Investing in youth for peace and security: A European perspective
More than half the population of our planet is under age 30, and the majority of them live in countries affected by conflict. Yet, they are not included at the tables where decisions affecting them are made. Involving young women and young men in peacebuilding and conflict resolution is fundamental for achieving international sustainable development.
From youth as perpetrators of violence to youth as change-makers
The youth has long been identified as perpetrators of violence and a threat to security and stability. The focus on young people has only increased in recent decades – especially on young men, as the ones who have monopolised national armies and managed criminal gangs and extremist groups. Young women have largely been perceived as passive and vulnerable victims, the target of war strategies and gender segregation in both private and public spaces.
When we look at contexts of crisis, youths are actually the most affected in terms of social and economic discrimination by governments and some intergovernmental organisations' policies. Many obstacles block youth development, especially in developing countries. First among these is the lack of (or limited) access to education and job opportunities. Youth marginalisation is even greater for young women, who also face gender-based discrimination and violence due to stereotyping and biased cultural norms. The barriers are also greater for youths who are refugees or internally displaced persons, indigenous, disabled, LGBTQI+ or living in rural communities, among others.
Since 2015 there has been a consensus at the international level on the importance of harnessing young people’s potential. This has brought calls for concrete actions to value the work of young people and recognise them as change-makers and leaders of today and tomorrow.
The Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) Agenda
The first United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) aimed at shifting the paradigm away from negative stereotyping of the youth was adopted on 9 December 2015. UNSCR 2250 seeks to reinforce the protection of marginalised people and groups in conflict-affected areas and to promote their effective participation in reconciliation, conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes. It identifies five key pillars for action:
- Participation of youth in negotiation agreements and peace-building processes
- Protection of youth (especially those living in conflict-affected areas), stressing accountability in cases of gender-based violence, acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes
- Prevention of social unrest, through initiatives, to foster intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, tolerance, social cohesion and the promotion of a culture of peace among young people
- Partnerships among governments, international institutions and local communities to provide young people with political and financial support, encourage initiatives that promote their effective inclusion and develop strategies to counter violent extremism
- Disengagement and reintegration of young people, by promoting youth employment opportunities and gender-sensitive policies to counter gender-based and intersectional marginalisation
Following UNSCR 2250, the Security Council passed Resolution 2419 (2018) and Resolution 2535 (2020), which stress the need for full and equal participation of young people at all levels. In March 2020, the UN Secretary-General released the first report on the YPS Agenda (S/2020/167) and a study exploring the positive role of young people in sustaining peace, titled “The Missing Peace”. These highlight the youth as an essential resource for the planet’s demographic development, which, therefore, should have opportunities to actively participate in peace processes and in negotiating and implementing agreements. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called for the youth to be involved, for example, in climate change accords and responses to public health challenges (such as the COVID-19 pandemic).
The European commitment
In line with the UN agenda, Europe has made progress in advancing youth inclusion in peace and security, at both the intergovernmental and the grassroots levels.
The United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY), the European Partnership for Children and Youth in Peacebuilding (EYPB) and the European Youth Forum (EYF), in particular, have been working to strengthen youth participation. They have become leading promoters of events surrounding the implementation of the UN YPS Agenda in Europe. Partnership and collaboration between the European institutions and civil society and grassroots youth organisations and movements have brought key achievements in the recognition of youths as active and positive change-makers in the field of peace and security.
Three examples of European initiatives promoting intergenerational dialogue on peace and security are the European Conference on Youth, Peace and Security (2018); the European consultation on “The Missing Peace” (2018); and the EU Council Conclusions on the Role of Young People in Building a Secure, Cohesive and Harmonious Society (2018).
The European institutions have recognised the importance of the YPS Agenda and introduced changes to programming and commitments to benefit youth empowerment. For example, in 2018 the European Parliament banned unpaid internships, and in 2020 it adopted a resolution that supports young people in securing quality employment, with particular focus on challenges faced by young people with disabilities, homeless young people, young Roma, and young migrants and refugees. The EU Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) has supported some 60 programmes for the youth in peacebuilding, crisis management and violent conflict situations.
European Union (EU) member states, too, have pledged to push for more support for the implementation of UNSCR 2250 and to significantly transform formal commitments into concrete and effective actions in their own national agendas. After a close collaboration with the Finnish National Youth Council Allianssi, the Finnish government has moved towards adopting Europe’s first national action plan on YPS in 2021. This is a great example of partnership to ensure that national action plans and existing national strategies and programmes are aligned.
Following the Finnish steps, other youth-focused organisations across Europe are taking action to advocate for similar national action plans. For instance, at the Italian Network on YPS we believe that young people are key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We promote youth engagement at decision-making tables, particularly in peace processes. We have worked since 2017 to promote awareness of the YPS Agenda among young people, civil society and national institutions, including the National Youth Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI). We just launched a national consultation to map young people’s needs, aspirations and priorities related to the YPS Agenda, to inform our dialogue with the MAECI as well as towards the adoption of an Italian national action plan in the near future.
The future is young: A look forward
The partnership between the European institutions, governments and youth-led organisations should be built on shared responsibility and mutual trust. When institutions invest in youth-led peacebuilding and provide them with inclusive resources, youths have the opportunity to thrive. At the same time, when young women and young men support each other and trust institutions, they create a better society where intercultural understanding and respect grow.
The specific approach of the North-South Centre on the YPS Agenda provides a good example of how we should look forward. It does not view peacebuilding as a stand-alone field; rather, it explores and fosters an intertwined relationship between peacebuilding, democratic participation and human rights. The African Union-EU Youth Cooperation Hub and the Mediterranean Young Voices Plus initiative should inspire the propagation of refreshing, youth-led initiatives that bring together youths from different backgrounds and recognise their meaningful role on both continents in co-creating projects that address violent extremism and advocate for (more) peaceful and inclusive societies.
About the author
Valentina Aslani is a member of Rete Italiana Giovani Pace e Sicurezza, the Italian Network on Youth, Peace and Security.
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This video interview appears in the youth edition of ECDPM's Great Insights magazine – check out the full issue or the other articles and multimedia below.