Youth Engagement and the Peacebuilding Process

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Jun 27, 2020
by Salzburg Global Seminar
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Youth Engagement and the Peacebuilding Process

Salzburg Global Fellows taking part in the Asia Peace Innovators Forum share their experiences and challenges Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

Ahead of the Asia Peace Innovators Forum, several Fellows shared their experiences and challenges related to youth engagement in the peacebuilding process. Below are some of their observations, which we encourage others to comment upon and discuss further.

A program aimed at young people in Sri Lanka promotes values common to all religious communities. The project involves activities to encourage compassion, cooperation, tolerance, active listening, honesty, sincerity, peace, and respect. The content has proven to be popular, easy to teach and implement. The project also seeks to create partnerships with universities and faculties, although it is difficult to get access to schools due to strict regulations.

The tension between different communities can exacerbate through social media, particularly through the online activity of young people. The spaces that NGOs occupy don’t tend to overlap with the online spaces occupied by these young people due to different languages and networks of people. Therefore, finding ways to reach out to people who would not already be taking part in the programs is a challenge. Another challenge lies in finding ways to sustain engagement through online platforms.

This values approach is not prescriptive but open, encouraging free discussion by asking young people what these values mean to them and how they appear in the context of their own lives and experiences. One of the project’s primary aims is to develop young activists and teach them to use their voice in matters that are important to them. It is typically older and more powerful actors who control the space in which young people can voice their opinions. Therefore, the project is still searching for ways to allow young people to be the drivers of those discussions.

During the war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), children lived in fear of being recruited as soldiers. The after-effects remain. Participants heard of the highly segregated education system that exists, which deepens the division between groups. In Nepal, meanwhile, people are pushing for legislation that bans child combatants. They are working with child soldiers to record and share their experiences in print and video.

Nepal has seven federal states. Different ethnic groups from each state use social media in ways that can increase conflict, such as the use of hate speech. Divisions can create information gaps between older and younger generations, as well as between local governments and young people, which have caused several problems in Nepal.

A nonprofit based in Nepal has been working with local governments to make people understand what they can do for them, and be more active in shaping policies to help young people. Social media is useful to disseminate this information, but without any laws surrounding it, social media can also spread fake news and narratives.

The nonprofit aims to make young peacemakers and leaders more visible. By showcasing their work and enabling spaces for them to meet other young people, the project shows how young people can create opportunities for themselves. The Youth Parliament also provides an understanding of how parliament functions. Positivity is being instilled in young people who are hoped to become agents for change. 

During the conversation, participants heard that in Thailand, where different groups speak different languages, a communication barrier exists between communities. This problem, however, is not recognized due to the centralization of government. There is also a large gap between the political interests of young people and older populations.

Points for Further Discussion

  • How can social media be used to reach out to young people, and sustain engagement with those already in our networks?
  • How can organizations overcome language barriers that prevent their message from getting across to different communities?
  • How can social media be used to promote positive role-modeling?
  • Besides social media, what other ways can we involve young people in the peacebuilding process?
  • How can peacebuilding projects form meaningful collaborations with the education systems in their respective countries?

This discussion took place under the auspices of the Asia Peace Innovators Forum, a program held in partnership with the Nippon Foundation. Sign up for our newsletter here to receive updates about this program.