More than 600 young people live in fragile contexts and war zones. Violence affects their safety, limit their access to education and health and create levels of stress that can have a long-term impact on their mental wellbeing and psychological development. Yet, young people are playing a key role in preventing violence and sustaining and building peace in their societies. In fact, research shows that young people engage in a wide range of initiatives to address conflict such as acting as mediators and negotiators in communities, providing psychosocial support to peers, promoting reintegration of ex-perpetrators and advocating for human rights. Young people have created their own independent spaces and platforms to express for political expression and to make direct contributions to peace and reconciliation processes.
Consultations with youth-led peacebuilding organizations highlighted however that much work remains to be done to support young people’s peace efforts and expand their inclusion and influence in local, national and international arenas. Despite the deep impacts of war and protracted conflict on their lives, young people are often excluded from most peacebuilding processes. Several challenges and barriers exist that hinder youth leadership and inclusion. Deficit labels are frequently used to define young people as inexperienced or unqualified devaluing their lived experiences and knowledge of local contexts. At the same time, not enough investments are made to build their skills and capacity to engage in peacebuilding. Obtaining funding for example can be a bureaucratic and slow process that entails competing with larger and well-established organizations.
Hierarchies between generations tend to privilege the views and priorities of older groups. Generational differences also contribute to perceptions of young people as westernised and liberal, and their initiatives are often considered to be influenced or shaped by international actors. Socioeconomic disadvantage also plays a key role. Young people will struggle to engage fully and meaningfully with the peace process if they face poverty and food insecurity or if their safety and protection is not guaranteed. Moreover, the underrepresentation of certain youth groups such as young women and ethnic and racial minorities further reinforces inequalities and drivers of vulnerability. The inclusion of young people can therefore become tokenistic either by giving them a seat at the table and ignoring their voices or by choosing youth representatives whose views and backgrounds are aligned with those who are in power.
Importantly there are significant tensions between the practices of counterterrorism (CT), prevention of violent extremism (PVE), countering violent extremism (CVE) and youth inclusive peacebuilding. Although PVE main focus should be on prevention, it is often conflated with securitization measures leading to the surveillance of young people in schools and social spaces. This blurring of boundaries can undermine relationships of trust between young people and their communities and lead to stigmatization and further exclusion from the peace process.
International, national and regional actors should support young peacebuilders, youth organisations and youth-led peace initiatives through equal partnerships and direct representation. Instead of focusing on ‘representing’ youth voices to diverse actors should create or support opportunities for youth to represent themselves in all decision-making levels. It is also crucial to ensure the inclusion of a plurality of voices and avoid treating young people as a homogeneous group. Furthermore, financial resources should be more easily available to youth peacebuilding organisations and include capacity-development to manage budgets and projects effectively. Ideally some funding should be ring-fenced for new youth-led initiatives and organisations.
The skills and competences that young people need to effectively engage with diverse stakeholders at different levels and contribute to peace processes differ across contexts and depend on young people’s backgrounds. Targeted research needs to be conducted with or by young people themselves to determine their specific needs and the support required. Another key area where peacebuilding partners could further support young people’s efforts is to create safe spaces for them to work together, learn from others, and receive mentoring from experts. This support must be accompanied by strategies to change traditional attitudes towards youth especially in relation to stereotypes and preconceptions that reduce them to either victim or perpetrators in conflicts, as well as increasing political buy-in for youth inclusivity in peace processes across the political spectrum.
Finding ways to meaningfully integrate young people in the peace process and to create spaces for them to express their views, articulate their interests and share their experiences are a crucial task for peacebuilding actors and policy. This requires engaging with major questions surrounding voice, representation and the generation of knowledge. An urgent objective for future peacebuilding agendas should be to develop a robust evidence base around youth-inclusive peace processes. Policies relating to youth inclusivity should be implemented in light of a deeper understanding of the types, dynamics and impact of youth engagement in peace negotiation and mediation processes.
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The report “Youth-Led Peace: The Role of Youth in Peace Processes” was produced by Dr Asli Ozcelik (Principal Investigator), Dr Yulia Nesterova (Co-Investigator) and Dr Graeme Young (Co-Investigator) with the research assistance of Alex Maxwell.
This report highlights the key themes, findings and recommendations of the project Youth-led peace: The role of youth in peace processes led by the University of Glasgow. The objectives of the project were to:
- examine the barriers to and strategies for youth-inclusive peace processes
- take stock of the progress of the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) agenda
- investigate and emphasise the significance of youth leadership as peacemakers, mediators and peacebuilders at grassroots and local levels
- explore the pathways for promoting and investing in youth leadership in peace processes through meaningful partnerships, capacity-building and protection
Funded by the AHRC-DFG, The Law of Protracted Conflict: Bridging the Humanitarian-Development Divide (‘Endless Conflicts’) is a collaborative project between the University of Glasgow and Freie Universität Berlin. It is at the forefront of pioneering research on protracted conflicts as the first project to approach the humanitarian-development-peace nexus from an international law perspective.