Inclusive and peaceful societies—a view from Sweden

Ahead of the 2017 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, Sigrid Gruener and Matilda Hald underscore the importance of inclusivity in building a peaceful society.

It was a diverse group: a policewoman from Malmö, a Holocaust survivor and psychologist, a Paralympic champion, a young politician from a Stockholm suburb, and Sweden’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Eight speakers—all Swedes—shared powerful stories about how they work in different ways towards building peace in and for Sweden.

The event was the Stockholm Peace Talks, organised by Interpeace on the theme ‘Better Together’. Each story provided evidence on the importance of inclusivity in building a peaceful society and demonstrated how diverse perspectives are needed. A clear message came through: the concepts of peace and inclusion are as relevant in Sweden as they are in contexts of violent conflict.

Since exclusion can function as a conflict driver, inclusive approaches have long been considered crucial for building and sustaining peace. Inclusive approaches can take diverse forms. They may, for example, include efforts to increase participation among different communities or demographic groups in peace processes, strengthening representation of women, ethnic or religious minorities, young people or rural populations. Likewise, they often seek to broaden consultations in the design, implementation and monitoring of national peacebuilding strategies to include different perspectives, like local government, civil society and the private sector. Inclusive approaches may similarly encompass initiatives that seek to diversify representation within the same sector, for example, international, national and local policymakers.

For peacebuilding processes to lead to sustainable peace, participation and engagement from a broad spectrum of society is required over an extended period. While this is widely recognised, there is still much room for improvement when it comes to international and national efforts to support peacebuilding that is truly inclusive.

Inclusion emphasised in international frameworks

In the past decade, the notion of inclusivity has emerged across a number of global peace and development frameworks. The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for inclusive education, inclusive growth, inclusive industrialisation and inclusive cities, with SDG 16 in particular calling for the pursuit of peaceful, just and inclusive societies. Multi-stakeholder partnerships have been identified as crucial in Agenda 2030 implementation, not least to fulfil the Agenda’s commitment to leaving no one behind.

Women’s inclusion in peace processes has been on the policy agenda since the turn of the millennium, when the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 was adopted. It took a bit longer but the need to engage youth in peacebuilding also received international recognition in 2015 with the adoption of UNSCR 2250. Most recently, the dual sustaining peace resolutions adopted in the Security Council (USCR 2282) and General Assembly (A/RES/70/262) underscore the importance of inclusion in advancing national peacebuilding processes to ensure that the needs of all people are taken into account.

They explicitly highlight the imperative of women’s leadership and participation in conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding and call on UN member states and other relevant bodies to strengthen youth participation in decision-making processes through education, skills enhancement and employment opportunities. The implications of these international frameworks were discussed last year at the 2016 Stockholm Forum on Security and Development, resulting in some general recommendations on operationalizing inclusion (pdf).

What about peaceful countries?

Sweden is one example of a peaceful country that has been a champion of inclusive peacebuilding and development. However, the universality of Agenda 2030—and the security council resolutions on women, youth and sustaining peace—mean that beyond advocacy, countries traditionally considered peaceful and developed must also measure progress toward targets on inclusion and social cohesion. So what does this mean? There is growing acknowledgement of the devastating impacts of exclusion on societies, especially in those where youth face structural barriers to participation, such as accessing education, employment and social services among other things. Reactions to such exclusion can range from disengagement in elections and political processes to vandalism and participation in gang violence.

Radicalisation and violent extremism are often associated with violence and unrest in fragile and conflict-affected countries. However, these and other threats associated with exclusion and marginalisation pose similar risks in peaceful countries. Rising populism and xenophobia, an increasingly polarised debate regarding migration and growing social cleavages in Sweden point to the need to tackle systematic exclusion.

For relatively peaceful countries like Sweden to be true champions of SDG 16 and conflict prevention internationally, Swedish policymakers and peacebuilding practitioners need to be open and transparent about the reality of the challenges present at home, making an effort to demonstrate what efforts are being made domestically to address those. A public conversation is needed.

How is exclusion, not least of marginalised youth, recognised and countered in the Swedish context? How can lessons learnt from peacebuilding efforts in conflict settings be applied? How can policymakers create more explicit synergies between Sweden’s international and domestic initiatives to bring a common focus and bridge silos that emerge as a result of the firewall that exists between official development assistance and domestic spending? Are there universally applicable principles that can guide our understanding and ability to address marginalisation and exclusion?

A universal conversation

Some organisations have started to acknowledge the need for Sweden to relate its own challenges to the international policy frameworks. Interpeace’s program in Sweden and the recent Peace Talks in Stockholm are examples of this. Another one is the recently established Pluralism and Dialogue Institute at Fryshuset in Stockholm.

The latter initiative will be presented in a session on inclusivity at the upcoming Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development during which inclusivity-related themes will be explored in contexts such as Sri Lanka and the Democratic Republic of Congo, alongside efforts to reach and engage marginalized youth in Sweden.

Following the overarching rubric of this year’s Forum—‘what works’—the aim is to recognise and build on the many lessons that have been learned about deepening inclusion and identify how to apply this knowledge globally, from Tunis to Paris to Chicago.

This blog is also posted on the SIPRI WritePeace Blog


Photo credit: Oskar Kullander for Interpeace

Sigrid Gruener By Sigrid Gruener

About Sigrid Gruener

Sigrid Gruener is Programme Director at the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation with a focus on Peacebuilding, Inclusivity and Human Rights and heads the Foundation’s Office in New York.

In total Sigrid has over 20 years of experience working as a practitioner, trainer, and researcher in the field of development, peacebuilding, and conflict transformation. Prior to joining the Foundation, she worked with diverse civil society organisations and as an implementing partner to the UN in Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Timor Leste, Panama, and the U.S.

Sigrid holds a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and a Bachelor of Arts from American University’s School of International Service in Washington D.C.

Matilda Hald By Matilda Hald

Matilda Hald is a Programme Manager for the Agenda 2030 thematic area and was previously responsible for the Foundation’s ‘Another Development for Burma’ project. Matilda is the Chairperson of the Swedish Burma Committee and has also worked with sustainable development issues as course coordinator and Director of Studies at the Center for Environment and Development Studies, Uppsala University.