Peacebuilding in peaceful countries? Panel discussion with Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and UNDP Sweden

This blog post will be in English since the seminar was held in English.

On March 14 I participated in a panel discussion organised by Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and United Nations Development Programme – UNDP Sweden looking at the universality of Global Goal 16 and what Sweden can learn from peacebuilding in conflict countries. The panel was also composed of Renee Larivière, Deputy Director General of the international peacebuilding organisation Interpeace and Gary Milante, Director of the Security and Development Programme of SIPRI and me, the Swedish Youth Representative to the UN General Assembly 2016. The event forms part of the seminar series “Implementing Agenda 2030” jointly organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and UNDP Sweden.

The seminar was taped and you can watch me from 32:25:

I reflected on how youth best can be engaged in the implementation of Agenda 2030 in Sweden. Stressing that youth participation is peacebuilding, it doesn’t only lead to peacebuilding, I called for more projects such as the one by Interpeace in Tensta. Youth civil society is important in empowering young people and although these civil society structures already exist, they need better support and financial backing. Youth must not only be seen as beneficiaries of projects, but as partners and initiators for change. Intergenerational problems need intergenerational solutions and these require intergenerational dialogue, I concluded.

You can read a summary of the event here:

My speech at the seminar:

Dear everyone,

Thank you to the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and UNDP Sweden for hosting this event and for inviting me. It’s a great honour to be here today discussing such a critical issue.

My name is Noura Berrouba, I’m 22 years old, a student of Political Science and Economics. And I’m also the Swedish Youth Representative to the UN General Assembly 2016 for the National Council of Swedish Youth Organisations- LSU.

I’m here to bring up the youth perspective in implementing the agenda. Before I start, I want to point out something important to keep in mind when discussing youth: Youth is a diverse and very heterogeneous group. It consists of people with different opportunities, experiences, sexual orientation, gender, backgrounds and opinions. It’s important to address youth as the diverse group that we are.

I think the movie project Interpeace carried out in Tensta is a great example of how young people’s participation must look like. Young people must take ownership of their own stories and experiences. They must tell their stories to the world, not be channelled through others. In order for that to happen, we must give them space and tools to do that. That is why projects like the one in Tensta are so important.

In the film they say one thing that beautifully captures this: They say: “We should not think that we know what’s best for young people. Instead, sit down, with a big heart and two ears. And don’t talk so much. Let the young people express themselves, to say whet they’ve gone through.”

Youth are considered an important constituency in implementing the Agenda. In what way could youth be engaged to their full potential in the implementation of the Agenda in Sweden?

As a representative of the civil society, I want to bring forward the great role that it can play in implementing the agenda. Empowerment of young people is key. And civil society is already leading the fight in this area.

The youth civil society is vital in creating this empowerment among young people. It not only gives young people a safe, open and inclusive place to share ideas, meet people and participate. It’s also organised by young people for young people. Young people get to engage with other young people. But they also get to lead. This gives them a great skillset, but also works to broaden the perception of what is possible for them to achieve.

Youth are already showcasing tremendous efforts and positive impact in their societies. In schools, unions, organisations and the civil society. Let’s use the experience, expertise and the structures already existing from the youth civil society. Expanding the opportunities for young people’s organisation to let the engagement grow bottom up and let the change grow with it.

65 of the 169 SDG targets reference young people explicitly or implicitly, with a focus on empowerment, participation and well-being. There are 20 youth-specific targets spread over six key SDGs. And there is one entire goal about partnering for change.

If young people are identified as such an important stakeholder in the agenda, it would be odd if we are not invited to take an active role going forward.

The youth civil society need better backing and financial support to continue the important work they do. We need a more ambitious effort to include young people as partners and initiators for change.

But why is it so important with youth participation?

Youth participation is justice, legitimacy and a results issue. It’s a justice and legitimacy issue because we have the right to have a say, and be listened to, about issues affecting us. It’s a result issue because when people of different backgrounds and ages work together, we create better analyses with more perspectives and more multi-faceted solutions.

I want to give you a couple of reasons why youth participation in Agenda 2030, especially, is so vital to its success:

  1.     Intergenerational problems require intergenerational solutions. Intergenerational solutions require intergenerational dialogue. This requires the active participation of youth.
  2.     If young people are affected by the issues, they should be part of the solution.
  3.     The political, economic and social platforms must mirror the people they represent.

I’ve spoken a lot of the positive contributions young people can add to their societies, are they to be included. But it also presents an important role is preventing extreme ideologies and crime. There is both a lot of negative and a lot of positive choices youth can make. But when we alienate young people, we make is easier for young people to go into crime, or be convinced by extreme ideologies.

When youth feel a sense of purpose and inclusion, our societies thrive. When youth feel excluded or alienated, our societies suffer.

The new agenda in a universal one. Universality is only achieved by leaving no one behind.

The vision will become reality when we start going from “leave no one behind” as beneficiaries, to “leave no one behind” as partners. When we get a wholesome set of perspectives in our analysis and policy-making, and when we invite youth to be partners and initiators.

Youth in peace building have already been recognised as important stakeholders. Recently in the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 2250 on Youth, peace and security.

It’s time to go from words on a paper, to action. And to let us be part of that action. Starting yesterday. Because together, we can implement Agenda 2030.


Questions in the panel:

Question 1: Goal 16 includes ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels. What are the main barriers to youth engagement in politics or other kinds of decision-making in Sweden, and what is needed for the Swedish society to be inclusive to youth in this regard?

Less than 6% of parliamentarians globally are under 35 years old. The average age of parliamentarians in the world is 53 years old. Is this representative? Of course not.

There are many barriers for young people’s engagement:

One barrier is misrepresentation. When young people see no other young people in politics, business or the entertainment industry, those goals become intangible. When young people see other young people in the entertainment industry, or in business and politics; those aspirations become more tangible, more real. By allowing more young people to take ac active role, we bridge the perception of opportunity for young people.

Experience barrier:

It is often assumed that more experience is always better. These values and assumptions privilege only certain types of experiences and they don’t leave room for young people. We need to recognize that young people do have valuable skills and knowledge and make room for different kinds and levels of experience.

Young people have a limited voice in meetings

As a young person, it can be intimidating to speak up in a group of adults, especially since young people are often outnumbered in meetings. Once they are at the table, it’s important to create an environment of respect that allows their voice to be heard.

The same young people are always invited

This goes against the purpose of having a diverse set of young people. Without many and diverse young people, we don’t get the holistic approach we need.

Lack of contact surfaces

Even when young people can get engaged and when information exists, it doesn’t reach young people. Or it only reaches certain young people.

Barriers to information

Young people face a general barrier to information accessible. Social media and new technology can play an important role in bridging this information gap.

Question 2: Sweden has been rated by OECD as the country most likely to successfully achieve the SDGs, but a challenge raised in that context was the increasing inequalities within Sweden. Interpeace also mentions the inequalities and neglect from authorities that Tensta youth feel, comparing their situation with youth from close by Spånga. Could you reflect on social inequalities and discrimination facing youth in different parts of Sweden, what the consequences are and what measures are needed to reduce such inequalities. To what extent is LSU able to engage with marginalized youth, for example in suburbs like Tensta?

First of all, I think it’s important to recognize that the rhetoric used in describing suburbs like Tensta in the media, doesn’t exactly help the cause.

Because it’s also a perception issue. When young people, or people in general, feel that because of where they live, or where they come from, that they don’t have the same chances in life (even when they do), that easily becomes the reality. We need to talk about “orten” in a more positive light, and let those who live there drive the narrative.

I think a core approach is to realise that different cities, and different communities have different needs, and cater better to those.

Our work for inclusivity is unlike that in many other countries. We may not have to tackle everyone’s right to education, but we do need to tackle how our education system is responding to young people’s struggles and needs. We may not need to create new platforms, but we do need to integrate, improve and support the platforms we have. We may have free speech, but we need to make sure that all youth feel heard and seen equally, and that they share the same prospect of a bright future; independent of where they live or where they come from.

Young people face different kinds of of difficulties. In many regards they face the same difficulties as other parts of society. What they often do is feel these difficulties to a larger extent. Because in addition to being young, they are also women, immigrants or belong to the LGBTQI- community.

Education as a tool for empowerment is always key. In Sweden, everyone has access to free education and higher education. This means more people can be lifted out of poverty or economic distress. It creates opportunities for social mobility.

In communities where youth feel neglect from authorities, it’s important to channel that anger or frustration into the political or civil process. Those who feel that neglect, can with the right means, change the discourse. Maybe an information campaign about this could work. On how youth contact their local politicians, or better yet: become their local politicians!

Regarding LSU, we have 83 member organisations, who in turn have their own member organisations. In total, 600 000 young people are active in those 83 organisations. And they are present everywhere in Sweden doing an amazing job at creating platforms for social interaction, and meaningful activities for young people. They engage with youth from different backgrounds and are present in both urban regions, suburbs and in the countryside. LSU works with capacity-building for these organisations.


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