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"Knowledge from the region, for the region"
29 Oct

Helping Young Peacemakers Overcome the Barriers they Face

60 leaders from 10 countries gathered in Jordan from 16 to 18 October to address the challenges and opportunities young peacemakers face. The conference was the second event in the Wilton Park Youth Dialogues, organised by Wilton Park in partnership with the West Asia – North Africa (WANA) Institute, the British Council, and the Department for International Development (DFID).

Youth make up a third of those affected by conflict, with more than 600 million young people living in fragile or conflict affected areas. Unable to work and often traumatised, they may see joining an armed group or leaving their country as the only choices open to them. Yet many young people are also actively contributing to peacebuilding. The conference focused on how they can be supported in their role.

British ambassador Edward Oakden was delighted to welcome Wilton Park to Jordan for the first time in its history: “The organisation's unique convening power provides a great opportunity for us to listen to the widest range of perspectives on the many challenges facing Jordan’s youth, who make up 60% of the population and truly represent the country’s future. I enjoyed hearing fresh ideas on how to empower young women and men to realise their power as peacemakers.”

HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal joined the conversation as the chairman of the WANA Institute. He noted that “the only way to transition towards peace in the region is through moving from ‘me’ to ‘we’. Exercises like the Wilton Park dialogues stimulate youth to reflect on what it means to be an active citizen, both in their countries and in the region.”

Scaling Up Grassroots Efforts

The conference showcased emerging local initiatives that empower young people, and reflected on how such activities can be scaled up to optimise grassroots efforts in the face of extremism.

Mark Clark, CEO of Generations For Peace, a Jordan-based international peacebuilding NGO, explained: “The best sustainable impacts for youth empowerment, resilience and social cohesion, come from developing positive values and peer-group fusion through experiential learning activities sustained over time. We need to give youth the opportunity to demonstrate their leadership and responsible citizenship through small actions in their own communities, and make them feel trusted by adults and authority figures.”

“Global annual spending on such peacebuilding activities is currently $2Bn,” Clark continued, “whilst global spending on ice cream is $9Bn, and $13,600Bn on violent conflict. Yet the evidence is compelling that for every $1 spent on ‘upstream’ conflict prevention, $16 is saved on the ‘downstream’ costs of violent conflict.”

The Role of Education

The participants also discussed the role of education in developing young people’s sense of citizenship. Education activist Muzoon Almellehan (19) testified about her campaign to encourage parents to send their children to school.

Muzoon spent nearly three years in Jordan as a refugee, including 18 months in Za’atari refugee camp, when she was forced to flee violence in Syria. During that time, she made it her personal mission to get more girls into education. She went from tent to tent talking to parents to encourage them to enrol their children. Her commitment led to her appointment as UNICEF’s youngest ever Goodwill Ambassador in June 2017.

"You could be affected by conflict, poverty and endure many challenges, including losing your home, but education is what gives all children hope for a better future,” she testified. “I will continue to advocate for every child to have access to quality education, to give them hope and for making peace.”

Towards a New Social Contract

The event reflected on the type of social contract needed to support a culture of peace where young people are heard and represented. “A social contract is not a piece of paper, it is a long-term process that should have clear ideas about what young people expect from their governments and how they can contribute,” Barik Mhadeen, researcher at the WANA Institute, said.

Mhadeen explained that “Arab youth want a social contract based on equal opportunity, be it educational, social, economic, or political. Instead of merely giving young Arabs a seat at the table, we should be given an equal shot at life. We should be given the space to innovate and establish start-ups, to express our opinions constructively, and to develop our own capacity. In short, we would like to see a social contract that acknowledges us as citizens, not subjects.” 

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