In the 2011 Arab Spring, young people across the Middle East and North Africa played an instrumental role in steering their communities and countries away from authoritarian rule and placing them on the path toward democracy. Yet, three years later—their nations’ economies faltering—the proportion of young men and women who find themselves trapped between leaving school or university and starting work is a startling 41 percent, far higher than the global average of around a quarter of the total youth population.
In the region, Tunisia has one of the highest rates (about 33 percent) of young men and women aged between 15 and 29 who are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) in the region. This indicator goes beyond the narrow definition of youth unemployment, providing what youth and labor experts believe to be a more accurate assessment of economic inactivity, one that includes discouraged and disengaged young people who have more or less given up looking for work.
This type of labor market discouragement is particularly high in rural Tunisia—where it affects more than 58 per cent of young men and 85 percent of young women—and only slightly better in urban Tunisia, affecting 46 percent of young men and 42 percent of young women. Geographically, young Tunisians fare slightly better in the country’s more developed coastal areas. Young people in poorer areas of the country, such as the interior and the south, fare worse.
Demographically as well, the proportion of young people identifying themselves as “NEET” reflects the drawbacks of Tunisia’s patriarchal society and outdated education system. Young women, and young people who left school early (regardless of gender), are affected most by the scourge of long-term youth unemployment or underemployment. While the well-educated, including college graduates, also face high levels of unemployment, they are the least likely to consider themselves NEET.