The Role of Young People in Promoting Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies

A forum entitled “The Role of Young People in Promoting Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Socities” took place on July 19, 2017 as a side-event to the United Nations High-Level Political Forum in New York City. The goal of the event was for participants to exchange information and experiences surrounding the role of youth in conflict-affected and fragile countries, and more specifically with regard to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2250, which calls for greater inclusion of youth in local, national and international decision-making and peace and statebuilding efforts. Resolution 2250 was created in recognition of the threat to stability and sustainable development caused by the radicalisation of youth. The theory behind the Resolution is that greater youth inclusion in all decision-making arenas will decrease radicalisation and violence, as it will provide young people a say in both their own futures and the future of their country.

The event was framed around the idea that the actualisation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires a meaningful and active contribution from young people at all levels. The first presentation, entitled “Bridging the Evidence Gap on Youth-Driven Peacebuilding,” outlined the findings of the Global Survey of Youth-Led Organisations on Peace and Security carried out by the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY Peacebuilders). The survey aimed to map the activities of youth-led organisations working on peace and security around the world. The main findings included that youth-led organisations tend to work on very limited operating budgets, engage in a wide range of activities, and engage not only youth but also other actors and stakeholders in their activities. The challenges these organisations face include marginalisation and lack of trust from older generations toward youth, and a lack of participation and awareness from the community on youth issues. UNOY recommended that outside actors and governments: recognise youth organisations as peacebuilding practitioners on equal footing with other organisations, fund and improve access to resources and partnerships, provide space for youth participation in peace and security programming and increase research on activities, needs and capacities of youth-led organisations. For more information on this study and the work of UNOY, visit UNOY.org.

The event then moved to a number of country-focused presentations. A presentation on youth organisations in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria emphasised the lack of space available for these organisations in the community and national decision-making, along with the lack of funding they face. In Cameroon and Chad in particular, youth organisations face widespread suspicion of young people. However, that is not to say that there has been no progress in these countries. The presenter noted that Resolution 2250 has had a positive effect, as young people see it as a tool with which to reach out to their governments. In Nigeria, young people have created vigilante groups that have, over time, gained more legitimacy within their communities than the government, allowing them to mobilise to get their voices heard, gather information and have some input in security policy. Furthermore, the Nigerian Foreign Ministry is working to bring Nigeria into the Dialogue (IDPS) as a result of the actions and influence of Nigerian youth organisations.

In Niger, youth organisations have contributed to the creation of a National Youth Council and provide peace education around the country to create peace ambassadors. Young people in Niger emphasise the opening of businesses to create employment and improve livelihoods. In Cameroon, youth organisations have successfully campaigned for the government to set up an Institute for the Prevention of Violent Extremism and also engage in peace education around the country. Finally, in Chad, organisations emphasise improving livelihoods and youth reintegration and rehabilitation as a national security issue. The organisations in each of these countries share many of the same missions and activities, but also differ in significant ways based on their specific context. The presenter concluded by stating that interventions must be holistic, targeting not only one aspect, but all areas that affect the lives of young people, including education, population control, employment and security issues.

The next presenter, from Afghans for Progressive Thinking, shared the specific perspective of Afghanistan and Afghan youth organisations. Afghans for Progressive Thinking educates 15,000 students annually to promote a culture of tolerance, openness and respect across young people of different religions and from different regions. The organisation aims to build critical thinking skills in young people to open their minds to diversity and to reduce prejudice. Although Afghanistan faces political instability and a lack of security, youth organisations like Afghans for Progressive Thinking have seen progress with more young people in leadership positions, with more say in decision-making across the country.

The final presentation provided a picture of the situation of youth in Libya. Libya, like many conflict-affected and fragile states, faces a ‘youth bulge,’ with young people making up more than 65% of the population. Libya has more than 1,000 youth organisations and more than 50,000 young people engage with these organisations. However, the Libyan government fails to include youth voices in policy decision-making. The presenter emphasised that youth organisations need not only financial support, but also experiential and logistical support from the international community to gain a seat at the table and increase their engagement in the peacebuilding process.

The event came to a close with a summary of the main takeaways from the presentations and discussions. The group acknowledged the importance of making clear that peace is interlinked with the entire 2030 Agenda and that SDG16 is the main precursor for the success of the 2030 Agenda as a whole. The group noted that there still exist many challenges for youth recognition, even within the UN itself. Forums such as this one, in which youth organisation leaders themselves come together to share experiences and tools, can help to spread the most effective strategies, including nonviolent communication and intergenerational dialogues, to the fragile contexts in which youth voices are most silenced and where they most need to be heard.