#youth4peace – A New Direction for Young Peacebuilders

Young people are drivers of change in all societies. There are now 1.8 billion young people around the world, the largest number that has ever existed. A staggering 600 million of those live in conflict-affected contexts. As experts in community-based activities and building complex networks, young people are working to build peace sustainable peace with minimal support or resources. Here, Dylan Jones explores the background of, and potential solutions presented at the Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security.

The Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security recently established a platform that highlighted the involvement of youth in peacebuilding to the forefront of international debate for the first time. Held in Amman, Jordan on 21-22 August 2015, the Forum brought together young peacebuilders alongside representatives of national governments, international civil society, UN agencies and academia to take stock of the current work in the field, and to develop a roadmap for the future.

The growing recognition of the importance of including young people in issues of peace and security is evident in the organisation of the Forum itself. The development of the event was co-organised between UNDP, UNFPA, UN PBSO, the Office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Search for Common Ground, and the United Network of Young Peacebuilders.

©Grant Neufeld /Creative Commons License

©Grant Neufeld /Creative Commons License

 

Too often, young people have been considered as merely victims or perpetrators when they are included in the discourse on peace and security. This narrow and misled perception is still firmly entrenched today. Take the rise of Islamic State, and the subsequent flow of foreign terrorist fighters into Syria and Iraq. Young people are viewed as potential or current threats within the violent conflict of the region as well as within Western states. At the same time, young people are perceived as victims, helplessly caught in up circumstances outside of their control, passive actors unable to change their realities.

Yes, young people can be perpetrators in violence. Yes, young people require protection as victims of violence. But why are we ignoring the overwhelming majority of young people that actively pursue peace in the face of violence and injustice? A key outcome of the Forum was the reshaping of the discourse on young people in peace and security from the victim-perpetrator to active agents in peacebuilding.

The Amman Youth Declaration was written by young people and adopted by youth participants at the Forum. The Declaration builds off the current work underway and represents a roadmap for youth inclusion in peacebuilding in the future. It begins:

We, young people from around the world, gathered here in Amman, Jordan on 21-22 August 2015 at the Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security, express our commitment to live in a peaceful global society. Today, with more young people than ever globally, it is a demographic imperative to include us in working to achieve stability and security.’

It lays out action points for actors such as national governments, local authorities, civil society, the private sector, donors and international agencies to take that will ensure youth peacebuilding work is recognised and strengthened. The Declaration covers four key areas that are central to this:

  1. Youth Participation and Leadership in Issues of Peace and Security
  2. Youth Preventing Violence and Building Peace
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Young People’s Socio-Economic Empowerment

Critically, the Declaration calls on the “United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution on Youth, Peace and Security” – a movement that has been growing over the past few years, pushing at the international and grassroots levels to gather support.

The Forum placed young peacebuilders on an equal footing with non-youth participants, allowing them to share their stories and meaningfully engage with policy-makers. A number of young people shared the work that they do and how they came to pursue peace work in the face of violence, both on the stage and informally.

Alaa Toutounji a young, female peacebuilder from Syria highlighted the importance of grassroots work to build sustainable peace in her country:

I will not ask you to save Syria. I ask you to help its youth, the only ones who can truly save Syria.”

©Statsministerens kontor/Creative Commons License

©Statsministerens kontor/Creative Commons License

Yousef Assidiq, cofounder of JustUnity, described his personal journey from radicalisation to peacemaker. He implored viewers to engage and work with young people to create constructive dialogue.

“I was never a bad person. I was just in a bad place.”

Whilst such an event was well overdue, it was not an end in itself. The Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security is one more step towards cementing young people in both the discourse and practice of peacebuilding around the world. Moving beyond the Forum, young people around the world are increasingly linking their peace work to one another and working cooperatively at the regional and international levels to advocate for inclusion and share best practices.

The movement continues to gather momentum, with support growing within both international agencies and national governments to create a global policy framework to support the powerful work of young peacebuilders.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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