Department of Peace and Conflict Research

Youth are the Future of Peace

Christie Nicoson is a master’s student in the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden. Christie’s professional experience is in human rights and anti-genocide education and political advocacy.

How often have we, as international development researchers and practitioners, left a conference feeling that the same tired messages were repeated? How often have we finished a round-table discussion without concrete deliverables? With an eye for moving the conversation and action forward, it is time for a new perspective and fresh ideas. In this regard, young people hold a unique vantage point. It is often the young people in a room who pose new questions, push for practical solutions, and challenge the status quo. Their eagerness, optimism, and innovative approach are much needed in discussions of global affairs. The future is theirs and their agency in shaping it cannot be ignored or denied. In light of the recent United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250, which focuses on the role of young women and men in peace in security, it is time to more actively pursue strategies for empowering and engaging youth as active agents of peace.

Young People’s Place

The world’s attention is increasingly focused on our young people. According to the UN, over half of the current global population is under the age of 25, creating a ‘youth bulge’. Many of these young people live in vulnerable conditions: over 200 million live in poverty, 130 million are illiterate, 88 million are unemployed, millions suffer from preventable diseases, and millions more are internally displaced or refugees. This situation poses certain risks but also great opportunities.

During the 2000s, increasing declarations and programs highlighted the importance of youth. The Millennium Development Goals encouraged a greater focus on young people in several key areas including youth employment, poverty, education, and health. Throughout 2008 and 2009, conferences and programs around the world devoted their year’s work to young people, the World Youth Congress was held in Quebec, and the UN strengthened their youth focus, ultimately forming the Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development. In August 2010, the international community commenced the UN’s International Year of Youth on the theme Participation, Development and Peace, and in 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appointed the first Special Envoy on Youth.

In December 2015, UNSCR 2250 was passed, calling for greater youth involvement in peacebuilding and countering violent extremism. It obliges formal participation of young people and youth-led organizations at the international level as full partners in conflict prevention and the furtherance of sustainable peace. This resolution cast aside the view that youth may only be perpetrators or victims of violence; instead, it recognized their potential as vital contributors to peacebuilding and development.

Shifting Norms, Setting Goals

UNSCR 2250 is one of many efforts within the fields of human rights and international development that seeks to set overarching norms and to establish goals and expectations for the global community. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015, are another example, setting a new agenda for universal peace, equality, and prosperity that will serve as a framework for the next fifteen years. The Millennium Development Goals, Paris Agreement on climate change, and the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, are similarly groundbreaking in their depth and wide-reaching ambitions.

Agenda setting is important as a tool to change the conversation, but it is only the first step. In April 2016, hundreds of policymakers, researchers, and practitioners gathered to advance the global development agenda by considering how to implement these policy agendas to bring about meaningful change. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) third annual Stockholm Forum on Security and Development focused on the theme Leave no one behind: building reliance by 2030. The Forum highlighted many different issues facing the global community, including climate change, small arms proliferation, service delivery in fragile states, and gender equality. For all the promise of resilience, community-focused, and result-oriented discussions that emerged from the Stockholm Forum, there is yet another opportunity: the chance to fully capitalize on the potential of today’s youth.

Moving Forward

Young people are becoming increasing involved in global affairs: young men and women working in grassroots peacebuilding efforts, running for government offices, entering higher levels of academia, starting their own NGOs, and leading political movements. They represent an inspired, motivated workforce. Their experiences are both novel and authentic and they are perhaps best positioned to represent the needs of their peers. They should be heard less as a voice from the corner, and more as the people to whom we will answer in the future. More than ever, as they constitute such a significant portion of the world’s population, particularly representative in conflict-ridden states and developing countries, the stage is set for young people to engage more fully. It is time to empower young people to step out and play a more meaningful, contributory role in global security and development conversations.

Events like the Stockholm Forum are ideal environments for testing the principles of Resolution 2250. For instance, more boards and conferences have already begun instituting youth quotas, where a specific number of full-participation seats are reserved for young people. This could mean the youngest members of parliaments and other young leaders, students, young professionals, or members under 30. The adoption of youth quotas at other high-level events could help to diversify roundtable discussions. It is also important that youth participation is not limited only to the more experienced, such as graduate students. A broader population of young people, one that is gender-balanced and represents different socio-economic backgrounds, nations and ethnicities, and levels of experience, should also be given opportunity to engage with these important discussions. These experiences afford an extraordinary learning opportunity for young people and benefit the peacebuilding field by refocusing the conversation, illuminating new ideas, and giving form to our idealistic agendas. It is time to not only consider their needs, but to fully include them in more decision-making conversations.

With UNSCR 2250, the UN has indeed set a new standard. In the words of Gwendolyn S. Myers, head of a youth-led Liberian peacebuilding NGO, “A UN Security Council Resolution on Youth, Peace and Security legitimizes the meaningful involvement of young people in peace and security issues and will accelerate peace consolidation programs.” We must see young people as more than perpetrators of violence, more than victims of conflict, and more than students. Their agency must be actively realized and given the opportunity to thrive. If we are serious about fostering a sustainable peace, youth involvement is not an idealistic goal; it is a requisite of future decision-making and action towards conflict prevention and peace.