CSW Side Event Highlights Urgent Need for Youth Participation in the Peace, Security and Humanitarian Space

As conflicts rage across the globe including in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Tigray, participants at an event hosted by the Women, Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA) Compact, highlighted the urgent need to strengthen peacebuilding and humanitarian work through increased engagement with young leaders. 

Not only do young people have bold ideas and solutions to offer, but during times of crisis they are often the hardest hit, meaning their insight and experiences are vital in developing a truly inclusive approach to peace and security.

The Compact’s virtual gathering held 16 March on the sidelines of the sixty-sixth session on the Commission on the Status of Women, saw dozens of peacebuilders and humanitarian workers share ideas on how to increase youth participation and leadership in the women, peace, and security and humanitarian space. 

Key to this is overcoming the deep-rooted barriers that confront young leaders — especially young women peacebuilders — including funding challenges, complex and convoluted bureaucracy, non-inclusive organizational frameworks, and poor access to information and resources.

Addressing attendees at the start of the event, UN Women Deputy Executive Director Åsa Regnér made clear the vital role that young women play in conflict resolution and crisis recovery.

“It is fitting that the Compact is embarking on its first year of implementation with a focus on youth, particularly the leadership and expertise on gender equality that young women bring to peace, security, and humanitarian processes,” Regnér said. 

Funding challenges

A critical issue facing young peacebuilders is insufficient and inaccessible funding. Addressing this requires systemic change, participants highlighted, with a need for less military spending and more investment towards critically under-resourced women and youth-led humanitarian work.

Vitally, young peacebuilders shouldn’t be expected to offer their time without appropriate compensation, participants were told. Studies show that 97% of staff working for youth groups do so on a voluntary basis, explained Maya Ungar — a representative of the Our Generation for Inclusive Peace (OGIP) feminist global network — who illustrated the difficulties that young people can have juggling commitments by sharing that she was joining the session while on her lunch break. 

Impeding this is a deep lack of trust in young people’s capacity to manage funds and meet bureaucratic requirements, participants heard. 

“Another issue is the inability of many youth networks to register formally,” said Amani Aruri, a Palestinian human rights activist representing Karama, a network of civil society groups in the Middle East and Africa. “We know that many donors require entities to be registered in order to channel funds, which deprives youth networks from accessing opportunities,” Aruri added.

There are also issues around the inherent newness of many youth-led initiatives, with their lack of extensive documentary records hindering the funding process. And when finances are provided, they’re often time limited or project-based, both of which restrict an organization’s ability to plan ahead.     

To tackle these challenges, funding systems should be reformed with youth groups in mind, participants recommended. This means using less obscure jargon and bureaucratic language, and a far greater provision of clear information and funding guidelines, particularly at the grassroots level.   

More pooled funding mechanisms — such as the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) Fund — would also help young peacebuilders meet their monetary needs, said Mallika Iyer, the Director for Asia and the Pacific and Europe Programs and Humanitarian Action, from Global Network of Women Peacebuilders.

Promoting Youth Leadership and Inclusion  

In addition to removing barriers to financing, women and youth leadership and inclusion must be championed at all levels, if the world’s most urgent humanitarian crises are to be adequately addressed, participants said. 

“We need people in power who understand the importance of youth leadership to exercise the power that they have to appoint young people to leadership [positions],” said H.E. Emma Inamutila Theofelus, Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Information, Communication, and Technology, and one of the world’s youngest cabinet ministers.  

Youth leadership can also be promoted by offering access to safe, interactive, and intergenerational spaces where young peace and humanitarian actors can discuss issues and objectives and learn from their peers. The pandemic has proved hugely challenging for these sorts of gatherings, but they must remain a priority moving forward, the online gathering heard.

“We have to open spaces for capacity building, education sharing, and sharing experiences with people from other countries — for example people from Tanzania who can learn from people from South Sudan,” said Honorable Upendo Furaha Peneza, representing the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) – Young Women Leaders Caucus.

Organizations working with young peace and security actors must also recognize the threats and online harassment that many young peacebuilders face, ensuring that they are provided with the adequate protection mechanisms which enable their participation. 

Fostering Collaboration Between Generations

Conflict situations and humanitarian crises invariably impact the lives of young people, whether as victims of violence or suffering its wider consequences. For this reason, effective peacebuilding policy can’t be formulated without meaningful youth input.

Unfortunately, young women peacebuilders are not often seen as legitimate actors by other stakeholders and partners. To address this, they should be granted a higher level of involvement in humanitarian operations, providing them an opportunity to showcase their capabilities.

A reworking of organizational frameworks in the peace and security space is also required to heighten youth participation and leadership. 

When organizations are structured to facilitate collaboration between generations, outcomes are generally more rounded and inclusive, as demonstrated by the WPS-HA Compact, which has been designed with intergenerational co-creation in mind. This involvement of young people in decision-making processes must be extended to other organizations and networks, participants were told.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Diandra Ní Bhuachalla, Ireland’s Youth Delegate to the United Nations. “All organizations have multiple methods for youth inclusion at their fingertips — they just need to act on them.”