New research report: Making Noise and Getting Things Done: Youth Inclusion and Advocacy for Peace. Lessons from Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. Read the full report here.
Authors: Savannah Spalding, Casey-Jade Odgers-Jewell, Hayley Payne, Caitlin Mollica and Helen Berents
Since the establishment of the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) agenda in 2015 with UN Security Council Resolution 2250, heightened attention has been paid to the relationship between youth peacebuilders and institutions responsible for building peace. While transforming formal spaces for peace is an important priority for the pursuit of inclusive practices; the foundational peace work youth are doing in their communities should not be overlooked or underestimated. Valuing the contributions of youth to peace requires that we acknowledge the multitude of spaces where youth are leading, and innovating, despite limited access to resources and heightened security threats.
Youth are leaders in peace not merely beneficiaries of peace processes. Efforts toward implementing inclusive strategies within formal institutions, and to create platforms for coordination between the informal and formal work have been slow, hard fought and largely stuck in the “ideas” phase. Yet, transitioning from ideas to action requires understanding the work being done by youth.
This new report, Making Noise and Getting Things Done: Youth Inclusion and Advocacy for Peace, draws on stories of young people’s peace work in Afghanistan, Myanmar and South Sudan. Research was facilitated by Search for Common Ground, and undertaken in a youth-led, adult-support model, with three youth researchers undertaking virtual interviews with youth peacebuilders.
In the report, we offer practical recommendations emerging from youth peacebuilders themselves, for how national, regional and international stakeholders can support and amplify the fundamental and vital peace work youth are leading within their communities. As we celebrate the 6th anniversary of the first UN Security Council resolution on YPS, and ahead of the UN’s High Level Global Conference on Youth-Inclusive Peace Processes in January 2022, this report extends the evidence base on youth-inclusive peace processes, and youth advocacy for peace more broadly.
Below we provide a snapshot of these stories and recommendations, written by the youth researchers who conducted the interviews, and reflecting the words and ideas of the youth peacebuilders who spoke with us. More details of the youth peacebuilders’ work and our recommendations for more youth-inclusive global, and national peacebuilding policy can be found in the full report, here.
(Hayley Payne, Youth Researcher and Country Lead–Myanmar)
In February 2021 the world watched as youth from across Myanmar took to the streets to peacefully protest the coup d’état. While much of the news focused on the visible activism taking place, our discussions with youth activists revealed many other complex and ongoing strategies implemented and designed by youth to foster and advocate for youth inclusive peace processes.
Youth peacebuilder’s work in Myanmar demonstrates substantive leadership and innovation. Our discussions revealed a commitment to acknowledging youth as leaders now, not just in the future. We spoke to youth whose activism seeks to promote non violent and inclusive peace through initiatives including education programs and campaigns focused on peacebuilding skills, capacity building, networking and coalition building activities. Central to their work is a commitment to empowerment, and to creating peer-to-peer dialogues for peace in urban and rural areas.
“So, I think it is really important for young people to empower them to develop to their full potential, and also helping them to, you know, communicate peace, communicate in a nonviolent way to create a better world to build their communities.” – Young man, Myanmar
Many youth also emphasized that their leadership and activism is a fight for their futures, and their dreams. Young people in Myanmar grew up in a new democratic society, had started building bright futures and were working hard to have a seat at the table in peace processes. They don’t want that to be taken away from them and it is more important now than ever for those with influence to listen to these young people and to support them in working toward youth inclusive peace.
“But what I’m sure is that right now, when you look at the media, when you look at the news, young people are leading from the front line. More, a lot of young people have given their lives for this fight. And the fight is because of the dreams, right?” – Young man, Myanmar
(Casey-Jade Odgers-Jewell, Youth Researcher and Country Lead–South Sudan)
South Sudan’s efforts to sustain the hard fought peace, solidified in 2018 by the formal peace agreement, remains critical to the country’s future. Speaking to young activists revealed that they are invested in building communities, where deeply embedded grievances are not lasting barriers to sustainable peace.
To overcome these, and to contribute to a foundational peace for all youth, regardless of location, gender or socio-economic status, they have developed their own strategies and mechanisms that centre their voices in the discussions for peace. s. Educational and capacity-building programs, radio shows, hotlines, networking, intergenerational community dialogues, local sports, and social media movements are just a few of the many creative and complex peacebuilding initiatives being championed by youth in South Sudan. At the centre of these peacebuilding activities is the advancement of unity between youth within and across communities and generations.
“The reason why we have intergenerational dialogue is to bridge the gap between the older women and the younger woman. And when we had it, we had a lot of grievances…But during that day, we had that communication with older women…And they took the initiative, they say they will be mentoring the young women in that room” – Young woman, South Sudan
For young people in South Sudan, meaningful inclusion means taking their leadership seriously in the creation of sustainable peace. Importantly, the diversity of youth perspectives, particularly those of young women and girls, need to be acknowledged as central to overcoming the challenges that create the conditions for conflict in the first place.
“Whether at the grassroots, whether from the beginning until the end, the youth voices have to be included, and the youth have to be at the table every time there is a peace processes happening” – Young man, South Sudan
(Savannah Spalding, Youth Researcher and Country Lead–Afghanistan)
Young people in Afghanistan have limited influence over formal peace processes, and since the Taliban takeover in October, youth peacebuilders have faced enormous risks and insecurity for their work. However, young Afghans have been employing creative strategies to participate in peacebuilding at a community level for a long time. They do not wait for an invitation to join peace processes, instead they create peace wherever they are, even in conflict. Initiatives include providing maternal health care, drinking water, menstrual hygiene, and social media training; conducting debates; writing poems; and sending doctors to young children. Whilst these programs do not fall under the traditional definition of peace, they form the foundations of peace and contribute to peace-building work.
“[At] the national level… people love talking but they don’t like practicing peace. They want to hold elite conferences about peace. They want to invite all these delegates from all these areas and all these academics to come… but they won’t fund a village that has been under war and has lost more than 1700 people to war.” – Young woman, Afghanistan
Expanding the definition of peacebuilding work to include this informal participation is vital in recognising the important work done by young people. It is also important given the ever-changing context in Afghanistan. In the current situation, there is little hope for peace negotiations or an end to the conflict. However, young people are well equipped to bring about peace in their own communities. This foundational peace is more important now than ever, and we can take hope in the fact that youth in Afghanistan have been practicing this peace for a long time.
“In Afghanistan, in a lot of provinces, there is conflict but at the same time, we have a lot of activists we have a lot of peace builders working in their communities and bringing changes and trying to resolve the conflict.”– Young woman, Afghanistan
Evident across the three countries is the urgent need for international stakeholders to meaningfully include, support, and fund youth peacebuilders. Youth and their leadership for peace is now more visible than ever, yet these advocates face very real challenges for the continuation of this work. Formal peace processes must seek to adopt practices that are inclusive at all stages and of all youth, including voices of dissent. At the same time, youth-led organizations must be meaningfully supported to continue their vital peace work that is committed to building the foundational conditions for peace. Renewed efforts are needed to close the gap between formal and informal space for peace to enable and empower youth’s voices across the peacebuilding landscape. The report offers five key messages that reflect youth peacebuilders’ recommendations:
- Enable and foster networks for youth peacebuilders connecting formal and informal processes and initiatives.
- Support and facilitate substantive youth inclusion in formal peace processes.
- Commit to long-term funding, training, and resourcing of youth initiatives to create the conditions for peace agreements to be reached, and to ensure they endure.
- Ensure protection for young people involved in peace processes and peace advocacy.
- Prioritise practices that ensure substantive attention to the inclusion of a diverse range of youth in formal and informal peace processes
Read the full report, Making Noise and Getting Things Done: Youth Inclusion and Advocacy for Peace. Lessons from Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar, here.