9 December 2020 marks the five-year anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS). On a more personal note, it also marks my five-year anniversary of working at the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and, subsequently, on youth, peace and security. As we approach this day, I find myself reflecting on the progress made towards implementation of Resolution 2250 and what is still needed to realise the meaningful inclusion of youth.
My work on YPS started with an exploration on how young people in Myanmar, Sweden and Tunisia engage with their communities and the barriers to participation that they face. I quickly came to understand the importance of this ground-breaking resolution, which recognised at a global level the positive contributions of youth to peace and development.
Over the years, I have had the privilege to work with colleagues from other non-governmental organisations and UN entities to advance the YPS agenda, underscoring the importance of collaboration and coordination in advancing the YPS agenda. We have seen the adoption of two additional Security Council resolutions: Resolution 2419 in June 2018 and Resolution 2535 in July 2020.
Resolution 2535 in particular recognised the importance of engaging diverse young people in efforts to resolve conflicts and sustain peace, as well as the critical need to promote and protect their right to assemble and express their opinions without fear of retribution. Yet, in speaking to young peacebuilders, it is evident that there is much work to be done to support and strengthen the meaningful engagement of youth.
What can a fishbowl teach us about YPS?
The most inspirational aspect of my work on YPS has undoubtedly been talking to young peacebuilders and listening to their experiences and perspectives on how to advance youth participation, as well as to sustain peace.
Earlier this year, in the midst of Zoom fatigue, it was truly inspiring to sit down one Sunday afternoon to talk to Manal in Yemen, Darshatha in Sri Lanka, Bantayehu in Ethiopia and Dania in Colombia. They shared their reflections on what is needed to protect civic spaces for youth to organise for sustainable peace and development. View the conversation in full on the Foundation’s Vimeo page.
A shortened version of their dynamic conversation made up the inner circle portion of a ‘fishbowl dialogue’ entitled ‘Youth inclusion and the protection of civic space: from a policy commitment to a peace dividend’ that the Foundation co-organised with Interpeace, as part of the 2020 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development.
In facilitating a virtual fishbowl dialogue, the session sought to rethink the way in which the international community engages young people. The methodology allowed the voices of youth practitioners to be at the centre of the interactive discussion. It provided a space for key decision makers to listen and gain a better understanding of the lived experiences, practices and resilience of young women and men. Only by listening to youth will we be able to move Security Council resolutions 2250, 2419 and 2535 on YPS from policy to practice.
Following the inner circle dialogue, those in the outer circle – youth leaders, government representatives, donor and development agencies, and national and international civil society organisations – were asked to respond to the points raised in the inner circle. They provided reflections on what the international community can do to support and protect civic space for young people.
From a policy commitment to a peace dividend
The discussion underscored that while advancements have been made, including the above-mentioned resolutions, youth continue to face obstacles to meaningful inclusion. The YPS agenda still does not have enough traction with governments, and there are few systematic plans, including National Action Plans, for how to integrate youth into decision making.
Global trends of shrinking civic space also impact youth spaces. As raised in the session, a significant number of United Network of Young (UNOY) Peacebuilders members have reported shrinking civic space as the most pressing challenge in advancing their work. In many contexts, the barriers to participation that young people face have been augmented by the current COVID-19 pandemic, with certain groups more severely affected than others.
The conversation reflected a few recurring themes that have arisen throughout my five years of working on youth, peace and security, some of which are elaborated in a report that the Foundation published earlier this year on the role of the UN in operationalising the YPS agenda. These should be addressed in order to move beyond policy recognition to implementation.
- Collaboration is key. In engaging youth, the process is just as important as the outcome. The international community should partner with youth, specifically with smaller and grassroots youth organisations and initiatives, from pre-design to monitoring and evaluation. This type of collaboration is particularly important in building trust between young people and the institutions that have historically excluded them.
- Advancing the YPS agenda requires governments to tackle the structural barriers to engagement faced by youth. For example, strengthening access to and the quality of educational institutions, including non-formal and traditional education; removing bureaucratic processes that require youth to apply for licenses to organise; removing age restrictions for voting and running for office; and ensuring the meaningful employment of youth.
- Implementation requires commitment by decision makers beyond tokenistic engagement. The international community should advance global accountability mechanisms to encourage governments to make commitments with and for youth. In particular, governments and donors should use global policy spaces to speak out against human rights violations. Commitment to the YPS agenda also requires increased funding to youth and youth-led initiatives, including through core support.
- The diversity of youth should be recognised. The YPS agenda is an opportunity to advance from an early age the inclusion of groups within society that are most vulnerable to exclusion, and efforts are needed by governments, multilateral actors and non-governmental organisations to reach out to young people from various socio-economic, ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Back to the inner circle
While the session ended with some final reflections from Bantayehu, Dania, Darshatha and Manal, more interactive dialogue is needed between youth and decision makers to ensure that the YPS agenda moves forward.
To encourage further conversations based on the views and realities of young people, Manal, Darshatha and Bantayehu shared their reflections on the fishbowl dialogue and what is needed to translate policy into practice. Read an extract from the conversation here on our blog.