7 February 2023 by Alonna Despain*
Edited by Shawna Crystal**
When reflecting on time spent with the Young Women+ Leaders for Peace (YWL) in Lebanon, there is one word that prevails in its lack and its growth: hope. The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) has been working with youth peacebuilders in Lebanon since 2021. When we first began meeting with youth leaders, GNWP asked what gives them hope. At first, many of them struggled to find an answer. The recent years in Lebanon have not been easy. Since 2019, the country has been coping with a crippling economic crisis. The Lebanese lira has lost over 90 percent of its value; many essential goods and services remain out of reach for the general population; and, the World Bank has referred to the situation as one of the worst economic collapses in global history. Then, in August 2020, Lebanon was rocked by the explosion at the Port of Beirut—a catastrophe that killed more than 200 people. According to a 2022 UNICEF survey, the situation in Lebanon has led to one in four youth suffering from mental health challenges, three in ten youth expecting life to get worse and around 40 percent seeing life abroad as their only option for a better future. Yet, despite the deteriorating circumstances, in collaboration with GNWP, the Permanent Peace Movement (PPM), and support from Global Affairs Canada’s Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOP), members of the Young Women+ Leaders for Peace chapter in Lebanon are endeavoring to build sustainable peace at the local, national and regional levels.
The YWL network in Lebanon was first launched by GNWP and PPM, with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) in 2021. In 2022, GNWP and PPM, and with support of PSOP, hosted several workshops with the YWL members to enhance their capacities as youth peacebuilders, increase their knowledge on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) policies, and strategize on pathways for advocacy on the implementation of the YPS resolutions locally. In December 2022, the YWL sessions convened diverse youth from across the country and the region—including Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian refugees and members of the LGBTQIA+ community—and provided a space for learning, collaborating and sharing experiences.
During the workshop, one young woman spoke about her efforts working with religious leaders and pharmacists in Baalbek to destigmatize menstruation and sexual health. After meeting with local religious leaders to gain their support, she met with local pharmacists to change the practice of putting period products in black plastic bags. She emphasized that menstruation is a natural part of life and should not be something that is ostracizing to women or has to be hidden. As a result of her advocacy, pharmacies in Baalbek have begun putting period products in the same bags as other items—a step towards challenging social stigmas and social norms.
Following their activism and involvement with the YWL, two members of the chapter were invited by the Lebanese Ministry of Youth and Sports to represent the country at an official consultation for the Arab League’s forthcoming Regional Strategy on Youth, Peace and Security. Christelle Aziz, one of the YWL members, shared that as drafting of the strategy continues, between now and the launch “we want to advocate and ensure that there is an open channel between the YWL in Lebanon and the Arab League and their partners to listen to our feedback in all the steps.”
“Our involvement in this process has resulted in the YWL working together to pursue joint efforts to ensure continuous youth involvement in the regional strategy and concrete ways to promote YPS advocacy at the regional and local levels.” –Zulfiqar Naser Al Deen, YWL member in Lebanon and GNWP Associate for Lebanon Peacebuilding Programs
Among the joint efforts considered, the YWL identified the creation of a youth council at the Arab League to represent the genuine interests of local peacebuilders, forming strategic partnerships with local government actors and utilizing media for advocacy. One participant remarked: “Learning about these global and regional opportunities and the YWL involvement at the Arab League has made me want to be involved too and find a way to work on this in Lebanon.” The YWL, with support and guidance from GNWP and its local partner PPM, is now leading a clear advocacy and social media strategy for the sustained inclusion and leadership of youth in formulating the regional strategy and implementing the YPS resolutions across Lebanon.
GNWP thanks Global Affairs Canada’s Peace and Stabilization Operations Program for their continued support.
 The Young Women+ Leaders for Peace (YWL) program is a network initiated by GNWP that focuses on building the capacities and leadership skills of young women and gender equality allies in conflict-affected communities. More details can be found here: https://gnwp.org/what-we-do/young-women-leaders-for-peace-program/
* Alonna Despain is a Program Officer for Middle East and North Africa at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP).
** Shawna Crystal is the Resource Mobilization and Communications Specialist at GNWP.