability of young people. More than 13,000 youth volunteers were mobilized to support national development, gain new competencies and access to information on health and gender issues, which increased their competitiveness in the labour market and resulted in 66 % getting decently paid jobs afterward.   

The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is a reminder for us all, of the millions of people whose lives are devoid of social protection when unemployed, ill or retired—those who live under the constant threat of poverty. As these examples illustrate, UN Volunteers currently serving in more than 100 countries around the world are working with UN partners to make SDG 1 “No poverty” a reality for us all.