This paper is based on a study with rural young people in Malawi and Lesotho, focusing on their possibilities for accessing (self)employment in the face of the various constraints imposed by their poor rural situations. Participatory group exercises, combined with individual interviews in two rural villages, provided personal stories about jobs and businesses that the young people were engaged in, as well as previous experiences and future plans. Constraints, as well as enabling factors, working at both individual and structural levels were analysed. Policies intended to address the needs of young people tend to seek to target the most vulnerable, often on the basis of individual-and household-level characteristics (e.g. women, orphans and AIDS-affected households). We argue that this: (1) neglects the structural factors operating at national and global levels; and (2) fails to recognise that factors interact to produce vulnerability, rather than this being rooted in separate characteristics. We demonstrate that an intersectional approach, drawn from feminist studies, is a useful theoretical lens, which, in combination with a livelihoods perspective, helps illuminate the needs of rural young people. In situations characterised by high levels of poverty and multiple vulnerabilities, we argue that it can be costly and ineffective to try to decide 'who is most vulnerable'; rather, resources can be more effectively spent in trying to improve conditions that will benefit all rural young people.
- southern Africa