The weight of socio-cultural norms is strongly felt

The social and cultural environment in which young people develop determines their way of dreaming and projecting themselves into the future

Adolescents and social norms

The social and cultural environment in which young people develop determines their way of dreaming and projecting themselves into the future

In contexts where the weight of socio-cultural norms is strongly felt, young people's choices are constrained and under control. Where social relations are highly hierarchical, socio-cultural norms impose a selective outlook on the types of jobs that a young person can avail her/himself of, depending on her/his social class. For instance, in some communities, one is born a blacksmith, a mason or a butcher, but one does not become a blacksmith, a mason or a butcher.

In this context, two youth dynamics emerge. Some young people submit to and internalise the prevailing social rules to escape the pressure of society. In this case, the young person will follow a trajectory valued by his society, be it in farming, civil service (Tillabery or Kantche), migration (Tahoua) or trade (Maradi) depending on the region. Youths live contrasting experiences depending on regional specificities. In the case of Maradi, the prevailing work culture and strong bonds of solidarity push young people to realize themselves. By contrast, in Tahoua, social competition between peers and the weight of societal expectations do not allow the young person to enjoy his/her youth and give him/herself the time to succeed. He or she is unable to project himself beyond the opportunities offered by his or her environment. Social pressure is so strong that young people who fail can become drug addicts. In Tillabery (Komabangou), solidarity mechanisms are used as a form of social security, a behaviour which inhibits any spirit of reinvestment for young people making a profit from gold mining.

Other young people resent being oppressed in their terroir and feel the need to free themselves to release their creative genius and follow their own trajectory of success, either by ignoring the pressure of society or by moving away through migration. In some cases, exclusion from the benefits of wealth or in relation to the monetarization of social relations generates in young people a sense of injustice and iniquity that drives them to adopt a wait-and-see attitude or other contested behaviours, including incivility, denunciation and often violence.

Finally, societal expectations for young woman are enormous. The image that the girl keep in the eyes of society in terms of reputation means that she cannot engage in certain economic activities, however constructive they can be. In addition, if for the young man, sidelining prevailing social norms can be synonymous with success, for the young woman, it leads to her being stigmatized. Also, young women do not have the same chance of dreaming compared to young men, and do not feel these limitations as constraints. Yet, those who manage to deconstruct and free themselves from these preconceived ideas are generally seen as success models.

Policy implications:

Policies that aim at supporting young people in achieving their aspirations must take into account the specificities of their home environment and strive to lighten the prevailing norms and values that keep the young person subjugated. For example, a mapping of the so-called "unworthy" trades according to the terroir could help public policies widen the range of choices and possibilities acceptable to young people. On the other hand, if prevailing social norms awaken the young person's innovative spirit, steps must be taken to reinforce them. Traditional mechanisms of solidarity should be promoted and young people accompanied in their gradual emancipation and in how to manage profits generated by their work. More in-depth anthropological studies should be conducted to better understand the dynamics of youth and their regional specificities.

Thus, in terms of public policies, it is essential to define the trajectory of success to 'sell' to young people. In other words, society must be able to invent new models of constructive success. However, such measures must take into account the trajectory of the role models and encourage innovative behaviour.