Today, with the theme of “Youth Building Peace”, we celebrate the International Youth Day! As we wade through these troubled times, young people’s contribution as agents of change in all fronts of the fight for human rights – especially in deterring and resolving conflicts – becomes a key factor in building and sustaining peace. ARROW has had the privilege of working with some of the brightest and most passionate young leaders from all around the globe, and today Amit Timilsina from YUWA (Nepal), Gyknell Tangente from GALANG (Philippines) and Fale Andrew Lesā from New Zealand are sharing their experiences, thoughts and opinions on the role of youth in peace building!
War, Peace and Youth
The nation was soaked by blood. Youths being captured, trained and used for civil war. Youth and women, tortured. Youth were either part of the war or fleeing to save their lives. The economy of the country was going downhill and peace was shattered. It took 10 years to end the civil war. The scars are still there and it will remain forever. Nepal then entered into peace process and the voice regarding rights of citizens were raised. The issues of youth were somewhat lost and unheard. The voice of youth as always were neglected or was labelled “unimportant”. The sufferers of civil war, the warriors in people’s movement and the pillars of the country need to step out, step up and be bold for change. Youth movement in Nepal is gaining pace, young people are presented with new platforms to raise their voice and organization like YUWA are emerging to empower youth and strengthen involvement at decision making level. Youth plays an important role in the establishment and restoration of peace, especially after a conflict – like a phoenix rising from the ashes of pain and scars of war.
Youth were always subject to distrust; youth involvement in decision making level was very minimal. The need of capacity building is a must, the grooming of youth and transfer of leadership is equally important. The transition phase was crucial and youth movement was very important to strengthen young people’s role in nation building. Many of them are migrating to various countries to seek job opportunities, resulting in a brain drain that is still a serious concern for Nepal. Sex selective abortion, child marriage, teenage pregnancy, menstrual hygiene management and related stigma and discrimination, HIV and AIDS especially among migrant worker, gender based violence, unmet need of family planning, unsafe abortion, and maternal mortality ratio are some of the more noticeable issues among youth. SRHR was and still is a topic of taboo among the people, community and nation, acting as a barrier for peace.
Youth contributing to advocacy on SRHR issues and global community willing to help is necessary to bring peace in Nepal. Progressive youth advocacy and movement has led to a dignified life for sexual and gender minorities, matriarchal citizenship, “O” category in passport, reducing maternal mortality ratio, improvement in situations of HIV and AIDS, revision of CSE curriculum, strengthening adolescent and youth friendly health service sites, free safe abortion service and criminalizing “chhaupadi” in Nepal. The continuous advocacy from youth led organizations, youth activists, youth led initiatives and youth-adult partnership was vital for all these development and continuous effort is needed to preserve these outcomes.
The volunteerism that youth of Nepal showed during devastating earthquake was incredible. The only positive thing that we can draw from devastating earthquake was unity between youths; their energy and tireless effort in rescue and restoration process was like medicine to us. The relentless efforts and tenacity that youth initiated during landslide, flood or any natural calamities are examples of young people’s potential to build peace in Nepal.
YUWA have grown as one of the leading youth organization in Nepal. The continuous effort and hard work from cofounders, members, staff, interns and volunteers has been crucial to lead youth movement in Nepal. The trust that government agencies, youth council have shown for YUWA, the partnership with multilateral agencies especially UNFPA and UNDP has been motivating. We always believe advocacy at grass root level should always be linked with regional and international level. This always shapes and contributes to collective efforts from various movement as our earth is a global home and we are its global citizen. ARROW have helped youths like me and organization like YUWA to be youth advocate, build our capacity and encouraging us to empower youth and young people with skills we have learnt through various experience. I delivered the opening statement in the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) urging youth to be agent of change, youth as peace maker and not to neglect youth issues. The scenario that Nepalese people and young people of Nepal were facing was quite representative of Asia Pacific and global south. The transition of youth involvement as agents of war to agents of peace is certainly an encouraging development.
It is important for us to realize the demographic dividend and even more so for us to use it to build nation, to restore peace and to paint a beautiful history of youth movement in Nepal. We are marching ahead in a difficult political and geo political scenario and collective and collaborative effort can ease the process. We are moving into generation of Sustainable Development Goals and the only way to achieve that is by investing in youth. I urge youths, youth leaders and youth organization to have unity, to practice leadership transformation, to have common agenda to empower youths and to strengthen youth’s involvement at decision making level. I urge partners to build more trust on youths, to allow youths and youth organization to learn from their mistakes, to guide youth but not to influence them and to support youth organizations to build capacity of fellow youths rather than supporting visibility activities. We have realized through our seven years of work in building capacity of youths through our activities and through Youth Activists Leadership Council (YALC) that building capacity is a slow but impactful process. YUWA is proud to produce hundreds of productive youths and so does other organizations investing in building capacity of youth. They contribute in building peaceful and worth place to live in. The difference between having young people working towards peace or young people working against it, is our involvement in shaping an environment that gives them the choice, and arming them with the knowledge for them to make informed choices!
– Amit Timilsina, Nepal, President of YUWA
Taking Charge of Peace-Making
They say young people are the leaders of tomorrow. Certainly that is a noble and loaded statement, full of hopes and dreams for the days to come; however, that doesn’t translate to an excuse to do nothing today.
We tend to “pass the puck” to politicians, the media, big business, religion. When it comes to peace, everyone has a responsibility. Young people shouldn’t wait for tomorrow to act because by starting right now, the odds are far greater. We are exposed to technology far more than any other generations and yet social media is littered with examples of violence. If we turned these new mediums into tools for peace, just imagine our potential. How often do we stop and appreciate how these platforms bring us together in all of our diversity? Why do we insist on wasting them? I envision a future where young people own today, tomorrow and every day after that. One where we don’t have to wait in the shadows for others to pass the torch, or hide behind someone else’s accomplishments and failures. Millennials are often criticised by older generations for being lazy and poorly informed even with all this information at our fingertips. We need to dispel this myth ourselves by being socially responsible.
New Zealand suffers from the highest youth suicide rate in the world. We fail in our obligation to ensure that every child is healthy, supported and thriving. That when they transition to young adults, they feel safe and comfortable in their own identities. This time, there’s no passing the puck. Every New Zealander is part of the crisis. When we turn a blind eye and choose to do nothing, we contribute to the problem. When we laugh at our peers or discourage their individualism, we are the problem. Who would have thought that in one of the most prosperous places on earth, we are disappointing our children and those who need us most? There’s not a lot to smile about when New Zealand nearly tops the global peace index every year but ignores the violence in our homes, schools and workplaces, when nearby islands in the Pacific harbour some of the highest rates of gender-based violence and yet we look the other way.
For more than 5 years, I have volunteered with Affinity Services, a mental healthcare service that caters for young people, by young people. We understand the mainstream healthcare system is terrifying and that children and young people respond to distress in different ways. We provide a consumer advocacy space, a homeless shelter, and specific services for disadvantaged groups (indigenous, LGBTIQ, recent migrants and refuges, urban poor, etc). It’s no magic wand, but it’s my small way of making a difference. Our service is the first of its kind in the country and we have no intention of slowing down. Don’t allow yourself to get comfortable with violence even if it doesn’t affect you. Stand up and be counted as someone who doesn’t want to share a backyard with any form of violence even if it belongs to someone else. That’s the only way we’re going to stem the tide of conflicts; by realizing that each one of us, each young people, play a part in ensuring a bright and peaceful future!
– Andrew Lesa, New Zealand, Affinity Services, Youth Leader
Becoming a Mighty Keyboard Warrior
Do you consider yourself as a “keyboard warrior”? Most of us wouldn’t. Keyboard warriors are popularly defined as a person who acts tough, or puts down others over the internet. Due to its negative definition most of us, even if we are guilty of it in some extent, do not admit that we are indeed keyboard warriors.
Social Media Wars: Furthering Divide
In today’s world, social media or the internet has been an integral part of one’s daily life. It is a place where inner thoughts and feelings are shared. It has become a source of entertainment and a major source of information, both legit and less so. As an example of the latter, in the Philippines, social media is widely used to share fake news, satire news, and even information provided by legitimate government agencies that contain malicious and biased contents. These posts elicit divisive responses, and they are often nothing more than “clickbait”; whose credibility is questionable at best. The end result is social media “war”, irrational war of words that gives rise to a generation of keyboard warriors.
Due to the anonymity that the digital or the internet world provides, it gave us the power to express ourselves freely; even our rage, anger, and biases. Furthermore, the lack of personal interaction somehow gave us a privilege to hurt other people without thinking of its repercussion, which only results in further division and misunderstanding.
In the end, everyone is on the losing side. Discrimination, violence, and harassment will continue to persist on both online and offline world.
Youth as Mighty Keyboard Warriors to Promote Peace
As the International Youth Day 2017 is dedicated to celebrating young people’s contributions to conflict prevention and transformation and to put an end on this, I urge the youth of the nations to reclaim and redefine the term “Keyboard Warriors” to promote and achieve peace. We, as a generation that has access to virtually unbound and endless knowledge, must use all the tools we have, both online and offline, to achieve peace by promoting education and critical thinking.
Let’s go above and beyond being a Keyboard Warrior and become a Mighty Keyboard Warrior that uses the social media to give awareness about Human Rights. To push for equality, respect, and diversity to end all forms of discrimination and violence.
It may seem difficult but we should learn to engage others assertively and not aggressively, we must always keep in mind that all of us have biases that our deeply rooted in our society and culture. Let’s be kind in engaging with other people, we should facilitate their path to enlightenment and not in creating further divide.
May we, the youth of the world, become mighty warriors that fight discrimination and violence in both online and offline world!
– Gyky Tangente, Philippines, GALANG
Youth Building Peace: Expectations versus Reality
“Youth is the future of the country”- I have heard this line a thousand times since I was mature enough understand what the sentence actually means. Yes, I was born and brought up in a poor country like Bangladesh. You might get confused why I am addressing my country as poor while we have so many new developments going on. Let me explain.
As we all know, Bangladesh is not very old as an independent and sovereign country. She got her freedom 46 years ago with the help of her children, the youth. The youth fought together along with others to free their homeland from oppression. Since then, whenever change is on the horizon, young people are always ready to lead.
At least 1/3 of the youth are involved in bringing peace and harmony in the society. They pour their hearts and souls to achieve the targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But where there is a dawn, there will also be a dusk. In Bangladesh, there aren’t enough venues to work on alarming issues such as SRHR, gender equality, maternal health, LGBT rights, and so on. The country is still living under the specter of old stereotypes where youth are not even allowed to express their own feelings if their elders are talking. Our youth is always expected to take up the mantle of bringing peace and harmony even as they are faced with numerous legacy hurdles.
Just as there are young people who comes out of their shell as defenders of human rights and peace, there are also others who are aligned to the opposite camp, either by choice or by external influences. However this is far from being a binary situation as there are a whole different spectrum between the two. But always, there are youth who are disenfranchised, who are lacking in education and decision-making spaces. And that’s why we are all the more poorer because of it.
I clearly remember the day when I started working as a young volunteer four years ago. I got to see how the expectations and reality are totally different is this field. When I started working with Durbin Foundation, a completely youth led organization, I got the chance to work on a SRHR project. It was a partnership project of both ARROW and Durbin where I was facilitating in 10 different schools. I had to discuss SRHR issues with the students; I had to be content with speaking about “light” issues, as the school committee forbade us from touching on topics that are considered taboo. We couldn’t talk about LGBTIQ issues at all, as that is a potentially life-threatening topic here in the country. Still, the response was great, and there were many questions coming from the girl students regarding their body and rights.
We still have a lot of work to do; we are able to stir communities over issues that affect them, but the sheer scope of SRHR and its intersectionality means that we still need a more holistic approach. But I still believe we, the youth, have an iron will. We will struggle, we may fall, but we will not break down. All we need is more opportunities, and for the general public to listen to our side of the story. Peace cannot be built upon a foundation of dead bodies. We have to keep our heads up and steel our resolve. Just like Einstein said, “Peace cannot be kept by force; It can only be achieved by understanding.”
– Masha Al Airin Khan, Bangladesh, Durbin