Poster Paper: The Career Aspirations of Young Women in a Post-Conflict Setting: A Descriptive Study from Sierra Leone

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Skye Allmang1, Veronika Rozhenkova1, James Ward Khakshi2, Wameq Raza3 and Jody Heymann1, (1)University of California, Los Angeles, (2)BRAC, (3)World Bank

This study analyzes the career aspirations of a subset of young women in Sierra Leone, with the goal of developing a richer understanding of the effects of coming of age within a post-conflict setting. Empirical data on the long-term aspirations and expectations of young women in post-conflict settings are scarce. A growing body of research has documented the importance of context for career aspirations, and there is some evidence of effect of conflict/post-conflict context on young people’s perceptions of the current day and the future. Yet little is known regarding how young women’s career aspirations have developed within post-conflict settings, and whether aspirations are “adapted” within existing contextual constraints, or whether aspirations challenge notions of what is feasible.

Overall, the study aims to address two research questions. First, what are the career aspirations of young women in Sierra Leone? Second, are there significant differences by sociodemographic factors, contextual factors, work experience, and by the views and expectations that the young women have about themselves and about the future (including about marriage and children)?

The study utilizes data from a survey conducted by a young women’s empowerment program in Sierra Leone that aims to empower young women socially and economically. The program creates adolescent clubs as social space where young women between the ages of 10 and 19 can get together to learn life skills (sexual and reproductive health) and livelihood skills (along with microfinance) and create a supportive environment more broadly through community and parent meetings. Data were collected from 2,500 program participants, using two-stage random sampling was used to randomly choose 118 communities and then to choose study participants from those communities. Summary statistics were first generated. Means, frequencies, correlations, and significance tests were then used to assess differences between groups.

Our findings indicate that despite the many challenges to accessing the formal labor market, over two-thirds aspired to obtain a formal job that requires an education. However, aspirations were found to vary by age, geographic location, prior work experience, and views and expectations about marriage. Future policy and program interventions may need to develop a range of strategies to help ensure that all young women can reach their long-term aspirations in Sierra Leone and other post-conflict settings. This research may inform policy interventions and initiatives aiming to create better opportunities for women and further promoting gender equality.