Op-ed: Youth Everywhere Are Becoming More Political

Published August 13th, 2017 - 11:00 GMT
Illustration of crowd protesting for basic human rights with blank signs and flag in three tones: black, white, grey | Shutterstock.
Illustration of crowd protesting for basic human rights with blank signs and flag in three tones: black, white, grey | Shutterstock.

If we are living in the era of fake news, youth have the courage to change and lead the change. Their “soft power” is indispensable in preventing threats, seeking truth and transforming conflicts.After heavy discussion and research, the word post-truth, defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” was chosen by Oxford Dictionaries as the word of the year for 2016. However, many critics state that “post-truth” has become “a general characteristic of our age.” In a battle between facts and lies, who will lead the world into a brighter future?

For six years, Oxford Dictionaries has also been collecting and analyzing thousands of words used by young writers. Remarkably, in 2017, the use of political vocabulary by children has widely grown, revealing more engagement with news and media.

Both “politics” and “political” show an increase of 115 percent and 78 percent, respectively, since last year. Around 30 words linked to contemporary politics show a 58 percent increase since 2016, and among these is the word “fake news.”

In the long quest for a more secure nation, youth are the “keepers of the republic.” As we approach International Youth Day on Aug. 12, what facts do we need to disclose about youth?

How much have youth achieved since the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 in 2015, recognizing youth as an “agents of change” and their inclusion as a path toward sustainable peace and security in society? Was Resolution 2282, which followed in 2016, able to reaffirm the important role youth can play in preventing and resolving conflicts?

It has been almost two decades since the declaration of International Youth Day by the U.N. General Assembly, and still many youth lack access to decision-making platforms. In many countries they are still denied the right to vote at the age of 18, and are rarely members of trade unions or professional associations. Youth participation in decision-making is still work in progress.

A new report for the U.S. Congress entitled “The Heart of the Matter,” developed by a group of academic, political and corporate figures, and representatives from arts and culture sectors, identifies three goals and thirteen broad recommendations for advancing dialogue on the importance of developing enlightened young leaders for a brighter future.

The report highlights that three employers out of four want schools to place more emphasis on critical thinking and complex problem solving. It stresses that in the process of building the ability of youth to adapt to a changing world there is a need to develop their flexibility and long-term quality of mind through more engagement in research and discovery and more involvement in addressing the grand challenges of their nation.

This year’s Youth Day, themed “Youth Building Peace,” celebrates youth’s contributions to conflict prevention and peace building, highlighting their role in maintaining inclusion, social justice and sustainable peace.

Our role should always go beyond advocacy and academic studies. The way to change is by developing evidence-based, contextually relevant policies, which is tough yet the only way out.

In addressing vulnerability, the key question is: Whose responsibility it is? Alienation, frustration, marginalization are drivers of conflict and violent extremism. “I do not belong to this place,” and then, “I will find another place to belong,” is the narrative of vulnerable youth. People who are most susceptible to be radicalized or for recruitment are not from one particular community or one segment of society; they are from a cross section. “I am trying to connect and want to connect but cannot connect” – that is the most vulnerable. It is important to note that when we talk about prevention we are talking about different levels of prevention and what works today may not necessary work tomorrow. However, it is always true that participation protects young people.

Looking ahead, it is all about meeting the local context. It is about finding out what is driving the problem in our own context and working with local partners to find the most viable solutions. To make a difference, the approach should be inclusive. Working with the world’s 1.8 billion young people definitely will transform the world into a better place.

Youth, as powerful peace builders, should be empowered to lead this initiative. The younger they are supported the more they have the chance to succeed in achieving public safety. So we need to answer a question: What does peace look like to youth?

The resolutions developed, the strategies tested and refined, the tools utilized, the research conducted and the partnerships cultivated are all deeply relevant to strengthening the resilience of youth. However, it is not a battle to be won or lost. It is a holistic and long-term approach to “strive to create a more civil public discourse, a more adaptable and creative workforce, and a more secure nation,” the report “The Heart of the Matter” states.

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director of the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.

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