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Beyond the Normative: Youth, Peace and Security

Personally, the youth discourse has held little to no interest to me nor has youth as an age group. It is, after all, just one more aspect of my identity reinforcing my marginality and exclusion from decision making. As far as marginalized identities go, youth in itself is a relatively new conceptual category, denoting the stage between childhood and adulthood but not really quite either; a period of ‘wait hood’ right before adulthood.  Each culture or region has its very own socio-cultural criteria to mark the transition from ‘waithood’ to adulthood. [1]

Estimates now show that by 2100, Africa will account for 3.2 billion of the projected 4 billion increase in the global population. The global working age population is projected to increase by an estimated 2.1 billion, compared to a net global increase of 2 billion over the same time frame.[2] This transition has important socio-economic ramifications; making youth the new buzz word, along with ‘harnessing the demographic dividend’, ‘youth engagement’ and ‘investing in youth’ among others, making the growing young population a major agenda in the global peace and security discourse.

Youth, Peace and Security Resolution 2250

In December 2015, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), unanimously adopted Resolution 2250 (UNSCR 2250) on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS). The Resolution, which was adopted in December 2015 referencing the Women, Peace and security agenda, acknowledges that today’s population of youth is the” largest the world has ever known”. The resolution is the first to recognize the important and positive role young women and men play in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security; expressing concern that youth are the most adversely affected by armed conflict while also recognizing the role that young people play in peace building while acknowledging that to involve young people in peace building processes, they must in turn be recognized as stakeholders.

Therefore, the resolution calls for “inclusive and youth friendly policies” to tap into the potential of youth today in order to build sustainable peace and economic development.  The resolution further identifies the varied intersecting identities of youth with different backgrounds under the five pillars of participation, protection, prevention, partnership as well as disengagement and integration. The first pillar participation calls for an increased inclusive representation of youth in decision making in prevention and resolution of conflict; including taking into account the participation and views of youth when negotiating and implementing peace agreement. The second pillar of protection calls for the respect for human rights for all individuals, including youth, within their territory, including protection from sexual and gender based violence.

The third pillar looks at prevention in terms of facilitation of enabling environments where young women and men are recognized and provided support to implement violence prevention activities and promote social cohesion. This pillar calls for the promotion of a culture of peace, tolerance, intercultural and interreligious dialogue involving youth. The pillar on partnership calls for partnerships that take into account the needs as well as participation of youth in peace efforts, including the engagement of local and international stakeholders to counter the ‘violent extremist’ narrative. Finally, the fifth pillar calls for disengagement and integration, calling for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration activities to consider the needs of youth affected by armed conflict. This includes skill and capacity building trough educational systems designed to build a culture of peace.  The resolution further requested the Secretary General to commission a progress study on young people’s positive roles in the YPS agenda.

The Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security (UNSCR 2250)

On August 2016, the Secretary-General appointed an independent lead author, Graeme Simpson, to develop the Study, as well as an Advisory Group of Experts, including 21 scholars, practitioners and young leaders. The progress study is an independent report which has been documenting young people’s positive involvement in sustaining peace and will identify innovative practices on the ground. The Progress Study models this intent through an inclusive and participatory methodology where young people are given an opportunity to substantively contribute to the discussions on peace and security issues in their communities, and to identify solutions for  and indicators of the progress for the YPS agenda.

As of October 2017 seven regional consultations with youth from civil society were held, involving youth from 157 countries. The process also encompassed studies on specific countries and led to the completion of 14 country case-studies and over 120 focus group discussions with “hard-to-reach youth” and 20 thematic papers were developed. As a follow up to the regional consultation on the progress study on the UNSC resolution 2250, a validation consultation for the Progress study in Youth, Peace and Security took place in New York in November 2017. The validation featured discussions on the findings and recommendations identified by the study. The findings of the progress study will be launched on February 2018 with a ‘forward looking agenda’.

Widening the scope, enabling the intersectionality of youth

A somewhat cynical dissection of the current discussions on youth oscillates between one of abstract utopic potential exemplified by the now popular ‘demographic dividend rhetoric to that of youth as faceless masses of persons –“underclass, unruly, male, challengingly out of place-morally immature and physically powerful enough to seize from their elders”.[3] Shifting from the preoccupation that every new generation as being constantly hell bent to erase the past and build anew, the current policy fixation in the ‘youth bulge’ is the optimal opportunity to finally redirect that pattern.

Hierarchical relationships with the youth are soon losing their viability in this fast paced reality; especially at the decision making levels, this can even be self-defeating. A condescending instrumental view of youth is no longer viable and policymakers would do better to focus on building new patterns of interaction between young people and states that should use youth led political participation as a process to cultivate or renew ‘civic trust’. Furthermore,  addressing the gendered dimension of decision making as it intersects with age based gendered hierarchies that alienate young women from decision making processes can be offset by ensuring that young women have safe spaces for  participation.

The key may be embracing the intersecting identities of youth in policy making and enabling young people to participate in youth led spaces including but not limited to peace building processes as well as ensuring intergenerational experience sharing platforms and mentorship to enable intergenerational leaning. While it is a simpler policy option to lump young people as one faceless and usually masculine mass in search of economic opportunities, the reality may be vastly different. Young men and women’s intersecting identities transcends gender and race. Recognition of this fact entails abandoning the romanticization of youth as a source of boundless potential for change and a focus on the more mundane task of appeasing a growing diverse demographic reality. This paradigm shift on the part of policy stakeholders may guarantee that the next generation will not have to entirely ‘reinvent the wheel’, leaving space for social innovation and dare I hope, peace.

 

Sewit Haile Selassie Tadesse is a freelance consultant whose professional and research interests include leadership development, economic development, feminism, masculinity, reproductive health, peace building, governance as well as the nexus between gender, youth and peace building. She can be reached at sewithst@gmail.com. She also blogs on, www.awib.org.et and https://africanfeminism.com/.

 

[1]Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff. “Reflections on Youth, From the Past to the Postcolony.” In Makers & Breakers: Children & Youth in Postcolonial Africa. Oxford: Africa World Press, 2006. Honwana,

[2]  Africa Rising: Harnessing the Demographic Dividend , Paulo Drummond, VimalThakoor, and Shu Yu, IMF Working Paper, August 2014

[3] Comaroff, Jean, and John Comaroff. “Reflections on Youth, From the Past to the Postcolony.” In Makers & Breakers: Children & Youth in Postcolonial Africa. Oxford: Africa World Press, 2006.

 

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