Global Reach: Colombia

Year Work
Total Funds
Invested To Date


As is true in all five of the Latin American countries in which EMpower works, Colombia has high rates of income inequality, poverty, unemployment, gender inequality, teenage pregnancy, and violence. Poverty levels are significantly higher among Afro-Colombian and internally displaced populations, many of whom have migrated from rural areas to already overcrowded cities.  Violence is prevalent in Colombia, partially due to the five-decade long internal conflict between militarized groups such as FARC and the Colombian government, in which over 200,000 people died (mostly civilians) and more than five million were forced to flee their homes, generating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons (IDPs), after Syria. Another contributing factor is the ongoing illegal trafficking of drugs and firearms.

Unemployment is another pressing issue in Colombia. The unemployment rate increased to 10.8 percent in 2019, with the unemployment rate among young people being almost double, at 20 percent. Young women are particularly affected, with their unemployment rate standing at 24.2 percent. Young people living in marginalized communities lack the technical expertise required for the increasingly specialized labor market. This lack of skills means they are only able to find temporary and low paying work, often in the informal sector. Still, in the most vulnerable sectors of Cali, many youth are expected to contribute to their households’ income. Without viable job prospects, many young people turn to criminal groups and gangs, which offer them an easy and lucrative way to make money.

One in every five girls in Colombia between the ages of 15-19 are or have been pregnant, according to government figures. Early childbearing puts girls’ lives at risk, as their bodies are not fully developed, entailing heightened risks of morbidity and mortality for the mother and child. Early motherhood also typically results in lower educational achievement, including school dropout and weaker performance in the labor market. The high incidence of teenage births in Colombia is most typical of adolescents who live in resource poor settings, with inferior access to sexual and reproductive health information and care. Despite advanced laws condemning it, domestic and sexual violence continue to be highly prevalent in Colombia. As is the case with early pregnancy, the majority of children who experience sexual violence come from the lowest income groups, and the abuse is usually either at the hands of a member of their own family, or the criminal gangs that control their neighborhoods. 

All of these problems are made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit Latin America harder than any other region in the world. Indeed, while Latin America is home to just eight percent of the world’s population, it accounts for roughly 40% of global coronavirus-related deaths.[1]

In Colombia, EMpower seeks to address these challenges by supporting local organizations to combat poverty by providing intensive vocational training—with a focus on young women—in areas that have proven employer demand. Additionally, EMpower supports work to promote gender equity and positive life skills to reduce violence such as non-violent conflict resolution, while also including a strong comprehensive sexuality component to combat unwanted teenage pregnancies.

Data on the following, noting the year data was collected, compared to global or regional averages, whatever is striking:


Total population: 50,900,000 (2020)[2]

Percentage of population ages 10-24: 24.6%[3]

% urban/rural: 81.1% urban (2019)[4]

Special populations (e.g., refugees, indigenous young people, migrants) of interest: 84% of Colombia’s population is white and mestizo (mixed European and Amerindian ancestry), followed by 10% Afro-Colombian, and 3.4% Amerindian.[5] Colombia has a large Afro-Colombian population along its Pacific Coast, a region with some of the country’s lowest social indicators. Additionally, it has the second largest internally displaced population in the world (after Syria) due to the five-decade long internal conflict between militarized groups such as FARC and the Colombian government in which more than 5 million people were forced from their homes. In recent years, Colombia has received an influx of immigrants from Venezuela due to the financial crisis there.

Economy and Environment

GDP per capita, whether growing/shrinking: $6,650 (2018), staying level in recent years[6]

GINI index and rank: 50.4 (2018) (ranked 16th globally, indicating very high levels of inequality)[7]

% living in poverty (by country’s own poverty line): 27% (2018).[8]

INFORM Risk Index score (2020): Widely-used tool to assess the risk of humanitarian crisis and disasters, including the Hazard and Exposure subscale, which includes natural disasters like earthquakes, droughts, and floods, and human disasters like conflict. Colombia: 5.4 (High, stable) overall; Rank 31 ; Hazard and Exposure score: 6.9 (very high

Key issues that affect youth:

Gender inequality

Rank in Global Gender Gap report (2020): 22 (out of 153, where ranking closer to the bottom indicates more gender inequality in economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment).[9]

Internet access: in 2018 63% of men used the internet, compared to 64% of women.

Education (Quality education, SDG4)

95% of females and 99% of males make the transition from primary to secondary school (2012)[10]

22% of young people in secondary school (18% of girls) are at least 2 years over age for grade (2017)[11] 

Secondary school completion rates: Males (69.3%), Females (74.5%) (2018)[12]

PISA reading score (2018): 402 (vs. OECD average of 487)[13]

PISA math score (2018): 379 (vs. OECD average of 489)[14]

PISA science score (2018): 404 (vs. OECD average of 489)[15]

Livelihoods (Decent work and economic growth, SDG 8)

Labor force participation rate for persons aged 15-24: Male (60.6%), Female (45.7%) (2017)[16]

Percentage of youth not in education, employment or training (NEET): Male (15.6%), Female (32.4%) (2019).[17]

Health and well-being

% of young women 20-24 married by age 18: 23% (2015)[18]

% of young women 20-24 mothers by age 18: 20% (2016)[19]

Gender-based violence prevalence or acceptance: 3.1% of 15-49 year-old females agreed that wife-beating was justified under certain circumstances (2015).[20]

Social support: 5.9% of 15-29 year olds say they have no friends or relatives they can count on in times of trouble.



[2] Estimated size of populations at mid-year., table beginning on page 142.

[3] UNFPA calculation based on UN Population Division data, as cited in, on table beginning on page 142.



[6], page 180.















Other countries in Latin America:

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