By Charalampia Armpounioti
Motivated by their strong enthusiasm and drive, youth can play an important and positive role in fostering peace in societies impacted by conflict. Youth are also those most deeply affected by violence, making their contribution to building lasting peace even more significant. As underscored by UNSCR 2250, the empowerment of young people is crucial to navigating the difficult path from conflict to peace. Young people’s needs must be addressed, their voices must be amplified and their engagement must be advanced so that they may become active agents of peace.
Exploring how different organisations work to empower youth, we interviewed two non-governmental organisations working with young people in Lebanon and learned about their work and their views on youth engagement in peace and decision-making processes.
Madanyat is an NGO that aims to respond effectively to current changes in Lebanon, advocating that a diversity of voices will lead to a fairer, more inclusive and democratic society. Its main objectives are to actively contribute to reaching gender equality in all designated and elected bodies of the country; to bring together youth, women and men, from around the country willing to work for political, economic, cultural and social justice for all; to advocate a new vision where politics is accessible to women and youth by working with all political parties; to raise awareness about the impact of women’s under-representation in decision-making; and to spread art and culture as a vector of social cohesion, diversity, and human rights.
Launched in January 2021, their YOUTHMATTERS project aims to raise awareness about the functioning of political structures among young Lebanese and empower them to become active citizens able to make positive contributions to their nation’s development. The project also aims to raise awareness of the importance of women’s participation in politics and decision-making processes, and reinforce the role of youth in democracy. Focusing on young women, Madanyat launched the REVIVE project with support of UN Women. The key objective of this project is to increase the meaningful participation and representation of women in political processes, and change attitudes and perceptions concerning gender equality in Lebanon.
“Our communities need new ways to create new realities. Young people are the ones that can create these realities.”
For Madanyat, youth that have not been involved in past wars and are not part of the current political establishment, have the perspective needed to assess the current state of their country and draft a plan for a more sustainable future. Their neutrality is seen as a strength that would benefit their role and positions in peace processes and decision-making. Unfortunately, as the organisation confirms, Lebanese youth face a number of political, economic and security challenges, including a lack of stability and vision for the future; high unemployment rates; poor working conditions and education; and access to healthcare. These challenges often force young people to consider migrating instead of building their country.
To address this, Madanyat stresses that young people must be more meaningfully involved in the decisions that affect them directly, for instance, by “creating youth committees in every municipality or by administering survey questions asking for youth opinions.” At the same time, youth should be empowered and educated about the significance of their potential role and be encouraged to actively participate in decision-making. Training can also help increase youth engagement in such processes and equip young people with useful skills and knowledge that may contribute to their impact in their communities.
The Madanyat team highlights that every effort counts towards building a more sustainable future. “Young people should learn from their history, benefit from the current support provided by international and local NGOs to plan their future. Our communities will not flourish if we keep on doing what we always used to do.”
Founded by young sustainability consultant and architect Serena Ibrahim in 2018, Youth Against Corruption (YAC) aims to leverage social innovation, social entrepreneurship and youth talent in the fight against corruption. It also aims to provide Lebanese youth with the right tools that will allow them to become changemakers. YACtivists, the members of the YAC community, “are those who have the humility to learn about corruption, the creativity to design innovative solutions, the integrity to step up to their values, and the courage to break the corruption chain.”
YAC has implemented various projects for the benefit of youth. From creativity workshops to sessions on student activism and a dedicated database linking young entrepreneurs with innovative projects that help them find efficient solutions to daily life challenges, YAC’s projects are focused on creating a global movement of youth who dare to break the corruption chain and build a more sustainable future. Arguably, YAC’s most groundbreaking project is the so-called YACathon, the first ever national anti-corruption hackathon in Lebanon. Held online due to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s event spanned three days and involved more than 50 participants and volunteers, along with 13 experts who helped participants envision and design innovative solutions to fighting corruption in the public administrations of the country. To further support bright young people who dream of a better future, YAC, in collaboration with like-minded Lebanese organisations, will support the four winning projects to help grow their impact.
“Being a peace activist is not an option. It is our duty as youth to fight for a world where we are capable of being the best versions of ourselves.”
According to YAC, “by fighting for peace, youth are fighting for their future, for a better nation in which they can fulfil their potential and make their dreams come true.” The YAC team believes that youth engagement in decision-making is not enough — youth should be meaningfully involved in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring of national peace and development projects.
Despite the huge potential of Lebanese youth, YAC deplores that the harsh socio-economic crisis has forced youth to “put their dreams on hold.” Unemployment, weak infrastructures and lack of incentives make youth’s future in the country seem bleak. To address this, YAC insists that young people need to have the appropriate know-how and tools that will enable them to become change-makers and make a real difference in their respective communities. This can be achieved, partly through the establishment of a better educational system that informs youth of their rights and duties, the creation of policies enabling youth participation in decision-making, and the creation of local and regional communities for youth collaboration.