Engaging youth to combat urban inequalities: A study of the potential of youth clubs to improve the living conditions of slum dwellers in Dhaka

Louise Dyrholm, Lindholm Mikkelsen & Lise Marie

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis seeks to answer the research question: What is the potential of youth clubs in improving the living conditions of young slum dwellers in Dhaka city? To answer this question the paper explores the social, political and economic circumstances in the slum amounting for the living conditions of young slums dwellers. In the study an analysis is conducted on how participation in a youth club can provide urban poor youth with the necessary education to act on their personal and collective needs, and based on theoretical and empirical findings the thesis elaborates on the youth clubs’ potential in addressing the social, structural and institutional circumstances constraining the opportunities of poor urban youth. The thesis is based on different theories of Youth Organizing, Critical Pedagogy of Paulo Freire and the Capability Approach of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum and central to the theoretical outset is furthermore, notions of democracy, institutions and civil society, which we conclude are the main factors affecting the work of the youth club. Our findings show that political, economic and social structures constrain young people living conditions and opportunities to act on the oppressive forces. Slum dwellers in Dhaka are in most cases deprived from the access to basic services and experience high levels of violence and discrimination. Public and informal power relations in the slums are unclear due to corruption and political interests, which effects the advocacy work of the youth club. Evictions occur frequently, creating reluctance from development actors to invest in the areas. We argue that there is a high demand in the slums for skills training and in-formal education services that the youth clubs are able to provide. Educating young people on their rights and support them to raise their voice in the community on issues affecting them is one of the main contributions of the clubs. The study concludes that the clubs provide spaces for young people to come together to discuss issues that affect them, analyse power relations, receive alternate education, and mobilize in order to improve the social circumstances in their community. However, the potential of youth clubs in altering the power relations that supresses them is fairly limited, apart from issues of gender and hygiene issues, where several examples shows, that the clubs can be more than a contributing factor in improving behaviours and attitudes. The youth clubs’ ability to act on the participants’ needs is highly complicated by the huge politicisation of slum upgrading, and the channels through which the young people can seek influence on political decisions are limited due to weak and non-democratic public institutions with a lack of accountability mechanisms. However, working with youth sets out a long-term perspective and the analysis shows that young people are not destitute just because the live in slums. They are very eager to actively engage in changing oppressive forces and improving their own opportunities.

EducationsInternational Development Studies, (Bachelor/Graduate Programme) Graduate
Publication date28 Aug 2015
SupervisorsBodil Folke Frederiksen


  • youth, slum, freire, capability approach, dhaka, critical pedagogy, nussbaum, Sen