The youth demographic is on the rise. We cannot ignore the case in many parts of the world that the majority of the society is under 30. The youth are not just the future as the cliché goes, they are the present. This means that they need to be included and embedded in processes taking place now, not as token representations but with agency and influence. And it's not like they do not want that engagement.
The recent Varkey Foundation study is testament to this urgency. It exudes cautious optimism about the attitudes and opinions of the generation that will shape the next few decades. Despite the rise of populist movements which focusses on differences, the survey paints young people as wanting to bridge differences. The survey also points to young people having a greater commitment to doing something to contribute to their societies and their world. There is anger in our youth, impatient with the lack of progress being made on tackling this and also frustrated by being shut out. Surveys like this help to make the case for not only recognising the role of young people but also doing something about being part of the change. This is important as we consider the state of the world.
For all the relative calmness and progress of the second half of the 20th Century and the early years of the 21st, we still see a world that is hurting due to increased fragility - fragility that is globalising at the pace of our fast-evolving world.
Figures show that the world has become less peaceful since 2008, largely attributed to the rise of conflicts within states, the rise of terrorism, and increasing levels of criminality. The battlefields of today are everywhere: they are not defined by geography; they are not places like Verdun and Waterloo and Solferino. The battlefields of today are on our streets, in our hospitals, in our schools, in our places of worship. There may not be a World War, yet we are still a world at war.
So in the lead up to International Youth Day this year on 12th August with its theme 'Youth Building Peace', it is important we re-dedicate efforts once again to seeing how youth are part of and take the lead in building peace. Young people are agents for peace, engaged in transforming the structures and institutions that hinder the socio- economic and political well-being of people living in fragile and conflict affected communities as pointed out by a recent report on the role of young people in peacebuilding. They are often first responders and disproportionately affected by conflict taking a long time to build back better.
So, we need to do more to invest and engage with them but this requires a holistic approach. First though, we need to remove the prejudice that many of us have when it comes to engaging young people. We must stop thinking that they are apolitical - more interested in following the latest instalment of a reality TV programme than in engaging with the serious questions of the world around them. We should channel their enthusiasm to express and get involved. However we must be honest about this approach. We need to give them the space to be innovative and shape or rethink new models for the communities and societies in which they live - maybe outside the globalised economic and "social" system that they will inherit from their elders and previous generations. In doing this, we have to answer some hard questions about whether we are ready for that and what it will take for each one of us to work together towards a fairer world for all of us. In short we have to be prepared for a hard shift in how we work and engage.
In December 2015, the United Nations Security Council recognized the efforts of young people with a unanimous vote on UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security (UNSCR 2250). UNSCR 2250 sets guidelines for its member states, the UN and civil society to ensure young people's active, systematic and meaningful participation in institutions and mechanisms relating to peace and security.
However like many things, the devil is in the detail as well as in the will to get this participation.
A lot has to be done to ensure that we get the full engagement and investment. This is not only the responsibility of the youth to push for this as they inherit the problems that we create but also our collective responsibility to ensure that we do not hand something that we would not want to inherit.
Youth can no longer be 'represented' but have to be mainstreamed, included, nurtured, listened to, consulted and worked with in partnership with. This is the call that is most loud and one we need to support.
So this youth day, its not just about reaffirming the need for youth to build peace but to find avenues and opportunities to make this happen.