“Less Past and More Future” – The Case for the Empowerment of Youth in Post-Conflict Societies
1 On the 9th of December 2015 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted a resolution “affirming the important role youth can play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and as a key aspect of the sustainability, inclusiveness and success of peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts”2. Moreover, Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security “[u]rges Member States to consider ways to increase inclusive representation of youth in decision-making at all levels”3. With that, the UNSC did not only acknowledge the potential of young people as active and positive contributors to peace and stability; it also tried to open up more possibilities in order to further empower youth to take part in the political processes within their respective countries.
According to the UN Population Division, the generation of youth constitutes 1.2 billion people of which one billion live in developing countries.4 Thus, while approximately every one out of six people worldwide is between the age of 15 and 24, nine out of ten people within that age range live in developing countries which are more likely to have been affected by conflict. With the adoption of Resolution 2250, the UN Security Council payed tribute to both the democratic (young people have a right to participation) and demographic (young people constitute a high proportion of the general population, particularly in post-conflict societies) imperative that stems from these numbers.
The resolution is referred to as a “historic document” by the United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY) “because it brings recognition and legitimacy for youth’s efforts in building peace”5 and because it constitutes the first ever UN document dedicated to this topic, to the interconnectedness of youth, peace and security. While so far young people have often been marginalized in post-conflict settings and their potential to contribute to the creating or maintaining of peace has mostly been overlooked, Resolution 2550 sets a new focus and thus seems to mark a shift in the perception of youth.
Such a shift in perception can also be seen in academia, where, for a long time, youth in post-conflict societies have constituted an equally neglected demographic. While numerous works on the role of youth in conflict can be found within academic literature, scholars researching post-conflict societies have mainly been focusing on children and adults. Moreover, the works that existed on youth in post-conflict settings predominantly portrayed them negatively: as victims or perpetrators of violence. Consequently, youth were rather seen as a threat to peace than as potential agents of peace.6 Only relatively recently have scholars started setting a different focus when conducting research on youth in post-conflict societies. More and more, the perception of youth as “troublemakers” is being challenged by considering them as potential “peacemakers”.7
Within this essay, I will follow this new focus and will answer the question as to why it is important to empower youth in post-conflict societies. In order to do so, I will first engage in the theoretical framework, i. e. the definitions of youth and peacebuilding. After that, I will make the case in favor of the empowerment of youth by looking at 1) the very nature and characteristics of the social category that is youth and 2) the practical considerations that speak for empowering youth. In order to illustrate my argument, I will then point out why it is important to focus on youth in the exemplary case of post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Lastly, in the concluding remarks, I will consider what implications the findings might or should have for the future of youth in post-conflict societies.
Theoretical Framework: Definitions of Youth and Peacebuilding
One of the reasons that might explain the former neglect of youth both in academia and politics can be located on the conceptual level. It is easier to address and focus on the cohorts of children and adults since the concept of youth is very hard to define. The predominant and seemingly simplest definitional approach to youth is age-based. While this might be useful for statistics and guarantees a certain degree of objectivity, there is no consensus about the appropriate age range. Whereas the UN define youth as individuals between the age of 15 and 24, the World Bank sees youth as in between the ages of 12 and 24,8 Bosnia and Herzegovina’s youth law applies an age range between 15 and 30,9 and the World Health Organization even defines several overlapping categories, namely adolescents (aged 10 to 19), youth (aged 15 to 24) and young people (aged 10 to 24)10 – and this is just to give a few examples. Moreover, this definitional approach completely excludes social and cultural dimensions of the concept of youth.
However, the second approach to defining youth that includes these dimensions is not by any means more definite. Here, youth is seen not as an age category but rather as a social category that describes the transitional stage between childhood and adulthood. Within this approach, youth constitutes a social construct that relates to the status and behavior of the respective individual. The understanding of what this behavior should look like and of when a young person actually becomes an adult varies to a great extent in different cultural settings (in some countries, like Darfur, the concept of youth as a stage of development is not even acknowledged to exist).11 The World Youth Report 2005 broadly defines youth according to this approach as “an important period of physical, mental and social maturation, where young people are actively forming identities and determining acceptable roles for themselves within their community and society as a whole.”12
Although the concept of youth remains vague in both approaches, defining it is of crucial importance as it has “concrete effects on the ways that reconstruction actors design and implement programs intended to serve this population.”13 Since I will be looking at the very nature and characteristics of youth in this essay, I will follow the second approach in which age is not the crucial criterion to define it.
The term peacebuilding also constitutes a highly contested and complex concept that, depending on institution or scholar, is defined in a variety of different ways. One of the leading and most-cited scholars in the field, John Paul Lederach, tried to capture the essence of peacebuilding in his book “The Moral Imagination. The Art and Soul of Building Peace”14. According to Lederach, four different aspects are crucial to peacebuilding: relationships, curiosity, creativity and risk.15 This means that peacebuilding entails the human capacity to envision and build new relationships in order to overcome resentments and with that overcome violence; it needs curiosity in order to rise above societal divisions, suspend prejudices and discover new opportunities; it draws on creativity to think of new ways to promote social change; and it is dependent on the willingness to risk stepping into the unknown, transforming unfamiliar patterns of peace – in societies where people only know violence – into the norm.16 In an earlier publication that is equally much referred to in the academic peacebuilding discourse, Lederach emphasizes the first dimension of relationships by saying that peacebuilding should set its focus on reconciliation and on the restoration and (re-)building of relationships.17
Why is it important to make youth engage in this complex process that is peacebuilding? The role that youth play in post-conflict societies is not predetermined but shaped by politics, the society and the possibilities youth have to evolve within this society. For a long time, politicians and academics have seen youth mainly as “a problem to be solved.”18 In the following chapters, I will present arguments to make the case that it is of crucial importance to empower youth in post-conflict societies.
On the Nature of Youth
“Youth are more idealists, adults more realists. […] Youth may be more open, adults more closed. Are these two different points or two different ways of saying the same thing? To be young is to have less past and more future, less trauma suffered and inflicted and more hope. That means a combination of less knowledge and less experience, in principle making youth more free to dream ideals and less impeded by useful knowledge and less exp erience that adults.
1 Galtung, Johan 2006: Theoretical Challenges of Peace Building with and for Youth, in: McEvoy-Levy, Siobhan (ed.): Trouble Makers or Peace Makers? Youth and Post-Accord Peace Building, Notre Dame, IN, p. 262.
2 UN Security Council 2015: United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250, p. 1 (emphasis in original).
3 UN Security Council 2015: S/Res/2250, p. 3 (emphasis in original).
4 UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division 2015: Population Facts, p. 1.
5 See http://unoy.org/2250-toolkit/; 9.1.2017.
6 See for an overview Del Felice, Celina/Wisler, Andria 2007: The Unexplored Power and Potential of Youth as Peace-builders, in: Journal of Peace, Conflict & Development 11, pp. 8-13.
7 See for example McEvoy-Levy, Siobhan (ed.) 2006a: Trouble Makers or Peace Makers? Youth and Post- Accord Peace Building, Notre Dame, IN.
8 The World Bank 2007: World Development Record 2007. Development and the Next Generation, p. 7.
9 See http://www.youthpolicy.org/national/Bosnia_2010_Youth_Law.pdf; 9.1.2017.
10 See http://apps.who.int/adolescent/second-decade/section2/page1/recognizing-adolescence.html; 9.1.2017.
11 Pratley, Elaine Mei Lien 2011: ‘Youth’: victim, troublemaker or peacebuilder? Constructions of youth- in-conflict in United Nations and World Bank youth policies (Master Thesis, Victoria University of Wellington), p. 21.
12 UN Department of Ecnomic and Social Affairs 2005: World Youth Report 2005. Young people today and in 2015, p. 150.
13 Stephanie Schwarz, qtd. in: Pratley 2011, p. 20.
14 Lederach, John Paul 2005: The Moral Imagination. The Art and Soul of Building Peace, Oxford.
15 Lederach 2005, chap. 4.
16 Lederach 2005, chap. 4.
17 Lederach, John Paul 1997: Building Peace – Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, Washington, DC, p. 24.
18 Del Felice/Wisler 2007, p. 2.
- Quote paper
- Jannike Riesch (Author), 2017, The Case for the Empowerment of Youth in Post-Conflict Societies, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/462238