For the first time in the history of peacekeeping and peacebuilding programme, a young person was given a unique opportunity, through the efforts of the United Network of Young Peace Builders, The Hague, Netherlands to address Respected Members of Peacebuilding Commission on the critical and urgent need for the meaningful and active involvement of young people in peace dialogue.
Before going into the excerpts of the presentation, it is important to mention how it all came about. You would recall the Amman Declaration on Youth, Peace and Security and how through a competitive process, over 200 young people were invited to participate on the drafting of the declaration. It is also important to mention, that this history making presentation did not just happen, it dovetails several past attempts from committed young people and several advocacy mission by UNOY and other partners.
Highlights of the mission to the UN headquarters in New York would be presented to you in different format and through the social media. In the interim, please take time to read and send you comments on the speech presented to the Peacebuilding Commission. The process for inclusive peacebuilding efforts has just begun.
Excerpts: Gwendolyn Myers Official Address to the UN Peacebuilding Commission at the UN Headquarters, New York, Nov 23, 2015.
Thank you Mr. Chair,
Excellencies, Respected members of the Peacebuilding Commission and Partners, I greet you.
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to talk to you today.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the government of Sweden for taking the initiative for the Peacebuilding Commission to discuss this topic, and to extend our gratitude to the government of Jordan for their commitment to strengthening the role of youth in peace and security. I would also like to thank our ally and friend Ahmad Alhendawi (UN Youth Envoy) for his leadership, as well as the Peacebuilding Support Office for their support.
My name, as introduced, is Gwendolyn S. Myers I just turned 25, and I bring you warm greetings from the Republic of Liberia. I grew up in Liberia under the shadow of civil unrest, violence and war. Growing up during these troubling periods helped to strengthen my resolve for peace. Since I was 13, I have been involved with numerous self-driven peace initiatives.
In Liberia today, peacebuilding is not seen as a proper career option. There is no money and prestige in it. A close religious mentor once told me, ‘there is no career for a young woman in peace and security programme, focus on your medical career pursuit”. That someone I trusted and looked up to , showed no faith in my work for peace was a major shock to me, and made me doubt by choice, but like every woman of faith such as Mother Theresa and Shirley Chisholm all of whom have inspired me, I have kept the faith and the depth of impacts are evident. Now, as he has witnessed my work over several years, my mentor has joined the community of individuals who believe that there are indeed space young women in peace and security.
I founded the Messengers of Peace-Liberia Inc together with a team of other volunteers of which I’m the Executive Director, owing to the fact that young people are constantly being used to foment and perpetuate violence and conflicts. I experienced children being recruited and used as child soldiers thus suffering abuse and their rights violated. Young people in Liberia and most conflict zones are often referred to as the lost generation – I knew this to be false, and this gave rise to my inspiration and quest for meaningful and active youth participation in peace and security in Liberia. If young people can be used to foment violence and conflict, the same young people can be used to bring about peace! We have it right in our hands. However, in order for young people to be able to take action as Peacebuilders, they need education and empowerment.
While other predisposing and underlying factors such as power and control, religious intolerance, inequity in the distribution of resources, inequality, unemployment, racism, poverty and even climate change exist, the lack of education remains grim and lethal and serves as a precursor for violence. I encountered a seven year old peace child (Remember Jorporlor) in Gbargna, Bong County, a rural part of Liberia mentioned and I quote, “Until, Government can assist us with books, pencils and book bags and make us to have good learning, the children in Bong County will not have total peace, we want good education!” Governments need to invest in education and invest in youth.
Since the creation of Messengers of Peace (MOP)-Liberia in 2008, we have operated on three pillars: Advocacy for Peace Education, Volunteerism and Partnership for Peace. Presently we have over a thousand volunteers between ages 15 to 29 with 80% female participation spread across Liberia.
At MOP-Liberia, we draw attention of government and institutions, through issue focused campaigns such as 21 days of activism, where young volunteer peace messengers tour the country for 21 days preaching peace and nonviolence using open arena and open dialogue at market centers, street corners as well churches and mosques performing street drama and use of radio jingle and spot messages to triggers of violence and we fervently condemn any act of terror in our country.
We consistently conduct our peace advocacy by commemorating the International Day of Peace by engaging the nation through the media; by interacting with religious communities; by doing community outreach in underprivileged and vulnerable communities; by running a mentoring and coaching program for adolescent boys and girls in peacebuilding where we coach adolescents to develop their life skills and engage in community service and dialogue on issues of dignity, a culture of peace, and by mobilizing of young people as volunteer peace messengers through peace clubs in schools and hotspot communities.
Barely a month after the Global Forum on Youth, Peace and Security in Amman-Jordan, The Amman Youth Declaration was officially launched by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, on the 21st of September during a week-long peace celebration organized by Messengers of Peace-Liberia. The declaration provides us with the right peace advocacy platform to promote the involvement of young people in all stages of peacebuilding and post conflict programming. We are more focused in our resolve to ensure that young people are not used for tokenism but as equal partners in peace and security programmes, especially as Liberia prepares for its general and presidential elections come 2017.
We have worked to establish partnership with the private sector, Government, Non-Government Organizations, UN Organizations and other international organizations including academic institutions. We recognize that partnership cut across every aspect of our work, helping to bring about results that no organization can achieve independently. However, as a youth organization, we face challenges in these partnerships: most organizations still too often see local young Peacebuilders as mere contractors and implementing agents rather than as genuine partners that they listen to. What most youth-led peacebuilding organizations want are relevant relationships that deliver real value. Fully embracing partnerships and collaborative networking; either formal or informal; is the only way of doing peace business.
Youth organizations need to take ownership, leadership and accountability in peacebuilding – but we need to do this in partnership. We need to work together. What we ask of you as policy makers is to create strong policies that address the needs and rights of young people in peacebuilding, and to provide funding for youth-led peacebuilding initiatives as well as for empowerment and capacity-building programmes aiming to engage young people in sustaining and building peace. Youth-led peace initiatives are heavily under-funded. Too often large peacebuilding organizations get grants to work with young people – but they see them as beneficiaries instead of partners – they develop youth programs without actually talking with young people. We call for more funding going directly to youth-led initiatives. It should not be the case – as it is right now – that the Liberian Peacebuilding Office does not have a budget line to fully sponsor/support youth peacebuilding activities!
You may ask why it is important to involve young people in peacebuilding. Why are they different to other demographics?
• In many countries – including my own – young people make up the majority of the population – there is a demographic and democratic imperative to involving us.
• It is a matter of policy efficiency. Research shows that peace depends on whether young people accept or reject it, and on their perceptions of what the peace process has achieved. Young people are knowledgeable about their peers’ realities; they know the needs that exist among peers based on their own experience and close contact with others.
• Young people are open to change, idealistic and innovative. Young people have historically been the forefront of social change. Young people often have the creativity, initiative and time to develop more peaceful ways of being together. Young people are also courageous. Young people in conflict situations are less risk-averse. They can either react and create their own future or keep quiet and give up.
There are many other youth groups doing life changing work across the world. Unfortunately my friend Saba Ismail couldn’t make it here due to a family urgency, but I’d like to quickly share with you her work with young people in peacebuilding in Pakistan. Aware Girls is a young women led organization to counter violent extremism using a peer to peer education model – a model in which young people reach out to other young people vulnerable to the violent ideologies and to the recruitment of militant groups and provide them with alternative narratives based on non-violence, tolerance, compassion and pluralism – to prevent them from being recruited by the militant groups.
In the words of Saba, She says and I quote; “In the name of security initiatives, millions of dollars have been invested in more weapons, more guns and more bombs. Every penny spent on a Gun, on a Missile, on a bomb is injustice to every kid who wants to go school but cannot pay for it, to every kid who is hungry and not fed, it is injustice to every girl who is denied of her rights, and to every young person who wants to be the leader of the society but is stereotyped as the trouble-makers, as the extremist.”
I speak here also on behalf of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders – a global network of 70 youth peacebuilding organizations in 50 countries. UNOY works to strengthen youth-led peacebuilding initiatives, facilitate a safe space for dialogue and conflict transformation, develop the organizational capacities of our members and to bring the voices of young people to policy makers on a regional and global level. As UNOY, we today call on you as the peacebuilding commission:
1. For youth to be highlighted as a priority area across the work of the entire UN peacebuilding architecture.
2. Youth representatives to be included in the formulation of policy and strategic direction of UN peacebuilding bodies
3. The Peacebuilding Commission to establish an engagement strategy with youth civil society organizations
4. The Peacebuilding Commission to include male and female youth leaders or youth-led organizations at the national level to hold positions on the National Steering Committee to represent and reflect the populations that interventions intend to serve.
5. The Peacebuilding Fund to pr
ioritize programmes that engage youth as active agents of change across all sectors and consider the active presence of youth as a criterion and asset.
6. The Peacebuilding Support Office to institutionalize youth as a transversal theme in its structure, staffing and future strategy
7. Substantive and logistical support such as funding, promotion and facilitation to be provided to civil society-driven efforts that enhance the role of youth in peacebuilding.
We call for a UN Security Council Resolution – based on the content of the Amman Youth Declaration – recognizing and addressing the specific needs, assets, potential and diverse identities of youth in conflict and post-conflict scenarios. We think such a resolution is needed in order to recognize the work young people are already doing for peace, and in order to galvanize support for this work and build inter-generational partnerships to change the status quo.
Older generations don’t seem to learn – violence breeds violence, and in the past few weeks we have – again – seen brutal violence torment parts of the world. There could never be a better time than this moment to unleash the potentials of young people to guaranteed peace, safety and security.
The silent but collective whisper of peace is louder than the sound of any gun. Hence, it should be a priority for the UN to actively engage and involve young people in peacebuilding initiatives within its operations… Ladies and gentlemen, kindly permit me to conclude this brief remark as I’ve always done. Peace above all else, Peace First and May peace prevail in our generation!