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Credits Participants in a meeting with young people.
Published on April 23, 2020

When it rains, it pours: Some challenges for young people in an informal situation

Head of Solutions Mapping - UNDP Acceleration Laboratory in Ecuador

Original article published in Spanish on UNDP Ecuador

A few weeks before quarantine was declared, young artists and artisans, software development entrepreneurs, online vendors, cooks, and seamstresses, among others, participated in two workshops in Guayaquil and Quito that the UNDP Acceleration Laboratory led to held in February and early March. The objective: to carry out a mapping of the problem of the situation of informality and job insecurity. Now, in the context of confinement, we know that informal workers are being strongly affected by the lack of access to livelihoods. If before the health crisis the solutions known until now seemed to have become obsolete, now more than ever it is important to act taking into account the contributions of its protagonists.

The profile of the participating group and gender differences

The young people with whom we dialogue have training at the high school level and some with university level. They were convened through an alliance with Fundación Edúcate , who work in financial education and tools for employment.

Based on some data from these 50 young people, we see that even in informality, women receive less income than men, in this case, a difference of 4.99 percentage points. Throughout their working lives, they have never been affiliated to the Ecuadorian Social Security Institute (IESS) on a voluntary basis and those who have entered the social protection scheme have been intermittently for temporary employment. The window of formality has been slightly wider for men than for women.

Differences by gender condition are also manifested in the use of time. It is striking that women still spending more time at work, studies and care work reported having more time of their own than men. This paradox makes us think that care work is possibly incorporated as an inherent, naturalized and chosen activity, therefore, as part of one's own time. The distribution of care work will not take place without a jump from theory to the recognition that these activities are work and contribute to the economy.

We were also able to learn that women travel a shorter distance than men to carry out their economic activities. While women remain within the perimeter near the home or carry out their work activities from their homes, men have longer journeys. This makes us think that women could be anchored to their homes by a gender mandate to support housework (most of them live with their parents), and by greater restrictions to access public space.

When talking to women about work, the problem of sexual exploitation, violence and sexualization of work arises. This not only occurs in the workplace, but during the job search phase in which they are vulnerable. Digital job search pages are spaces where young women are sometimes recruited through deceptive mechanisms for sex work and trafficking.

“ By [platform name] they also advertise jobs confidentially. You apply, they send you on WhatsApp and they send you to the call center and everything else, but it seems strange to me that a job interview is in a house. So when I saw that I said no, I'm not going there. »

Sexual violence in the workplace is not only explicitly manifested as in this example, but there is a standardized and socially accepted way of conditioning the work of women in which they must not only provide their services, but what they put to work is her body as a symbol of femininity.

“There are jobs that say that the body sells. I say, for a job for a job, obviously your brain, your vision, the way you work works better for you. But some don't see that, because it depends on how you are dressed, it depends on how you wear makeup: that's what they hire. If you go all without makeup, all tousled, they say: no, this is not the contract. Presence is what sells. Women's Focus Group, Guayaquil

We are facing a problem and not several, because the sexual exploitation of women in the workplace occurs within a spectrum. In other words, we identify that, at one extreme, perhaps socially more accepted and less regulated, women are required to have a “presence” in the workplace, which consists of maintaining a feminine, well-groomed appearance, within the canons and another extreme, sex work. It is the same problem that is expressed in different degrees.

Mapping the problem

As expected, no one is more expert in a subject than those who suffer from it. The young people spoke enthusiastically, critically and very openly. They identified a deficient educational system, memory and that does not provide tools for life. They said that they distrust the courses, face-to-face or online, because they are canned and not adapted to their realities. Courses are superfluous, but they say they lack soft tools and emotional education. They talk about dragging complex family and emotional situations as well as pressures.

Self-esteem is not raised through coaching sessions and although some have made an effort following the guidelines that theoretically lead to success, most clearly indicate the limitations they face: excessive procedures and permits to reach a venture, lack of incentives for hiring youth and business permissiveness under the figure of interns, access barriers to public education, a society based on sponsorship, among others.

Transition to formality and not to normality

If formality is talking about rights, this is an aspiration of the young, but if formality is talking about normality, they run away. Young people aspire to access labor rights, but not necessarily 40-hour work per week as someone else, as they indicate that it is a way of “enslaving themselves”. Some opted for informality to offer more time flexibility, more freedom and higher income than an entry-level job.

In this workshop we wanted to verify if the lack of voluntary affiliation to the social protection system is due to the lack of a pension culture, this being one of the hypotheses of the SDG Fund Project. We found that this group does not lack foresight, but horizons. They do not postpone membership because their retirement is far away, but they reject it for two reasons. On the one hand, they have lost confidence in the Ecuadorian social security system, citing that it is "broken" or that the health services are of poor quality, and on the other hand, they believe that the forecast has no future on which to settle.

“What is said in the political arena, that we are the answer to problems, that young people are the future, leave us a burden. A burden, like we have to exercise some kind of change, but without any means of help through them.

We have reached the moment of emergency. The policies are for now, to address the crisis that is not now, but has become more acute. Recomposing the bridge today you can walk to the other shore But without a bridge there is no horizon.

"How do we see ourselves in a few years? I look extinct, I tell you, because there are many things that will eventually happen at the level of humanity if we continue with this rhythm of life.

The testimony of this young woman ran into the COVID-19 pandemic around the corner. If informality was a problem, now it is pressing. Rains, it pours. It is in this context of illness and threat to life, in which other worlds hitherto unknown must be designed to germinate a life "that deserves to be lived".

If you are working on solutions to improve the livelihoods of young people in informality write to paulina.jimenez [at] undp.org and join https://colaboratoriociudadano.org/