9 December marks five years since the establishment of UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security. The resolution represented a shift in discourse, acknowledging that young people can and should be powerful peacebuilders, capable of preventing, mitigating and resolving conflict in their communities.
From our work with young people around the world, we know they’re not just the victims or perpetrators of violence, they have the power to act for peace and the vision and ideas to achieve this. For peace to last, young people have to be included. But in some of the contexts in which we work, it’s clear that before young people can participate in peacebuilding, they first have to build trusted relationships within their communities. We need to support young people to challenge societal misperceptions of youth as architects of violence, in particular young men who are also often viewed as ‘protectors’ of their communities. For young women, obstacles to their involvement in peacebuilding are often rooted in patriarchal attitudes and traditional gender roles.
One way we’ve been helping young people to challenge these stereotypes, is through giving them opportunities to acquire practical skills that can be applied straight away to support their communities. For example, in Nigeria, youth groups have led projects to repair community machinery and facilities, and in the Philippines young people have supported community waste management projects. Supporting their own communities in these practical, visible ways enables elders and community leaders to see young people in a new light, helping to transform attitudes to young people’s value in the life of the community. Participating in community projects also helps to build young people’s confidence to engage in wider community issues and decisions, including on conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
And participating in these projects benefits young people in the long term. They’re learning important skills that can be used to gain employment. In the Central African Republic, our research shows the importance of livelihoods and employment in providing young people with alternatives to violence and preventing recruitment to armed groups. We’ve worked with over 600 young people, assisting them to develop the skills required to start their own business or find meaningful employment through education.
COVID-19 and community support
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic young people have also taken on vital roles in the community response. In Nigeria, Youth Peace Platforms have been using their networks to share important messages about the pandemic and how to stay safe. In Abkhazia, younger people are supporting the humanitarian response to the crisis, which is helping to build connections with other civil society organisations in the region.
In the Central African Republic, where we’ve been supporting young people with skills for employment alongside peacebuilding training, we’re now seeing them take the lead in responding to COVID-19. They’ve worked with health officials to map likely COVID-19 hotspots and the areas most at risk of conflict as a result of the pandemic. They’re also working with journalists and health workers to produce radio shows, countering misinformation and sharing important advice.
Improved relations between young people and their communities, can in turn help to open up other spaces for them to participate, including where decisions are made. In the Central African Republic, young people who have helped the COVID-19 response are now meeting regularly with local mayors to share their conflict analysis and ideas for preventing violence and mitigating tensions.
A shift in the way young people are viewed by their own society in conflict settings can have a transformative effect on their peacebuilding potential, and COVID-19 is showing how valuable they are, and can be, to community security.