Giving young peacebuilders a voice

Young people from around the world were recently drawn together by the Foundation to present their vision on how to prevent violence and sustain peace.


Hezha made the journey from Iraq. Khadeja travelled from Libya, Imsouchivy from Cambodia and Sewit from Ethiopia. They were just a few of the more than 20 young people who travelled from across the globe to UN headquarters in New York last month for a two-day validation consultation on the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security.

Organised by the Foundation and the UN Secretariat for the Progress Study, it followed seven regional consultations held with selected youth over the past year on youth’s positive contribution to peace processes and conflict resolution.

We need to stop talking to youth and start listening to youth,” said Graeme Simpson, Lead Author for the Progress Study. “When we listen, it rocks the foundations of what we think we know.

Listening has certainly been a key part of the process so far. Along with the seven regional consultations, over 120 focus group discussions have been conducted with “hard-to-reach youth” in 12 countries, as well as a global survey and youth mapping exercise, denoting the incredibly participatory nature of the study. The consultation in New York was the final piece in the puzzle, providing an opportunity for these young participants to reflect upon the key messages and recommendations of the Progress Study.

Beyond a study

When presented by the UN Secretary-General in April 2018, the Progress Study is expected to not only report on the main peace and security issues facing young people but to also serve as a strategy for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2250. Adopted in December 2015, the resolution recognises the need to include the world’s approximately 1.8 billion young people in processes to build and sustain peace.

Participants in New York called for more to be done to reach out to young women and other young people who are particularly vulnerable to exclusion. “I think the most important thing that could come out of this report would be a way to create spaces that enable and empower young women to speak out”, said Sewit Haileselasse. The discussions in New York as a whole emphasised the importance of creating safe spaces for youth organisations and including youth in all conversations, not just those thought of as ‘youth issues’.

Barik Mhadeen from Jordan also stressed that the Progress Study should not put too much emphasis on formal political participation of youth. “It is important to also focus on informal political spheres as youth’s lack of trust in governments has resulted in different forms of youth political engagement,” noted Mhadeen.

Lack of trust is not the only obstacle, as youth often face even more fundamental challenges in achieving political participation. “Most young people are busy making a living, surviving and don’t have time or resources to become young politicians,” reflected Khadeja Ramali originally from Libya and now studying in the UK.

Not one hour of peace

The participants also underscored the importance of addressing trauma and providing access to healing services. “I have not had one hour of peace in my entire life,” said Hezha Khan who is a 26 years-old electronics and communications engineer from Iraq. “And I am one of the lucky ones because I have not seen an explosion.

The need for peer-to-peer healing was emphasised as a solution, as well as the importance of peer-to-peer education as a whole. Participants denoted that young people are more likely to trust their peers, and exchange programmes can give youth the opportunity to understand different contexts and cultures, exposing differences but more importantly commonalities.

The difficulty for these sort of activities and youth organisations more generally to receive funding was also highlighted by the participants. It was noted that international donor requirements can reinforce systems of power already present on the ground by favouring more established organisations, who often have greater capacity to apply for funding and are viewed as more legitimate. “Someone needs to take on the risk to fund [smaller, grassroots] youth organisations,” urged Khadeja Ramali.

The way forward

At the international level, the participants stressed the need for a strong coordination platform to mainstream the Youth, Peace and Security agenda and the collection of data on youth within the UN. They also stated there will be a need for another global progress study to be completed by the UN in five to ten years.

At the national level, member states were urged to review on a regular basis (around every four years) the progress of Youth, Peace and Security issues in their country and come together at the UN to discuss. It was also underlined that civil society actors need to be present at these meetings as observers to present shadow reports. Scoring on progress made on Resolution 2250 should also be encouraged for each country as an accountability tool.

In the end, the consultations in New York combined diverse regional perspectives on Youth, Peace and Security that enabled better understanding of the realities and priorities of young people. It also underscored the importance of linking the Progress Study and the implementation of Resolution 2250 to the UN’s broader development agenda. As Omang Agarwal from India noted, “Agenda 2030 highlights the need to leave no one behind. What is needed is strengthening of the entire UN system to engage and work with youth.