Intersections of Youth and Inequality: How does Inequality shape the Identities and Aspirations of Young People in the Global North and South?

By Sonja Marzi

This panel addresses the subjective effects of inequality on the lives on young people in four countries, Ethiopia, Colombia, Vietnam and Nigeria. It discusses how young people in these countries have to deal with political and economic challenges as well as with social structures and their inequalities within them. Different aspects of these challenges and intersecting effects of potential vulnerabilities are explored such as religion and gender and how these challenges and vulnerabilities impact on the lives of the young people and their aspirations.

The first paper presented by Marco Di Nunzio (University of Oxford) is of his ethnographic fieldwork in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. His investigation is about the implementation of small-scale enterprises in inner city Addis Ababa and how this approach, aimed to reduce poverty, failed. His study draws on narrations of young people and how they dealt with the failure of entrepreneurship schemes. While they opened up opportunities for social improvement these enterprise schemes also reinforce existing inequalities. For example young people develop a status of entrepreneurs but an implemented tax schemes of 30% is perceived as “crazy” by them and creates resistance to the schemes. The official discourse promises an alternative but the government is not able to deliver. Marco’s presentation has been focused on young men; therefore his presentation was followed by a discussion about gender and how women deal with the enterprise schemes? However, in his research Marco did talk to young women who were working as prostitutes and who did feel stigmatized, as they have not been included enterprise schemes.

The second paper presented by Sonja Marzi (University of East Anglia) has been a methodology paper. Sonja presented how participatory visual methods have been of high value to explore the link of young Colombian’s aspirations and their spaces they move in. Her research setting is Cartagena, a tourist destination in Colombia but also one of the most unequal cities in the country with its inner wealthy part and the poor neighbourhoods when leaving the city centre. She is therefore interested how social structures within social spaces are inculcated in the young people’s habitus and how this determines how they think and act towards their aspirations. To explore these influencing spaces she used participatory photography and filming and presented the advantage of these. Especially the combination of photos and interviews about them provided her with important insights about how young people perceive their spaces and how they are connected to the inequalities in their social environment and then in turn how they influence young people’ development and achievement of aspirations. However, there has been a discussion about the ethical implications when using visual methods especially when including spaces such as facebook into the research as a space to analyse and that it is necessary to repeat the intention of the researcher when using these methods.

Catherine Locke (University of East Anglia) presented the third paper about young migrant women in Vietnam and how the migration for factory work is impacting the young women’s lived experiences of sexuality and marriage making. When young women move to the urban parts of the country they face a much more liberal lifestyle than the rural life they left. These contradictions are creating a dilemma for younger women who are of marriage able age and develop new aspirations about sexuality and love but who are simultaneously under pressure to maintain ‘pure’ and being able to find a husband from their village through arranged marriage. These tensions are exacerbated by contradictions in contemporary state discourses of femininity, which reinvigorate traditional expectations for them to be desirable wives and caring mothers as well as productive workers. This paper has been based on a literature review and it concludes with possible fields that do need further investigation. For example, there is literature about married migrant women but research about single women migration is still missing. These young women might develop another imagination about their future than their mothers had when moving to urban places and therefore a special analytical attention can make a contribution in situating migrant worker women in the broader context of family household and community as well as imagining of place. Much of the discussion has been about the values and norms around gender in Vietnam and about the double standards those women have to live with. For instance, women have to be ‘pure’ but men have much more freedom in terms of sexual relationships. When girls come home to their rural village they do show their generosity to their parents and do domestic work while men do not work when coming home.

The last paper has been by Hannah Hoechner (University of Oxford) and draws on research with young Qur’anic students (almajirai) in Kano in northern Nigeria to explore the intricacies of domestic work carried out by young people. Young men from poorer families visit qur’anic schools as this is the only possibility for them to get some education and a place to live. However they need to earn the money to pay these schools on their own and therefore many of them work as domestic employees in urban middle and upper class households. Hannah describes how domestic workers from these schools experience unequal relationships and how they are negotiated and contested in literature. While these young men are supposed to be welcome as a part of the family in the house they work the reality is very different and they sleep in entrance halls and are not able to attend classes, as they have to work these hours. It is perceived that their food and education is of second class and they rarely experience support from their employers’ household. Hannah demonstrates with the notion of patron client relationship how this puts the young domestic workers in a weak bargaining position. However, their incorporation into urban modern households also reinforces new aspirations of a cosmopolitan lifestyle that are disempowering, as the young people are unlikely to be able to realise them. In the later discussion Hannah explained that education in these qur’anic schools is mainly about the religion and only to a later stage includes general education as well. However, more expensive qur’anic school are different and might include general education from the beginning on. She also has been asked about a comparison with similar cases from Senegal which she will explore in her future postdoctoral work.

Sonja Marzi is a PhD research student at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom