At this moment, Pakistan possesses the largest generation of youth in its history. Close to 64 per cent of the country’s population is younger than 30, while 29 per cent are aged 15-29 (Pakistan National Human Development Report, 2017). This proportion is forecasted to continue increasing until at least 2050, leading to what is termed as Pakistan’s youth bulge, making Pakistan one of the youngest countries in the world and second youngest in the South Asia after Afghanistan and thereby ideally situated to benefit from a potent demographic dividend.

Nevertheless, there are constraints in reaping this demographic dividend, particularly with respect to gender. For instance, as the youth gender inequality index points out, as many as 29 per cent of the young people are illiterate and only 6 per cent have more than 12 years of education. Regarding employment, only 39 per cent of the youth are employed (32 per cent males and 7 per cent  females), 57 per cent (16 per cent males and 41 per cent females) are neither working nor seeking jobs, and only 4 per cent are unemployed and actively looking for work (Global Education Monitoring Report Gender Review, 2018).

As the index and other research demonstrates (AGALI, 2013), compared to boys, girls more often lack access to financial capital and have limited opportunities to gain education, knowledge, and skills that can lead to economic advancement. This issue is driven by inappropriate policy frameworks and biased gender norms which also create barriers to economic empowerment for girls.

The problem of girls’ disempowerment is often framed as a cultural problem, where poor households are blamed for not allowing the girls to work. However, recent researches indicate that many of the barriers to girls’ education and economic empowerment are rooted in the insufficient opportunities offered to them. This is, thus, essentially a supply-side issue and particularly for out-of-school and dropped-out girls.

Within this context, vocational training emerges as a key solution to address the challenges with regards to girls’ education and women empowerment. Idara-e-taleem-o-Aagahi seeks to provide this solution through its second chance program for adolescent girls in south Punjab called “Siyani Sahelian”.  The Siyani Sahelian program is designed to equip girls with technical and vocational education along with life skills and creating opportunities for them to market their business through enterprise development training program with linkages to industries and e-commerce.

Typically, vocational training includes development of technical capacity, entrepreneurship, and business skills relevant to the needs of prospective industries and markets.

This particular program includes innovative approaches to cater this program through four-month empowerment stages for TVET, Enterprise development and financial inclusion. This includes training in beautician, embroidery, fashion designing, tailoring and IT. Providing girls with enterprise skills and linking them with microfinance outlets like Akhuwat etc. enables them to initiate income generation activity for economic empowerment. The program is also providing support by mapping the industries at the local level and placing the graduates according to their skills and area(s) of expertise.

The program is not only working on building skills but also giving sessions on financial literacy and leadership, aimed at providing girls with a strong foundation for longer term financial control, independence and security. The sub-component is linked to the larger movement on the financial inclusion of girls in the economic development of one family and nation. The ultimate purpose is to make girls more informed and independent as financial decision makers.

So far, 3200+ Siyani Sahelian aged 14-21 have graduated through TEVTA certified vocational skills which builds their capacity for livelihood and a decent income. Further, the program builds synergies with downstream partners located in targeted districts for a wider geographical visibility and sustaining the intervention after its funding cycle ends.

For our next phases, the program is exploring new avenues with additional partners such as NAVTTC to integrate value at all levels of the Siyani Sahelian supply chain to accelerate the advancement of adolescent girls’ education and provide them with economic opportunities. Previously, the program focused on the creation and testing of a framework that dispenses training and content keeping in view the particularities of the current state of matters in the space. In our next phases the focus shall be on taking steps to ensure the evolution and sustainability of the program by partnering up with the state of the art solution providers and associating with industry bodies that can aid in the creation of a proper pathway for these young women to fit in the economic structure of the country.

Zain is an emerging education policy researcher currently working with Idara-e-taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA).