Young people who have experienced conflict firsthand have a vital role to play in peacebuilding. They have a clear vision of what peace could look like in their countries and communities, and have the drive to work towards the realisation of these goals.
However, in many cases they are seen not as positive forces for peace, but rather as threats to it. Recent research conducted by Conciliation Resources with youth from five different conflict regions identified the five key changes which need to be made to ensure young people are able to participate in creating more peaceful societies.
Even against tremendous challenges, youth are actively engaging in their communities, and are making positive contributions to peace. Unfortunately, they are facing numerous barriers to participating in formal and informal peace processes. This includes a lack of trust in governments and political institutions; voicelessness based on identities including age, as well as threats of violence and radicalisation. Women and girls face additional challenges when it comes to exclusion from public spaces.
Because youth are both actors and victims in South Sudan conflicts they are the only capable force to implement the peace agreements.
Young person in rural South Sudan
It is clear that not harnessing the power of youth is detrimental to peacebuilding efforts. The challenges they are facing need to be addressed, and young people should be involved in the design of any responses to conflict.
Youth, peace and security
In December 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted UNSCR 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security. The resolution was the first to recognise the important role young people can play in preventing conflicts, and sustaining peace.
Conciliation Resources was invited by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to contribute to the Progress Report
on UNSCR 2250. Between July and September 2017, Conciliation Resources conducted participatory research with 494 young people living in Afghanistan, Jammu and Kashmir, South Sudan, the Georgian- Abkhaz context, and among youth of the Ogaden diaspora living in the United Kingdom.
Five key findings emerged on how young people can play a greater role in peacebuilding:
1. Support youth visions of peace
Even when they have not known life without conflict, young people have clear visions of what peace should be, and have a strong desire for a future without violence. Peace processes need to ensure meaningful inclusion of these views in their design and implementation.
For me when there is no firing and shelling, it is peace. When children do not become victims of mine blasts in my village, it is peace. When I see my mother going to the fields to collect wood and graze animals, it is peace. When I see children playing in the common fields or grounds then I consider it peace.
Young person in Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
2. Create space for youth to engage in political processes
Many youth feel excluded from political processes, and from making meaningful contributions. It is crucial that governments make sustained commitments to rebuild the young people’s trust and confidence in governments. There are also additional challenges facing women and girls in gaining access to public spaces which need to be addressed.
We have few opportunities to act politically outside the house, let alone take part in the peace process on either a local or national level.
Young Afghan woman
3. Facilitate and support dignified livelihoods
Greater economic opportunities for youth are necessary to motivate young people to pursue peaceful and productive paths in their lives. Youth are keen to increase their opportunities to learn skills and develop entrepreneurial capacities but these need to be made available to them.
The main concern of both young and older generations is to ensure daily well-being, that is, to find a job, get an education. Only after these problems are resolved will it be possible to increase the youth’s interest in resolving the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.
4. Support education and capacity-building for peace
Access to education is fundamental for facilitating young people’s positive engagement in peace. Youth suggested specific and practical ways this could be realised, including reforms to civic education, and the introduction of peace education.
The only thing that can ensure us a better future is education... Without education, the country will not have a future.
Young Azeri woman living in Georgia
5. Facilitate inter-community dialogue and exchanges
Distrust, stereotypes, and prejudices can be tackled by initiatives, such as exchanges, which encourage continuous dialogue and engagement between youth from different communities. It is particularly important that young people who have been directly victimised by conflict are involved.
The problems of young people are due to the fact that, during their upbringing, we were in a state of blockade. Young people did not have the resources to receive any information from the outside. We stewed in our own juice. There was no way to learn from the experience of other countries.
The discussions are summarised in a new report, Youth aspirations for peace and security. This research will also contribute to a larger UNFPA Progress Report, due to be published in March.