At a recent international event on the Gender Dimensions of International Peace and Security in the UAE, organised by TRENDS Research & Advisory, the inclusion of youth was a strong theme that emerged from the keynote speakers and panel members. The Women, Peace and Security Agenda is the product of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which calls on UN Member States to give greater attention to the gender dimensions of all aspects of peace and security. At the heart of this agenda is widening our understanding of participants and perspectives in all aspects of peace and security. Alongside empowering women, and furthering understanding of the gender dimensions, the experts at the event provided another key message that the world’s youth needs to be involved also. The emphasis on youth reinforced the need to educate the upcoming generations on the gender dimensions of peace and security, as well as policy and practices giving appropriate attention to the positive contributions youth can make to the peace and security agenda.
On the 9th December 2015, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2250, recognising the tangible capabilities of youth in preventing conflict and being key actors in post conflict reconstruction and lasting security. It states that there should be unprecedented support and recognition to young women and men around the world, as crucial participants in the peacebuilding process. The Resolution urges Member States to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable and ensure the inclusion and meaningful participation of youth in issues of peace and security. UNSCR 2250 means that Member States can no longer ignore the lived experiences and voices of youth in addressing matters of peace and security.
UNSCR 2250 stands with UNSCR 1325 by expanding participation among all those impacted by conflict and addressing the necessary role of diverse participants in addressing conflict resolution and post conflict security. However, there is one difficulty across these agendas that will impact the extent to which participation will be expanded in practice – who are the “youth”?
As a percentage of the population, the number of youth has never been higher across the globe and in many situations where countries are most affected by armed conflict, youth, including children, are the majority of the population. The expanding youth population has largely been characterized as a ‘youth bulge’ problem. This term was created by German social scientist Gunnar Heinsohn in the mid-1990s. In these situations, young men in conflict-affected societies have largely been portrayed with negativity and thought of as having the potential to delay or stop any peace process. In addition, young women are seen as passive victims in need of protection. This portrayal defines the involvement of youth in peace and security as a securitised measure where youth are merely objects and not participants. However, the involvement of youth should be seen as an inherent good and necessary factor in securing peace. UNSRC 2250, encourages Member States to meaningfully engage and empower youth to participate in discussions on issues of peace and security. This Resolution also goes some way to counteract the current negative view of youth, moving beyond the perceived threats posed by youth involvement, to recognise and promote youth as co-creators in the building of lasting peace.
UNSCR 225O has five main components for expanding the role of youth in peace and security.
UNSCR 2250 has direct correlation to UNSCR 1325 which was the first resolution to address the disproportionate and distinctive impact of armed conflict on women. In addition to UNSCR 1325, seven resolutions on women, peace and security have been adopted that identify the importance of recognising the contribution of women, and in some instances include a direct reference to girls, and calls for women’s equal and full participation in:
From these resolutions, there is much content that identifies and calls for policies and practices that include women, youth, and children. The difficulty we face is defining or determining who are the constituents of the youth and young people mentioned in the resolutions. In the various resolutions concerning the women, peace and security agenda, there are two that include the empowerment and involvement of girls. UNSCR 2122 (2013) was the first Resolution to incorporate the terms ‘girls empowerment’ but then goes on to only mention women when presenting the importance of participation in the peace building process and conflict resolution. UNSCR 2242 (2015) states that the Security Council is “reaffirming that women’s and girls’ empowerment and gender equality are critical to conflict prevention and broader efforts to maintain international peace and security”.
Therefore, UNSCR 2250 can be seen as a much needed statement that identifies the benefits of empowering and including both female and male youth equally; increasing the representation of youth from both genders in decision-making at all levels; and, giving them the opportunity to be heard in discussions regarding peace and security. During the development of this resolution, Jordan’s representative to the Security Council, Dina Kawar, stated, “What we seek is to draw the world’s attention to ensure that young people are given the attention they deserve at a time when the world is a theatre for an increasing number of negative issues”. With UNSCR 2250, the Security Council also urges Member States to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable youth to participate meaningfully in peace processes and dispute resolution. Member States are encouraged to engage local communities and non-governmental actors in shaping lasting peace and to contribute to justice and reconciliation. Through linking with these groups – youth with local communities and NGOs – governments can support and promote meaningful participation of young people and give them a direct at critical points in the peace making process.
There are a number of positive outcome examples of involving youth in the peace and security process. A number of these, titled ‘Promising Practices’ are included in the Young Peoples Participation in Peacebuilding: A practice Note (2016), headed by the United Nations Inter-Agency Network of Youth Development Working Group on Youth and Peacebuilding established in 2012. This is a range of examples of the positive impact that youth have had in conflict-affected environments; the impact of these environments on youth and the importance of supporting youth’s participation to peacebuilding.
Examples from the practice note include the World Vision’s Children’s Parliament project which created child-led advocacy, problem solving, and conflict resolution groups in Kipushi, Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2014, the World Vision’s Children’s Parliament project created child-led advocacy, problem solving, and conflict resolution groups in Kipushi, Democratic Republic of Congo. World Vision developed the Children’s Parliament project as a way for children and youth to recognise and realise their rights and to advocate for vulnerable peers. The strategy used here to address the problem was to empower children and youth from different religious backgrounds and train them such topics as child protection mechanisms, social cohesion, child rights, and peace. The children and youth then passed this training on to their peers and parents to promote social cohesion and prevent children and youth from being separated or enrolled into armed groups.
Across the other resolutions mentioned above there is no clear indication or consistent use of terms regarding youth, young people, boys and girls. This may appear to be a minor detail, but if policies and actions are going to be effectively targeted, it is critical for appropriate recognition. The problem is that key component groups may be overlooked or excluded if we do not have some clarity as to who the “youth” are. In both national and international practice, the definition of the term ‘youth’ varies. This can lead to confusion or could give reason for Member States not to support certain actions or for international activities to be misdirected.
One starting point is Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) that defines ‘children’ as persons up to the age of 18 years; and children and youth are interchangeable for many. State practice on the use of a particular age for matters such as voting, criminal responsibility, or generally the ‘age of majority’, varies dramatically. According to the Convention a child is under the age of 18 years and at the age of 18, for the purposes of human rights, that person is now an adult.
UNSRC 2250, defines youth as persons aged 18 to 29 years. It acknowledges the meaning of the term ‘youth’ varies in different societies around the world. Definitions of youth have altered in response to changing political, economic and social conditions. This includes the different definitions of the term ‘youth’ that occur on national and international levels, including the definition of youth in previous resolutions. It is not clear why there are such variations of language or definition. In General Assembly resolutions A/RES/50/81 World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond in 1995, and A/RES/56/117, the General Assembly Resolution on Policies and Programmes Involving Youth, the world youth population was defined by the United Nations as aged 15 to 24 years. This definition was endorsed by the General Assembly in 1981 in preparation for the International Youth Year in 1985.
The consistent use of language and agreed definition is important in such documentation. In the women, peace and security agenda there is inconsistency in the language used in the resolutions. For example, the use of the term ‘girls’ there is no age range associated with this term in any substantive documentation; same with reference to ‘boys’. UNSCR 1820 and UNSCR 1888, include the term ‘girls’ when identifying the impact of violence on females, it states “women and girls” and “women and children, notably girls”. However, the term ‘girls’ that was “notably” included in the previous resolutions is missing from UNSCR 2106. This states,
“Affirming that women’s political, social and economic empowerment, gender equality and the enlistment of men and boys in the effort to combat all forms of violence against women are central to long-term efforts to prevent sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations.”
It can be acknowledged that girls can be taken as included in such a statement under the term “women” but the lack of direct mention can also have consequences in reducing the significance of the impact that violence has on girls. And questions must be asked why “men and boys” is used, and not “women and girls”?
There are examples of documentation linked to the United Nations resolutions that acknowledge the importance of including and recognising girls, boys and young people, but without any clear clarification. For example, the Guiding Principles on Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding, were developed by the Subgroup on Youth Participation in Peacebuilding of the UN Interagency Network on Youth Development. In Principle Three, Be Sensitive to Gender Dynamics, the guidance suggests that all key actors should consider these principles when working towards “inclusive and inter-generational peacebuilding strategies,
3.1 Avoid stereotypical assumptions about the roles and aspirations of girls, boys, young women, young men and young transgender people in conflict.
3.2 Recognize the specific grievances or vulnerabilities that young people may have as a result of conflict and violence, and that these experiences are often gendered.
3.3 Identify strategies to reach out to young women, seek their engagement, and create a safe space to raise their specific issues and concerns and support their initiatives”.
As can be seen, the guidance uses many of the terms to refer to young people. This is a problem when you consider the term ‘young women’ is used and not girls in the last point, that could create confusion over at what age does a girl/young woman need a ‘safe space’. Therefore, the UNSR 1325 on Gender Dimensions and UNSGR 2250 on Youth Dimensions should be brought together and taken forward jointly by Member States to bring clarity to the terms used and ensure that girls are given the right opportunities.
Girls’ participation is vital to eradicating poverty, developing the economy, and fighting climate change. However, there are very few girls currently involved in peace and security discussions and decisions. Across the world, more needs to be done for support and the empowerment of girls and young women to achieve equality with boys and young men as part of the peace and security agenda. This is occurring in areas such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. This clearly calls for the inequalities and discrimination against girls and women to be eradicated and acknowledges the fundamental right of girls and women to be part of the discussions and decision making process for a peaceful world.
The contribution of both girls and boys, young women and young men, must be recognised and acted upon. Girls and young women are youth, just the same as boys and young men are. It is important that Member States recognise the importance of the empowerment of all youth through building their capacity to develop their confidence and resilience, which will lead to their participation in making decisions that affect their lives.
To help overcome the confusion in the terms used, the United Nations Inter-Agency Network of Youth Development Working Group on Youth and Peacebuilding provide a range of recommendations. These include:
If the youth of the world are not involved in making the current decisions being made regarding peace and security, then it is unlikely they will buy in to the decision and actively uphold decisions taken without them.
Peace and security is a very complex situation but it is something that the youth of the world are willing and able to take on now and in the future. Youth cannot become what they would like to be until they are part of the decision making process that will affect them. Further research is needed to work with youth to further identify best practice and ensure participation of all groups of youth in this decision making process. The youth of today, are willing and able to participate in meaningful discussions and make decisions about their world, their state, their country, their peace and security. Equally important is identifying and acknowledging the importance of women and calling for women’s equal and full participation in peace and security processes. However, this must also be accompanied by the identification and acknowledgment of the importance of girls and young women in peace and security processes. Gender empowerment and involvement processes and programs, without including girls and young women is a wasted opportunity.