This report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is submitted in response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (General Assembly resolution 70/1). As the first cycle of SDG implementation and review comes to a close and Member States gear up for the High-Level Political Forum in July and five major sustainable development focussed meetings in September, this ‘Special Edition’ of the Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report was written in cooperation with the United Nations system Task Team on the High-level Political Forum, co-chaired by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme.
Welcome to the latest edition of Africa Renewal Magazine re-produced by The Youth Cafe with permission from the Africa Section of the United Nations Department of Public Information. It provides up-to-date information and analysis of the major economic and development challenges facing Africa today. Among the major items it produces is the renowned magazine, Africa Renewal (formerly Africa Recovery), which first appeared in 1987. It also produces a range of public information materials, including backgrounders, press releases and feature articles. It works with the media in Africa and beyond to promote the work of the United Nations, Africa and the international community to bring peace and development to Africa.
Financial sustainability, i.e. the ability to operate on a long-term basis without threat of stopping work due to lack of financial means, is a critical challenge for all civil society organisations, particularly those engaged in peacebuilding activities which donors might view as ‘too political’ or risky. When organisations struggle to maintain the resources needed to carry out their missions, this reduces the ability of peacebuilding organisations to plan for the long term, develop autonomy, and react quickly to design and implement activities in volatile contexts.
This issue is particularly salient for organisations which rely on youth volunteers, or for youth-led peacebuilding organisations who face funding challenges. In the recent global study for UN Security Council Resolution 2250, an in-depth study of on-ground youth-led peacebuilding organisations revealed that half of the organisations participating operate on less than USD 5,000 per year, and most youth organisations tend to operate on limited-to-no funding, with an average of 97% of staff working as volunteers (UNOY, 2017). However, community members and key stakeholders view these organisations as key providers of the most effective and responsive peacebuilding work (UNOY, 2017; Peace Direct, 2018). Despite this, they face a myriad of funding challenges.
“We must not only work for youth — we must work with youth. All of us will gain by doing so.”
– Jan Eliasson, Former Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations
The work of youth in peacebuilding promises the potential of a tremendous peace and security dividend for governments and international actors. However, many young people are frustrated by the tendency of these actors treating them as a problem to be solved, instead of as partners for peace. Moreover, youth are largely isolated from non-family adults – spatially, socially, and psychologically. As a result, many non-youth peacebuilding organisations rarely interact with young peacebuilders.
Youth who live in countries where violent conflict has taken place have the capacity to engage in conflict transformation and peacebuilding efforts. They can be an important asset when it comes to shaping and engaging in peace dialogues and processes, often acting as advocates for new perspectives and innovative ideas. The constructive role that young people can play, however, is often overlooked by communities and decision makers, who fail to perceive them as legitimate stakeholders.
Part of the problem here is that non-youth actors play into the mantra of youth being “the leaders of tomorrow”, expecting youth to defer to the older generations and wait for their turn to assume leadership roles. However, the development of these ‘future’ youth leaders in peacebuilding is contingent on adult leaders’ recognition and appreciation of the knowledge, potential, and capacity youth have today as agents of social change.
Global unemployment is on the rise with a third of the world’s active youth population, about 71 million youth, either unemployed or living in ‘working poverty’. Several factors including market conditions have made it difficult for young people to secure jobs, and the current global rate of youth unemployment stands at 13% (ILO, 2018) – three times that of the adult employment rate.
Young people around the world often have little say in how economic policies are shaped and implemented. Feelings of exclusion, disempowerment, disillusionment and lacking confidence are commonly held among youth towards economic systems, who feel their prospects of financial security are lowered.
Whenever a country is faced with major political and social change, young men and women often take an active lead, mobilising their constituencies, organising peaceful demonstrations, engaging in dialogues - exhibiting a shared desire to take part in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Indeed, youth-led initiatives are growing around the world, as evidenced by the Arab spring, the Occupy protests and online social movements across the world.
However, young people have traditionally been excluded from or had a limited input or representation in formal political and peacebuilding processes. Only 1.9% of the world’s elected representatives are under 30 years old, and 80% of parliaments around the world have no members under 30 (IPU, 2016). This is often due to set age restrictions, but also underestimating youth’s potential to contribute to peace and stability through political processes (Cardozo et. al, 2015).
Inclusive peace is the idea that all stakeholders in a society should have a role in defining and shaping peace, meaning that women, young people, minority and marginalised communities are included in peace processes. Still, it is not enough to just have a seat at the table. Inclusion must be meaningful and must ensure that multiple youth identities are recognised and acknowledged, and that youth groups themselves have the strategies and practices to encourage meaningful inclusion.
Nevertheless, too often “youth” is overly simplified to a homogeneous category, one that suppresses or ignores the highly diverse needs, backgrounds and identities of certain groups of young people. Instead, a number of youth constituencies exist, and they represent the value of young people’s diversity, in terms of gender, religion, caste, education, class, locality, ethnicity, etc. Failing to consider young people in their diversity also fails to take into account their diverse experiences of conflict differ and varying motivations and capacities to work for peace.
Youth as a conceptual category are often perceived in negative ways – either as the main perpetrators of political violence, social unrest and violent extremism, or as passive victims of conflict who lack agency and need protection. In fact, the dominant narratives have tended to focus on youth as “problematic” or on “at risk” instead of considering how young people are positively contributing to peace in their societies (Mazzacurati, 2017).
These overly simplistic narratives that demonise or patronise youth have spread into policy circles, skewing policy and programmatic priorities in the process (Simpson, 2019) and contributing to counter-productive policy practices based on: