Youth identity- victim, troublemaker or peacebuilder?

On 13 April 2011, I will be speaking at the Wellington South’s meeting and sharing my findings on how youth are perceived by the UN and World Bank. My research is confined to youth living in the conflict and post-conflict setting. This issue of youth identity is no doubt a popular topic for discussion given the recent political upheavals in the Middle East and the widely held perception that a youth bulge (ie a high youth demographic proportionate to the total population) is causally linked to violence and conflict. 

Youth clearly have a major part to play in politics (think back to the days of Obama’s high youth supporter base and the ‘revolution’ in Egypt earlier this year- However, many researchers such as Henrik Urdal have found that the link between youth and conflict is statistically insignificant (translate this to mean “there are so many other factors involved!”).

I strongly agree that youth have a major role to play. They have an immense world changing, transformational power, potential and influence. The media often only draws our attention to the negatives (as that is what sells) but the stories of youth’s roles in peacebuilding are ignored. Youth have been actively involved in grassroots peacebuilding. Some examples include:

  • “Shministim”, created to resist compulsory conscription in Israel when members resisted to take part in Israel’s occupation;
  • “Otpor”, which opposed Milosevic’s regime in Serbia;
  • “Peace Links” which empowers marginalised youth in Sierra Leone through music and dance; and
  • the “United Network of Young Peacebuilders”, a global network of youth peacebuilding organizations.

There are plenty of other examples of peacebuilding not yet documented.

What this suggests to me is that it is inaccurate to portray youth identity as purely victims or troublemakers. They can also be leaders and peacebuilders!

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