Over recent years, the United Nations has been opening the way for the voices of young people to be heard. It recognizes that the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires young people to be agents of change and know their rights. Engaging women in decision-making processes for peace building and involving young people through the media are now known to be important preventative measures against conflict.
On June 20, 2017 United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed the second UN Youth Envoy, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake from Sri Lanka. Her mandate is to strengthen youth engagement in the UN and do advocacy in the field of human rights, peace and security, sustainable development and humanitarian action, serving as an advisor to the Secretary-General. In August 2017, she went on her first trip in this new role and witnessed first-hand how Iraqi youth are affected by conflict, but also how they remain hopeful. She encouraged them to be leaders in their communities.
Human rights in the Arab Region and the role of women and youth in peacebuilding were addressed during a side event at the 36th Session of the Human Rights Council "Women and Youth in Peacebuilding." Besme International Group for Humanitarian Assistance organized the event in cooperation with the Human Rights Information and Training Center.
Dr. Hisham Khayat, an expert in sustainable development from Syria, explained the role of youth in sustainable peacebuilding. He raised the fact that terrorist groups mobilize youth in Yemen to become child soldiers. One in three soldiers are children. "We are left alone, nobody takes care of us, we are facing an unknown future, we don't receive education," said one child soldier. "What we need right now is that the war stops." Dr. Khayat stressed the importance of actively engaging young people in peacebuilding, as warring parties often use children for their own means.
Mr. Majdi Helmi, writer and journalist in Egypt, spoke about the role of media in promoting a culture of peace. He mentioned that some organizations use young people to publish fake news via social media. Citizens receive the majority of their information through media, so media could also have a negative impact in conflict situations by promoting values which fuel conflict situations and terror. On the other hand, media could be a tool to spread peace. Mr. Majdi Helmi emphasized that governments and NGOs play a crucial role in leaving differences aside and co-existing. For example, in Rwanda journalists are fined if they speak about the genocide.
Ms. Rasha Jarhum, Yemeni Social Policy Researcher and Women's Rights Advocate in Yemen, emphasized the role of women in peacebuilding. She stated that the participation of women in peacebuilding processes in the Arab region is not sufficient. Women represent only nine percent of participants in peacebuilding processes. Traditionally, women are mainly taking care of the humanitarian work, mediating between civil society and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), but are not included in the decision-making of the peacebuilding process, which, according to Ms. Jarhum, is perpetuated by the patriarchal culture.