There are over 1.8 billion youth in the world today. While there is no clear universal definition of “youth”, the 1.8 million includes individuals up to the age of 33. The percentage of youth in the global population is the largest in history, posing both challenges and opportunities for building a peaceful world. The challenges include more than one-fifth of global youth not being in employment, education or training, and a quarter are affected by violence or armed conflict. At the same time the world itself is facing existential threats to global peace and security due to climate change, economic inequality, the threats of terrorism, and the impact of conflict and instability. Resolving these global challenges for all is not an easy task and is not going to occur immediately, making it imperative to engage and empower young people as partners, and leaders, in pursuing global sustainable peace.
In support of these efforts TRENDS Research & Advisory and Women in International Security recently held a global conference in Abu Dhabi, on “Youth & Sustainable Peace.” The conference gave youth the opportunity to share their voices, experiences and insights on how to pursue sustainable peace. All of the speakers at the event were under 33 years old, showing the organisers’ commitment to empowering youth. The event demonstrated that youth have a great deal to offer in overcoming global challenges making it necessary to ensure their engagement. Youth are committed and actively engaged for bringing about sustainable peace. To support and further embolden this commitment it is imperative to recognise the valuable and insightful input young people can have, when they are given the opportunity to participate and engage.
In opening the event, Her Excellency, Sarah Al Amiri, Minister of State for Advanced Sciences, spoke of the UAE’s efforts to empower youth through active engagement in undertaking major shifts in how global challenges are approached. Her Excellency called for youth to be fully engaged in these processes as they bring keys skills in adaptability and recognising opportunities. Her Excellency said we need to trust in the abilities of youth and ensure that engagement is through active participation in what is occurring around them and in the world, concluding “They should be designers of the future with ownership of it.” The UAE is excelling in engaging youth in governance. A Minister of Youth position was created in 2016, with the first appointment, Her Excellency Shamma Al Mazuri, taking the post at the age of 22. From this, Youth Councils have been created across government, advising upon initiatives and supporting efforts for empowering and engaging youth.
The Youth & Sustainable Peace conference came at an important stage of global developments in relation to youth engagement. In September 2018 the UN launched Youth2030: The United Nations Strategy on Youth. This organisational strategy builds upon UN Security Council Resolution 2250, adopted in 2015, that called upon all Member States to ensure meaningful participation by youth in peace building and dispute resolution, and to give youth greater voice at all levels of governance. This was followed by Security Council Resolution 2419 (2018) that called for increased presence and participation by youth in peace building. This latest Resolution recognises that leaving youth out of peace building processes makes sustainable peace is difficult to achieve. The UN’s Youth Strategy makes clear that youth engagement, participation and advocacy, with the amplification of youth voices, will work to bring about a peaceful, just and sustainable world.
The conference took on the UN Youth Strategy through a Youth Forum to discuss the Fifth Priority of the Strategy “Peace and Resilience Building – Support young people as catalysts for Peace and Security & Humanitarian Action.” There were nine participants in this Forum and they began with a key point for furthering youth engagement, which is destigmatising youth as a problem or threat in society. Too often youth are seen as a burden, rather than an important resource where we should harness the energy, ideas and innovation that they bring to matters facing society. To do this, the participants explained that very basic things need to be done to amplify youth voice in policy formation and decision making – youth should be listened to as equal voices; youth should not merely be told what to do, but rather should be consulted about what is going on to gain their input; and the lived experiences of youth provide an important contribution to policy discussions. The participants emphasised that youth engagement is to be constructed as a partnership with governments and adults. It was recognised by the participants that youth still have much to learn and individuals spoke of the need and desire for enhanced opportunities and safe spaces for learning and understanding. The Forum made clear that expertise does not come with a defined age, as the participants demonstrated their expertise in understanding how youth can contribute to, and be part of, sustainable peace. The Forum also demonstrated the dynamic nature of youth participation as the individuals had already created networks of understanding and knowledge sharing.
The Forum was followed by two Panels, the first looking at the connections between the youth and sustainable peace agenda and the women, peace and security agenda. The second panel examined strategies for empowering youth in the pursuit of sustainable peace. The first panel addressed the need to change the narratives surround youth and women when it comes to security. Too often categories are created by institutions into which individuals are placed, regardless of their circumstances or lived experiences. The panellists discussed how more needs to be done to recognise both the opportunities and capabilities available to individual youth members to bring out the best they have to offer. The participants of the second panel reflected upon their own individual stories of empowerment. From this they were able to stress key elements of good practice. The main issues examined were that youth engagement must be “meaningful” whereby the participation of youth is on an equitable basis, that their voices are listened to and seen as a valuable contribution to discussions, and that all of this is openly recognised.
The conference showed clearly that youth are able and capable of being part of the processes and policies for creating sustainable peace. The participants demonstrated that youth need to be given a seat at the table for crafting a better world. Young people today are connected to each other like never before, and are more committed to innovation, social progress through the use of new technologies, global social networks and the sharing economy. They exemplify the ability of innovation and creativity to transform our world. Investing in these young agents of change is not just essential, it has the potential for a tremendous multiplier effect amongst those for whom the future is not a distant consideration, but part of their lived experience.
From the conference, the youth that participated, came forth with clear recommendations for the future. These include:
There is a global trend building in recognition of the importance of youth engagement in peace and security matters. Developments are occurring at the local, national and global levels. Further and continual action needs to support the creation of networks of youth across these varying levels. This support can come from governments and international organisations, but also through the private sector and civil society to ensure the diverse capabilities of youth are harnessed for peace building.