Written together with German UN Youth Delegates Ruszlan Biwoino and Franka Weckner, and Slovenian UN Youth Delegate Lucija Karnelutti:
EU and UN missions and operations cooperate closely in the field, from the Balkans to Africa and the Middle East – to help enhance security, advance political solutions, and build hope for a better and more peaceful future. The EU and the UN share a commitment to Youth, Peace and Security, considering young people as key agents of change whose motivation and energy we have to get better at including in both policy-and decision-making. With Covid-19, civil spaces are shrinking and with them, we are losing the promising potential of young people, amplifying the urgent need to step up implementation of the Youth, Peace and Security agenda.
Leveraging the power of youth for peace and security is more important than ever. Around 1.8 billion people in the world are currently between 10 and 24 years old, amounting to almost a quarter of the world population. Conflict regions in particular have a predominantly young and steadily growing population and the trend is rising. Young people are particularly affected by violent conflicts as sources of stability are distraught and the process of transitioning to adulthood disrupted. Building peace requires the engagement of all sectors of society, starting with youth. Yet young people still suffer all too often from being stereotyped, sometimes seen as rebels or criminals, as troublemakers rather than peacemakers. We need to turn things around so that they are seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Working with youth, supporting partnerships and networks as well as investing in youth – are all key elements in ensuring that young people can effectively fulfil their roles as agents of change to prevent conflicts and build as well as sustain peace. Young people often bring perspectives that are under-represented and their expertise should be recognised, allowing youth to be involved in defining their future. Examples from Colombia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya have shown young people standing up against violence, and campaigning for their rights and for conflicts to be brought to a peaceful and sustainable end. In addition, research shows that broader inclusion positively impacts the sustainability of peace agreements, it helps to make them both more accountable and more democratic. This suggests that we should more systematically question the inclusivity of policy and peace processes and make proactive recommendations to empower and include youth.
The EU has supported the Youth, Peace and Security agenda from the outset, and in 2020 the EU adopted Council conclusions on Youth in External Action with the aim of working with and amplifying the voice of youth. We want to expand the space for young people to participate in a meaningful way, systematically strengthen mechanisms for engaging with youth, and ensure that their voices are not only heard but really listened to. As the EU and the UN confirm the importance of our longstanding partnership on peacekeeping and crisis management by defining new set of priorities for our cooperation in 2022-2024, the role of youth is likely to be reinforced, both when it comes to our own missions and operations, and for the work that we do with our partners and host countries to implement our respective mandates.
We have successful experiences to build on, such as the AU-EU Youth-Hub launched by the EU alongside the African Union, in 2018. Through the Hub, 50 young experts have been involved in developing innovative pilot projects that are now being rolled out by civil society organisations and hundreds of youths in a truly unique and innovative model of governance. One of the pilot projects focuses on the Lake Chad Basin and involves local youth in mapping and monitoring stabilisation projects via a user-friendly online map-based platform.
Another important part of this work is to build youth partnerships and civil society networks across communities and borders. The EU-supported Young Mediterranean Voices initiative has helped civil society, educational institutions and policy-makers connect across the Euro-Med region and develop key skills for enhancing their meaningful participation in shaping their future. Last year alone, more than 4400 young people from eight countries in 75 cities in the region qualified as trained debaters, almost 60 percent of whom were women.
We must keep investing in youth participation, and in promoting it in all its diversity across peace and security efforts. Young people have to be given a seat at the decision-making table, be treated as equal partners and be equipped with the tools to unleash their potential. This will give us a better chance of resolving the most pressing conflicts, and ultimately of preventing conflict and building lasting peace. It is important to show that young people can be agents of change and crucial contributors to peace, sustainability and democracy.