Today, more than 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by fragility and conflict — a majority of which is under the age of 30.
These numbers alone justify the inclusion and consideration of youths in policymaking and planning. But in practice, the meaningful participation of young people in peace building has been hindered by discourses that overwhelmingly depict youths as victims or villains.
The inclusion of young people in peacebuilding processes is bound to facilitate sustainable peace in a society, by redirecting the energies of young people to the implementation of constructive peace projects. Incorporation and utilisation of youths in peacebuilding processes would facilitate their transformation from agents of violent conflict, to agents of peace in their societies.
This are the 10 ways to engage youths in peace building.
1. Create spaces for youths to express their opinions — and listen to them.
Rather than simply acknowledging them as victims or perpetrators of violence, it’s vital to engage youths as social actors with their own views and contributions.
“Youth voices in peace building are present everywhere, but sometimes not recognized,” Matilda Flemming, leading coordinator at the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, told Devex. “The creation of spaces for youth to express their opinion to decision-makers and broader society ensures that they have the opportunity to be heard.”
In practice, this can be done by encouraging both youth and adults — parents, teachers, nonprofit workers, or community and religious leaders — to support the formation of youth groups that offer young people a chance to formulate their opinions.
2. Enhance the peace-building knowledge and skills of young people.
Although most young peace builders create positive impact with minimal resources, it’s important to provide them with the tools they need to become more effective change-makers.
In concrete terms, this means giving them access to the teachers, facilitators, educational programs and networks that can hone their conflict resolution and leadership skills.
“Training opportunities can range from content-based topics such as conflict or gender to more practical-focused areas such as advocacy or project management,” Dylan Jones, project and gender officer at UNOY Peacebuilders underlined. “By facilitating youth connecting on individual and organizational levels, ideas, challenges and best practices can be organically shared.”
3. Build trust between youths and governments.
Youth mobilization in peace-building efforts is more likely to be successful if young people are given the capabilities and opportunities to work with local and national governments.
With few constructive avenues to influence local and national politics, young people tend to view governments as beset by corruption. Conversely, governments often fail to take into account the views of youths in policymaking, and may have different priorities for peace.
To close the gap, activities that promote the legitimization of youths and foster their representation in local and national policymaking processes are crucial, according to Piet Vroeg, child and education director at Cordaid. As such, joint workshops, community projects or platforms can all help bridge the divide between youths and government officials. It’s also important to encourage young people to learn about national or regional peace priorities while helping them work toward their own peace priorities.
“Now, after a couple of years, the youth councils have gained the trust of local government authorities, to the point that when it’s time to decide on the local budgets, these youth councils are being consulted to see if the budget make sense,” Saji Prelis, director for children and youth programs at Search for Common Ground, highlighted.
4. Promote intergenerational exchange.
Rather than working with youths in isolation, peace-building projects seeking the engagement of youths should also include parents and elders.
Youths are deeply influenced by the attitudes of their entourage. Yet adults might perceive youth-led initiatives as a threat to their own power and position. This points to the need for youth peace-building projects to be accompanied by dialogue and cooperation between young people, their relatives and community elders.
“Seek more inclusive means for young people to express themselves and participate in awareness-raising among the wider population,” Vroeg suggested.
Through partnerships with community groups and elder councils, youths can demonstrate the benefits of their peace actions. Such communication and collaboration channels also enable young people and adults to explore the common problems they face and to tackle them together, thus participating in the emergence of sustainable solutions.
“Young people alone by no means have the answers to the challenges the world and communities around the world are facing. Neither do older generations. By bringing together the vision of young people today, and the experience of older generations, new answers to challenges are created,” Flemming underlined.
5. Strengthen monitoring and evaluation.
While efficiencies can always be found, monitoring and evaluation activities need to be undertaken, improved and made routine across all peace-building initiatives capitalizing on youth engagement.
Suffering from a chronic lack of financial support, youth peace-building activities often have very limited ability to evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their work — a situation that seriously impedes the visibility and sustainability of their initiatives.
But beyond increased financial support, innovative approaches to evaluate the impact of youth engagement in conflict resolution must be used — particularly those that build on qualitative evidence and participative approaches.
“Surveys, focus groups and interviews are considered as the gold standard of inquiry, but those are adult methods of articulating evidence and showcasing impact, which ultimately benefit only adults,” Pralis told Devex. “Instead, we should make evaluation conversational and youth-led, as this works for everybody.”
The evaluation process recently started by the Nepal Partnership for Children and Youth in Peacebuilding — a coalition of local youth groups and international organizations — is particularly illustrative. It allows young people to take an active role in determining evaluation design, data collection methods and information analyses.
6. Support youths who are positively contributing to their communities.
Finally, it’s crucial to avoid rewarding “bad behavior” by incentivizing young people who are positively contributing to their communities.
Current youth programming focuses much of its attention on young individuals who were troublemakers or soldiers. This effectively rewards youths for joining armed groups — or is at least perceived as doing so by local communities.
“In general, young people feel marginalized and their voices are not heard or trusted as credible. But when they commit violence, the international community rushes in,” Prelis noted. “We have to be more conscious, cautious and thoughtful in our approach to youth engagement and avoid sending the message that we only care about you when you cause harm.”
Simple rewarding systems such as certificates, prizes and scholarships can serve as great incentives for youth. They can also inspire their peers to take action and participate in peace programs.
Further, try to situate your organization’s programming for young people within larger peacebuilding efforts. Without comprehensive efforts to change the underlying factors that contributed to war in the first place, youths might feel that their efforts are in vain.
7. 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.
8. 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.” – Georgian youth.
9. 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.
10. Plan a peaceful event.
If you want to raise awareness about problems facing your community and encourage peace in your community, then organizing a peaceful event is a good option. Try banding together with some local community members to put together an event, such as a community picnic, a food drive for a local food bank, a peaceful protest, or a walk through your community to raise awareness about a problem your community is facing.
If you don’t feel ready to plan an event, then you could also organize a small meeting. Try planning a meeting and inviting some other community members who are interested in making your community a more peaceful place. Use the meeting to share your concerns and discuss possible solutions.
Problems within a community can prevent people from living safe, happy, and productive lives. Promoting peace in a community is an extraordinary challenge, and it often requires the work and dedication of many community members. However, you can help to promote peace within your community by encouraging good relationships with your neighbors, learning more about your community’s history, and taking action to deal with violence.