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Young people key to peace and security

Published 17 Oct 2023
Maia Craig



Youth leadership is the key to quality decision making in peace and security, an AIIA Queensland event has been told.

Dr Helen Berents, pictured, delivered the message on October 10 as she explained the complex roles and perceptions of youth involvement in peace processes. She is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations in the Griffith University School of Government and International Relations.

With a population of 1.8 billion young people globally, Dr Berents stressed the importance of youth inclusion in policy making. Despite youth making up a third of the ASEAN population, leaders in Southeast Asia are typically more than twice the median age. This results in an inherent disparity in the experiences and values of political leaders compared to a large portion of the population. Political decision-making consequently tends to exclude the perspectives of young people.

Nevertheless, youth are extensively involved in peace and security, Dr Berents emphasised. She highlighted the inadequate recognition youth activism receives, and the harmful representations of young people in peace and security. Specifically, youth are represented as either a “demographic danger’’, or a “demographic dividend’’. The former representation portrays youth as irrational and reckless liabilities, while the latter constructs young people as opportunities to be harnessed. This undermines the current needs and perspectives of youth by labelling them “future leaders,” and postponing inclusion of their opinions.

Dr Berents presented an alternative view, in which young people are seen as humans with agency and rights. They are critical to increasing representation in peace and security policy making, which in turn enables more durable results.

The importance of youth leadership has been further highlighted through the Youth, Peace and Security Agenda (YPS) of the United Nations. This resolution recognises the critical role of young people in international peace and security, and calls for the increased inclusion of young people in decision making.

Active engagement of young people in peace and security requires “meaningful’’ participation. Dr Berents explained the importance of making involvement financially and practically accessible for young people. Moreover, the opinions of young people must be considered and respected, regardless of variance with members of greater experience. Meaningful participation also requires inclusion of a diverse range of young people to maximise representation.

Dr Berents discussed the chronic under resourcing of young people. Because they are associated with volunteering, this has allowed underfunding to be normalised, and is detrimental to the active engagement of youth in decision making.

She highlighted five critical lessons for youth leadership in peace and security. Firstly, leaders must make an active effort to understand the experiences of young people. Meaningful inclusion must additionally be ensured at every stage of policy making, and leaders must commit to creating and maintaining spaces for youth activists. Young people must also be sufficiently resourced, with sustainable, long-term, and substantial support. Finally, they must be consulted on all issues, with older people being open to their unique perspectives and expertise.

The presentation by Dr Berents highlighted the importance of youth leadership in peace and security. She explained the harmful representations of youth activism and critical considerations in actively engaging young people in decision making. AIIA members and guests were challenged to think again about youth leadership, and question if current efforts to include young people politically are sufficient.