Youth engagement is largely ignored in decision-making processes once radical changes take place. This undermines their participation in important socio-political or economic moments says Abhishek Thakur
In Nepal, citizens within the age bracket of 16 to 40 years are considered youth as per the National Youth Policy.
Youths have the power and courage to bring social reform and shape the path of the nation towards progress. It is essential to utilize the energy and talent of youths by ensuring their needs and access to peace and security.
Meaningful Youth Engagement.
Meaningful youth engagement is an inclusive, intentional, mutually-respectful partnership between youth and adults whereby power is shared, respective contributions are valued, and young people’s ideas, perspectives, skills and strengths are integrated into the design and delivery of programs, strategies, policies, funding mechanisms and organizations that affect their lives and their communities, countries and globally. (USAID, Youth Power)
Basically when the involvement of youth with different stakeholders in a community is valued and young people’s perspective is respected and incorporated into the designing, implementation and evaluation of programs and policies it is said to be as meaningful youth engagement.
Is Youth Engagement becoming Tokenistic?
Youth Engagement has become a trend for peacebuilding programs. Organizations and stakeholders such as NGOs, community leaders or government are making the youth a part of their programs and events. However, young people are only allowed to participate as beneficiaries and in consultations for the sake of making the activity inclusive. These “Youth Engaged Program” do not follow proper approaches or guidelines.
In the context of Nepal, youth engagement in peacebuilding has been utilization of youths during moments of conflicts leading to changes in the socio-political climate of Nepal. The engagements had contributed to political and socio-economic changes.
For instance, Maoist insurgency, end of monarchy and prevalence of democracy are some of the historic moments that are evidence of youth engagement for peacebuilding. However, young people are largely ignored from all decision-making processes once radical changes take place undermining their participation in important socio political or economic moments. It is also important to note that youths are regularly exploited by political parties for protest programs to this day.
The Government of Nepal has not been able to integrate youths into the development process. Even after the introduction of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 in 2015 which emphasises the importance of youth as agents of change in promotion of peace and security, youths are still recognised either as violence initiators or are being subjected to rampant violence globally.
Youth participation in design, implementation, and evaluation of peacebuilding programs can result in more effective program outcomes by increasing inclusion, impact, retention, and creating sustainable peace.
Through meaningful engagement, youth are empowered and supported to play a vital role in their own growth as well as in that of their communities. In the context of program implementation, active participation by youth in decision-making processes pertaining to the design, provision and delivery of services can help to respond to and meet youth’s needs.
Youths: leaders of today and tomorrow.
Youths may offer new ways of solving a problem or achieving a certain peacebuilding goal. The endeavors and willingness of youths to achieve more and better adds value to engage them in every step of the program from planning to implementation and evaluation.
Young people should be treated as equals to other participants and should be provided a safe place to keep their perspective. Engagement opportunities should be made accessible and equal opportunity should be provided to the diverse group of young people.
Provision of youth inclusion from different gender identities, socio-economic backgrounds, disabilities, ethnicities, religious affiliations, LGBTQI+ community, nationalities or lack thereof, or other minority groups (i.e. refugees, internally displaced people) should be introduced and implemented. It is important to encompass the voices of youth from these backgrounds as they have different needs and priorities.
It is also important to ensure incorporation of youth voices as a suggestion/feedback for further improvement of youth engagement in organising and implementing peace building programs and decision making processes.
The government and stakeholders need to be focussed in young people to enable a future that is inclusive, growth-oriented and sustainable.
Abhishek Thakur is a Public Health graduate working at Restless Development Nepal as a Youth take the lead Participant. He is a member of the Asia Youth Advocacy Team at United Network of Young Peacebuilders (UNOY).
He has been promoting global citizenship, leadership, preparing and implementing advocacy plans. He has mentored young people on mental health, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights advocacy in community schools.