International Youth Day: Empowering young people as agents of change and peace building

The world has never been so young and it is getting younger every day. The development of any society depends on how well it nurtures its young women and men, how well they are supported. In 2015, there were 1.2 billion young people in the world, and more than 600 million lived in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Young people carry the heaviest burdens of conflict and violence — they are also essential for any lasting solution leading to peace.

On 17 December 1999, in its resolution 54/120, the United Nations General Assembly endorsed the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth (Lisbon, 8-12 August 1998) that 12 August be declared International Youth Day.

Since the adoption of Security Council Resolution S/RES/2250 (2015) in 2015, there is growing recognition that as agents of change, young people’s inclusion in the peace and security agenda and in society more broadly, is key to building and sustaining peace. Another Security Council Resolution S/RES/2282 (2016) reaffirms the important role youth can play in deterring and resolving conflicts, and are key constituents in ensuring the success of both peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.

For much of human social interaction, the category called ‘youth’ has been perceived as a historically constructed social category, a relational concept, and as a group of actors that is far from homogenous. A myriad of factors make childhood and youth highly heterogeneous categories in terms of gender, class, race, ethnicity, political position as well as age.

  • Youth Building Peace

International Youth Day 2017 is dedicated to celebrating young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation as well as inclusion, social justice, and sustainable peace.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development committed to fostering peaceful and inclusive societies and affirmed that “Sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and security”. Goal 16 aims to ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. The World Programme of Action for Youth, which provides a policy framework and practical guidelines to improve the situation of young people, also encourages “promoting the active involvement of youth in maintaining peace and security”.

In the lead-up to International Youth Day, marked annually on 12 August, the United Nations kicked off a commemorative event at its New York Headquarters with a message from Secretary-General António Guterres, who underscored his commitment to young people.

“I’m truly happy to address you on International Youth Day,” the Secretary-General said a video message. “As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am committed to the empowerment and inclusion of every young person around the world. In this spirit, I have appointed an impressive new Youth Envoy,” he said, introducing 26-year-old Jayathma Wickramanayake of Sri Lanka as the youngest and “one of the most important” members of his team. Governments must work with young people to successfully achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Empowered young men and women can play a critical role in preventing conflicts and ensuring sustainable peace,” continued Mr. Guterres.

The position of young people in society influences their potential and their possible role in peace building. The tension between young and older was one of the key features of intergenerational shifts that deal with controlling power, resources and people.

What needs to be emphasized is that young people should be conceptualized and studied as agents of positive change in terms of addressing not only the challenges of physical violence, but also the challenges of structural and cultural violence and the wider processing of social change in order to transform violent, repressive and hierarchical structures as well as behavior , as well as attitudes, in a more participatory and inclusive way.

The key thing to remember is that without recognizing young people as political actors, as well as in the non-governmental sector, their paths in peace building would probably be ignored, consumed and, at best, less exploited. In order to recognize their youth as future actors in managing change and building peace, a comprehensive understanding of their needs and the current situations in which they are needed is necessary.

It is important to allow young people the possibility of additional education and training in order to participate actively in building peace and promoting nonviolent conflict resolution. Young people, for example, with their youthful energy and the ability to adapt to new technological trends can act as mediators, community mobilizers, humanitarian workers and peace mediators. Like every group of people affected by conflict, mobilization of youth capacities requires a targeted and long-term approach. Therefore, the engagement of young people in peace building in a wider sense can be ensured through art, culture, tourism, sport and education. Innovation and creativity of young people in these areas could be effectively mobilized by linking with broader peace building goals, such as building bridges between divided communities and ensuring a sustainable routing process.

“Young people are essential for any lasting solution leading to peace.  On International Youth Day, let us all unite – international actors, governments, civil society and educational institutions — to partner with young women and men to craft new paths together towards more peaceful societies”, said UNESCO General-Director Irina Bokova.

Global Analytics, as an organization led by young researchers, through its work and activities, continuously emphasizes the importance of strengthening the role of young people in preventing any form of violence, accenting on violent extremism and radicalism, as well as new forms of violence. Realizing activities directed at young people and animating young people to participate and contribute to creating a more secure environment and more positive society, we give all young people the opportunity to capitalize on their potential through research, culture, sports, tourism, etc. Also, young members of Global Analytics contribute to the development of the curriculum for young people and their roles in countering and preventing violent extremism and radicalism.