Ignored No More?: Young Peacebuilders Make Their Mark

Across the globe, young people are devising creative ways to prevent violence and consolidate peace. Against existing barriers and new challenges in recent years, they have acted as front-line responders to the COVID-19 pandemic, combated the spread of misinformation in Myanmar, and reached out to marginalized communities in Guatemala. Six years after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2250 (2015), however, young people’s crucial contributions to peace are yet to be adequately recognized. We looked at two powerful examples of young people making a difference in the Central African Republic and Somalia.

The case for including young people in efforts to prevent violent conflict and build peace is obvious. About a quarter of the world’s young people — over 400 million people — live in settings affected by armed conflict or organized violence. At a minimum, not taking young people into account in peacebuilding programming would fail to acknowledge a large part of the population, if not the majority, in many countries wracked by peace, security and development challenges. The latest report of the Secretary-General on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) urges Member States to prioritize inclusive partnerships with young peacebuilders and accelerate efforts to address persistent gaps in financing youth engagement in peacebuilding and conflict prevention. It covers progress in implementing the YPS agenda as it addresses the five pillars outlined in resolution 2250 (2015): participation, protection, prevention, disengagement and reintegration, and partnerships.

And yet, young people continue to experience exclusion from decision-making processes that affect them. They also perceive an apparent inability — and a related lack of accountability — of older generations to address critical issues such as climate change, inequalities, injustices, corruption and conflicts. Many young activists face additional burdens in the form of threats and harassment and shrinking civic space, both online and offline.

A central concern for the youth and peace and security agenda, since its inception, is ensuring adequate financing to address these challenges across humanitarian, development and peace interventions that will be key to renewing the social contract and achieving sustainable peace and development. The United Nations, through the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), continues to support the agenda.

Since its establishment in 2016, the Fund has invested $105 million in 83 youth projects (Figure III from the report). In 2020 and 2021, PBF invested a total of $47.9 million in 35 projects through the annual Youth Promotion Initiative (YPI) — the largest dedicated funding window in support of the agenda. In 2021, for example, the PBF approved a project to help address trauma and psychosocial needs of internally displaced young women and men in the Central African Republic. The aim is to support their participation in dialogue and reconciliation activities without fearing retribution.

In Somalia, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) implemented another YPI project to reduce inter-communal conflict over natural resources in Marka District, supporting young people from Biyomal and Habargidir sub-clans to lead the development of inclusive and participatory resource management mechanism and governance systems.

The 18-month project involved hundreds of young men and women, as well as community members and clan elders belonging to various clans (Baidoa, Jawhar and Caabudwaag) during over 630 community dialogues that discussed concrete actions to prevent the escalation of violent conflict and foster supportive relations.

In the wake of the project, the city of Abduwak in central Somalia saw its first-ever peace march. In November 2020, thousands of youth came together in the town to call for an end to hostilities and deliver messages of peace. The Chairperson of Abudwak Women’s Organization recognized the role of the youth in the march and said, “I acknowledge and applaud the youth organizers of this event. Truly, you are an inspiration.”

“I never thought I could have friends from other clans and trust them,” said one young participant from Abudwak. “I can now see youth who were previously engaged in hostilities now engaging in peacebuilding. Instead of being destructive, we are now united on improving our community. We motivate each other.”

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