Mr. Chair and Vice-Chairs, I'm really appreciative to the Foreign Affairs and International Development committee for this opportunity to speak to you. In some way, I feel it's imperative by way of report-back because we were very indebted to Canada for its support of the progress study on youth, peace and security, along with that of Sweden, Norway, Ireland and others. Given your contribution to this study, I hope you will see behind this a real affirmation of some of the principles that I know you stand for.
By way of background, the progress study was called for when Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security was passed in December 2015. That came on the back of a fairly lengthy period of time in which youth-led organizations globally were lobbying extremely hard to draw the attention of the international community and the multilateral system to the fact that young people experienced that they are largely marginalized and voiceless.
Championed by Jordan—a small country on the Security Council—in the years leading up to 2015, the resolution eventually passed. I think it took a lot of people by surprise. In the passing of the resolution, we see at the council quite odd bedfellows with a common interest in addressing the deficits in young people's participation and inclusion. Some felt this was a matter of principle and that the world needed to have the sort of innovation, creativity, resourcefulness and resilience of young people accessed and brought into the system. Others saw a real risk and a threat of violence and extremism if young people were marginalized and excluded. They passed Resolution 2250 with fairly different motivations in some senses.
What was really unusual—and this is something for which I am particularly grateful—was the mandate of the resolution to conduct a study, which became known as a progress study on youth, peace and security. The reality is that because it was a new resolution, this wasn't so much a progress study as the development of a strategy for the implementation of this resolution globally. In that capacity, I was appointed as the lead author by the Secretary-General to undertake the study.
I want to emphasize that I was appointed as an independent lead author. This gave me unusual room to really say what I needed to and address the issues that I thought young people were raising. The other mandate of the study was—unusually—to focus on the positive contribution of young people to peace.
Finally, I think that implicit in this was a recognition that the Security Council was attempting to address an enduring problem of exclusion and a growing problem—which became very evident in the early phases of the study—of young people's mistrust of their governments and of the multilateral system, and often a deep mistrust even of international civil society organizations. We found that 1.8 billion young people felt voiceless, and one-quarter of those at least—and that's a conservative estimate—were living in situations of ongoing exposure to violence.
It became very clear that we couldn't address the problem of exclusion by reproducing the problem in our methodology, so I want to dwell briefly on the methods of the study. As was announced by the Secretary-General's representative when the study was released to the General Assembly in September last year, this study was one of the most participation-inclusive studies that the UN had ever undertaken.
Through Canada's help, we went beyond just the usual regional consultations with young people who could all speak English, had the language skills, had passports and were familiar with the UN. We insisted that we needed to access young people who were hard to reach and who would not normally have a voice in this. I can't do justice to the study here, but in the 10 minutes I will refer to this. I really encourage you to look at the study itself. It reflects a vibrant, extraordinary voice of young people.
In the end, beyond the regional consultations—and we did seven of those—we did five national consultations, one of which was in Canada.
Through a partnership of civil society organizations who had trust-based access to young people on the ground, we were eventually able to access young migrant women in the foothills of Guatemala, young combatants in the Philippines, second-generation migrants in the neighbourhoods of Stockholm, African-American youth in the neighbourhoods on the south side of Chicago, young combatants or refugees in South Sudan, etc.
Some 280 focus groups in 44 countries around the world, 35 thematic and country-specific studies and a survey of youth-led peace-building organizations provided unparalleled access to young peoples' voices. It's on that basis that I want to share with you some of the key findings. Then I'll be open to your questions.
The first issue that became very clear was that young people were very mindful of the extent to which they were the victims of stereotypes, particularly in relation to youth, peace and security. As soon as we spoke about peace and security, the predominant image, a very gendered image, was of a young man with a gun posing a threat and a young women consigned to the passive status of victimhood. Young people have said that both of these definitions completely deny their agency, their contributions and their resilience as contributors to peace.
What these stereotypes also did was produce what we called “policy panic”, a series of policy assumptions and myths that were not, on the basis of our explorations, based on significant evidence.
The first was an assumption that “youth bulges”—growing proportions of young people within a population—would automatically result in high levels of violence.
The second was that young people were the major threat presented by the migration waves, that there were young migrant men who are threatening infiltration and terrorism.
The third was the assumption that all young people were at risk of joining violent armed groups.
The truth is that evidence suggested quite the contrary on many of these instances. It is only a tiny sliver of young people who are engaging on the wrong side of this divide. What we had as a mandate for our study was to discover and to articulate the alternative path for investment in young people, the majority of whom were either just getting on with their lives—I don't think we should romanticize them any more than we should demonize them—while a huge number were actively contributing to peace.
The core message of the study, through the voice of young people, was that until we address the “violence of exclusion”—that's their language, not mine—we will never prevent the violence of extremism. In young peoples' own voices, this was about both political inclusion and rebuilding their trust in economic systems that were inclusive. It was about recognizing the space they needed for their operations and for their freedom of movement and assembly. It was also about their opportunities for dissent, and often peaceful protests which were seen as threatening. We argued they were actually a very important contribution to change and to peace.
Very importantly, they experienced the distinct experiences of young women as opposed to young men, and the gendered character of exclusion and marginalization, which sees the youth, peace and security agenda and the women's peace and security agenda as fundamentally joined at the hip. This was in particular about the unique experience of young women. One of the other things that we discovered, really importantly, was about the importance of providing and addressing alternatives to toxic masculinity. The issue of masculinity as a driver of violence and conflict was very important. An integrated approach to gender is at the heart of this.
The young people also expressed concern around exclusion in the education system, in criminal justice and security sector reform, and in reintegration of former combatants. It was very powerful for us to hear young people talking about how the majority of young people being reintegrated as former combatants in conflict-affected societies were young, yet they were often being reintegrated into elder-led communities, which left them feeling re-marginalized. Young people were asking us to imagine what it would look like if the receiving communities were youth organizations and were youth-led.
If the first message was that we have to address all of these areas of exclusion if we are to address extremism, the second message was that there is an extraordinary alternative avenue for investment: Not in young people as a problem to be solved, not in young people as a risk, but in the resilience and resourcefulness of youth as an attribute for peace.
Young people really demonstrated this. You'll see that the second part of the study is a description of all of the things that we found young people were doing against all the odds. They were operating across different phases of conflict, early intervention models and prevention best approaches with younger children right through to post-conflict involvement in informal peace processes. They were engaged at every level, from the most local and intimate peace-building processes, people-to-people at the local level, through to global coalitions and partnerships. They were engaged across different typologies of violence, from gender-based violence to terrorist violence to political and criminal violence, and they recognized the interface and interlinkages between these things.
They were engaged in unique partnerships where they couldn't access their governments. Very often, they were working with local mayors, local actors and different stakeholders. They were saying to us, “Don't ghettoize young people. We aren't just in one place. We are in youth organizations, but we are also in women's organizations, in human rights organizations, in civil society organizations. We are in governments. We are on both sides of the police-community divide.”
They said to us, “Every SDG is a youth SDG. Please don't treat us as just concerned with issues of education or issues of sport and recreation. We want a stake in the entire development of our societies and in the policy around this.”
Young people also demonstrated the most extraordinary, new and innovative methodologies, whether it was about sport and culture and arts, or most importantly, the progressive, creative occupation of cyberspace and social media as a tool for building peace and developing new peace technologies.
What they were doing was crying out to us for the conclusion of the study: that if we want to take advantage of this demographic dividend, especially the high proportion of young people in conflict-affected societies—but not exclusively—then we need to invest in young people as a peace dividend. This demands some seismic shifts in the way that governments and the international system are addressing this, from largely remedial and hard security-based approaches to prevention approaches that invest not in risk, but in the resilience of young people.
It involves investment in the partnerships that young people are driving in our societies with governments and with civil society, and particularly an investment in youth-led organizations. It also involves the development of new norms in our society to socialize Resolution 2250 as a meaningful domestic tool.
The study produces three categories of recommendations. I won't go into them in detail; I don't have time.
In the first category, we motivate very strongly for an investment in the resilience of young people, in their agency, in their leadership and in their organizations through funding, through supporting peace networks in the youth sector, through organizational capacities and by filling the data gaps. It's unbelievable how difficult it is to find gender- and age-disaggregated data on young people.
The second category is about addressing all those areas of exclusion in the polity, in economics, in development policy, in the educational arena and in terms of gender with regard to young people in society.
The third is to invest in the partnerships that young people forge, whether that's at the UN or whether that's in the establishment of youth delegates within the agencies of the UN and through governments representative to the UN. It's about the consultative spaces that we need to create for young people and the integration of young people fully into the 2030 agenda for development; the Resolution 1325 agenda—the women, peace and security agenda—and the annual reporting of the Secretary-General to the Security Council. In all these arenas, we've made a series of recommendations to address these problems of exclusion.
With that, I will leave you, but I'll say one last thing. I was really struck when I examined the feminist international assistance policy of Canada to see the language “human dignity”, “growth that works for everyone”, “environment and climate action”, “inclusive governance”, and “peace and security”. These are all the platforms that the youth, peace and security agenda addresses. I think we see a very powerful resonance between Canada's international concerns and those of the youth, peace and security agenda. I'd go one step further. I would encourage you to recognize that we discovered that young people exist everywhere in society. This is also an essential issue for Canada to think about as a domestic issue as much as an international one.