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'Alarming scale' of youth unemployment in Middle East, OECD official warns

Youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa region is at an "alarming scale" while women's participation in the workforce is low in Arab countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Deputy Secretary-General Mari Kiviniemi said, urging governments to change the dynamics.

Speaking at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Kiviniemi outlined the problems facing the region and urged governments to improve the situation for young people and women who she said are "key" for countries to prosper.

"We are seeing an alarming scale of youth unemployment, the highest in the world," Kiviniemi said.

"Young people express lower levels of trust in government than their parents," Kiviniemi said. "Yet the Arab youth are more educated and connected than ever and represent one of the biggest assets of region."

OECD Deputy Secretary-General Mari Kiviniemi is pictured at the OECD headquarters in Paris, on February 11, 2016.
Thomas Samson | AFP | Getty Images
OECD Deputy Secretary-General Mari Kiviniemi is pictured at the OECD headquarters in Paris, on February 11, 2016.

And the participation of women in the workforce in the Middle East and North Africa region is around 22 percent, Kiviniemi said. That is below the OECD average of 63 percent, according to the organization's website. This despite women in the Middle East in particular, being well educated.

"Women are obtaining advanced degrees, but not all are entering the work force or continuing to pursue careers," Kiviniemi told the audience at the summit.

The OECD deputy secretary-general said that for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to achieve its 2021 goal of social cohesion, getting women and youth to trust institutions and be involved in policy conversations was crucial.

"Gender balance is an important lever," Kiviniemi said.