The Youth Cafe is taking part in an online consultation on Youth and Peacebuilding at the invitation of Peace Direct and the United Network of Young (UNOY) Peacebuilders! The three days consultations are exploring what youth-led peacebuilding looks like in practice and understanding how to operationalise the principles behind the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda. 

Debunking assumptions

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:

  • Alarmist theories of demographic “youth bulges”, where youth are seen as a major at-risk group prone to violence due to social, political and economic exclusion;

  • False assumptions that young people can be “easily” recruited in violent extremist groups, which have placed youth at the centre of policy on countering and preventing violent extremism (C/PVE);

  • An oversimplified view that unemployment and a lack of education contributes to youth violence. Tied into this is the inaccurate assumption that education and/or employment can single-handedly solve the problem of youth violence;

  • Fears about the migration crisis and the influx of young migrants and refugees, where young migrants are often represented as a burden for the host communities, as unable or unwilling to assimilate, as a drain on welfare provisions, and possibly posing security threats.

Conversely, narratives that romanticise youth as a faultless group that can do no harm can also lead to the spread of assumptions that fail to understand “the variety and multiplicity of young people’s identities, experiences and environments which shape their interactions across social, economic and political spheres.” (Cardozo et. al, 2015)

What is evident here is the need to move away from simplistic conceptualisations of youth that reduce a diverse category of people to a homogeneous group and undermine youth agency. Instead, it is critical to explore a more nuanced understanding of how young people can shape their societies, both positively and negatively.


  1. As young peacebuilders, how do you think you are perceived by other peace and security actors? How do you perceive yourselves?

  2. How does the narrative around youth in peace and conflict shape youth agency - as an enabler and/or as a barrier?

  3. As a young peacebuilder, how do you think you are spoken for? How do you speak for yourselves? What kind of messaging do you put forward to represent yourselves? OR As a non-youth actor (practitioner, policy-maker, researcher), how do you craft messages and narratives around youth and peacebuilding? What kind of narratives around these issues reach you?

  1. What spaces, tools and platforms do you use to make your message and narrative reach your audience, such as donors, partners, policymakers, and other youth?

Session summary

Today’s discussion focused on deconstructing the role of youth in peacebuilding, seeking to map out what youth-led peacebuilding looks like in practice and move away from simplified narratives around youth by highlighting their diversity and the gender dynamics that underpin youth peacebuilding.

We had excellent participation on our first day, with over 132 participants joining in from across the globe! Participants have added some 176 comments so far (and counting).

All participants have raised very important issues, and in an effort to summarise today’s discussion we have pulled together some of the key points raised to give you an idea of the conversations that are currently taking place. We apologise in advance if we could not incorporate everyone’s insights. You can still continue to review and add comments to each of these threads throughout the week. Many thanks to our moderators for their active role in facilitating the discussions.

Debunking assumptions

In this second thread, participants have been open to sharing their personal experiences and knowledge on the how youth are perceived in the context of peacebuilding. These testimonies can be harrowing but it seems that sharing these struggles has prompted responses on methods and ideas to tackle these issues. One of the main shared notions is on promoting intergenerational dialogue, fighting stereotyping by engaging openly with diverse groups. This has led to acknowledging the need for both further research and implementation of practical solutions within the peacebuilding communities and everyday society.

Key points:

“Some people perceive us as people that are wasting their time, resource and energy, as we propagate the peace message. Due to this I don't get the needed support that I expect. Personally I am not so concerned about their support, because I believe in giving back to the society, and I as an individual understand that it is my core mandate to enhance the society, so am not in any way derailed from my goal.” Francis Lomotey

“The youth demographic is on the rise. We cannot ignore the case in many parts of the world that the majority of the society is under 30. The youth are not just the future as the cliché goes, they are the present, they are now. This means that they need to be included and embedded in processes taking place now, not as token representations but with agency and influence. And it's not like they do not want that engagement.” Amjad Saleem

 “I find it more effective to target the community as a whole-starting with the older generation. Starting conversations on the root of conflict and the merits of peace with the elderly has allowed us debunk myths and stereotypes that affect youth agenda towards peace-building.” Sandra Dindi

“There is a strong need for data to understand the drivers of violent behaviours and factors enabling the youth to promote peace.” Essan Émile AKO

“The need to rebuild our communities and narratives around youth starts with each of us at our various capacity, youth who have not attained education are as equally important as those who have, in their capacity they have models that can continues to shape the future of the young generation.” Juliet Adoch