April 3, 2020 by Mallika Iyer and Katrina Leclerc
Edited by Agnieszka Fal Dutra Santos
“As young people, we have a double role to play in peacebuilding: we are the present as well as the future. We must be actively involved in all peacebuilding processes. The world needs us to rebuild it and inspire others to follow in our footsteps!” – Nicole Musimbi, President of the Young Women for Peace and Leadership in Béni, North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo
From DRC to Indonesia, from Bangladesh to South Sudan, young women defy gender and age stereotypes and act as leaders, peacebuilders and agents of change in their communities. They are first responders in humanitarian crises, prevent recruitment by violent groups by building a culture of peace, and set up small businesses to increase their financial independence and support their families. In the absence of formal mechanisms and opportunities to meaningfully participate in peace processes and social, political and economic life, young women have forged their own avenues to lead peacebuilding efforts and movements for progressive social transformation.
The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders’ Young Women for Peace and Leadership (YWPL) Program, formerly known as Girl Ambassadors for Peace, recognizes and supports the agency of young women as leaders and actors for peace. It enhances their capacities to take a stand against discrimination and gender inequality, and prevent violent conflict. This program was recently recognized in the UN Secretary General’s first report to the Security Council on youth and peace and security.
The YWPL program breaks silos and ensures synergies between the Women and Peace and Security (WPS) and Youth and Peace and Security (YPS) agendas. It trains young women and girls who live in conflict-affected areas and face humanitarian emergencies, on leadership, peacebuilding, literacy and numeracy education, economic empowerment, social media for advocacy, and theater for dialogue. The young women use the knowledge gained through the program to organize advocacy campaigns, deliver literacy and numeracy classes in local communities, and promote a culture of peace and inclusivity in their countries and communities. Launched in 2014 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the program has since reached over 6,000 young women in Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines and South Sudan. It has also created opportunities for young women to participate in policy discussions at the global, regional and national levels.
Championing the agenda for gender equality and sustainable peace, young women’s leadership in peacebuilding has brought new approaches to advocacy. “The most powerful aspect of the YWPL program is that it is shaped and led by the young women themselves. YWPL activities vary from country to country – because there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ when it comes to building sustainable and inclusive peace. Young women peacebuilders have the power to mobilize, and chart a feminist present and future!”, said Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, the Chief Executive Officer of GNWP.
Read below for examples of activities and impacts of the YWPL program around the world.
Women and youth peacebuilders as frontliners in the response to COVID-19
As the virus is spreading across the world rapidly, women and youth peacebuilders provide vital assistance to counter COVID-19 in areas affected by violent conflicts. Despite limited resources, YWPL members in Armenia, the Philippines and Ukraine are responding to the crisis by delivering food and other medical relief packages to those left vulnerable. Read their inspiring story here.
Bangladesh: Literacy and education is a right, not a privilege!
In Bangladesh, YWPL members are working to improve the gender-sensitivity of the humanitarian emergency response to the influx of 1.3 million Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar. They have provided gender-sensitive, age-appropriate fundamental literacy and numeracy classes to 180 Rohingya refugee and host community women and girls in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Both Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi women and girls regularly face marginalization and discrimination, and many of them lack access to education and other basic services. Learning to read and write means they can now sign their names on legal documents, read important signs within the refugee camps, access information distributed by government, civil society, and UN agencies, and further their pursuit of their rights as well as economic opportunities. The gender-sensitive, age-appropriate fundamental literacy and numeracy classes conducted by the YWPL members directly addressed the increasing tensions between the Rohingya refugee population and host communities in Cox’s Bazar, as the young women worked to create positive dialogues between the two communities.
Democratic Republic of Congo: From Victims to Survivors
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, young women from North and South Kivu provinces, in Eastern DRC, have used the YWPL program to shift the narrative around sexual violence from one that treats women as victims to one that recognizes them as survivors. For a full year, they conducted monthly radio shows focused on sexual violence, family dynamics, and gender norms to raise awareness of the negative impact these have on the lives of women and the broader community. Their shows reached thousands of listeners across the country, and contributed to changing the culture of violence and patriarchy. In addition, the YWPL members prepared ‘period kits’ to provide sanitary products to young women in the neighboring communities. Through these initiatives, which reached thousands of people, the young women were able to increase community support towards sexual violence prevention and challenge the stigmas against sexual violence survivors. The YWPL members have also established small businesses, selling handicrafts and women’s health products. Through the micro-businesses they were able to support their families and increase their financial independence – which in turn has increased their ability to influence decision-making in their household and community. The autonomy they have gained from their increased livelihood skills and economic activities has helped shift how they perceive themselves, and how others perceive them: they are no longer passive actors, but now active change-makers in their communities, as said by Gentille Kavira, President of the Young Women for Peace and Leadership in North Kivu, DRC.
Indonesia: Preventing Violent Extremism and Responding to Crises
In Indonesia, YWPL members from communities in Poso, Central Sulawesi, and Lamongan, East Java, which are often described as ‘hotbeds of radicalization’, advocated for inclusive and gender sensitive measures to prevent violent extremism with key national authorities such as the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection and the National Agency for Combating Terrorism. In their local communities, the young women have held advocacy meetings with district-level leaders. They have also organized community discussions on de-radicalization attended by over 70 key stakeholders including the village secretary, village head, local police, youth, religious leaders, and other local actors. Additionally, YWPL members have organized a campaign called “Peace Goes to School”, under which they held community workshops for local students on peacebuilding, economic empowerment, and de-radicalization. In the aftermath of an earthquake in Palu, Central Sulawesi in September 2018, the YWPL members were some of the first responders on the ground, providing relief services and fundraising for the support to the victims. In response to the global novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they have mobilized to deliver food and medicine packages to those most vulnerable in remote and rural communities. By securing local buy-in and distinguishing themselves as significant actors in their local communities, the YWPL members in Indonesia are creating a space to meaningfully participate in building sustainable peace and development.
Philippines: Youth are Essential to Democracy
In the Philippines, young women peacebuilders significantly contributed to peaceful transition to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao after five decades of conflict. Their work has generated local ownership and support for the peace process, and the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). The ratification of the BOL, which established the new Bangsamoro government, occurred after votes were cast in the plebiscite in Mindanao in January and February 2019. Before the plebiscite, there was a distinct lack of awareness on the importance of this legislation among community members. To facilitate non-partisan electoral education ahead of the plebiscite, local young women in Mindanao organized community-focused youth fora to raise awareness of the components of the BOL and its provisions for young women specifically. As a result, over 1,500 young people pledged to vote responsibly in the plebiscite and raise awareness amongst their local communities to encourage other young voters to do the same. Local ownership of the BOL in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, led by youth, is crucial to an effective and successful peace process.
South Sudan: Theatre for Dialogue
Responding to the huge gap in literacy rates of women and men in South Sudan, the YWPL program places emphasis on gender-sensitive literacy education as the first step towards empowerment. After the outbreak of war in 2016, many YWPL members were relocated to the Rhino Refugee Camps in Uganda. Following months of no formal education in the refugee camps, the YWPL decided it was time for them to teach literacy and numeracy. They conducted monthly literacy and numeracy trainings to other young women in these camps to ensure they continue their education – including peacebuilding education – despite the conflict. The young women peacebuilders also used community theater to build a culture of peace and promote non-violent conflict resolution. They performed skits on water-related quarrels, resource conflicts, and community issues that were often observed or experienced in their lives. After performing these skits, they presented creative solutions to the problems they showcased. The theater performances were well received, as they identified and resolved many local, everyday problems faced by members of the community. This creative and collaborative approach to peacebuilding brought more dialogue and understanding.
Local Voices in Global Spaces
YWPL members have seized advocacy opportunities identified by GNWP in national, regional and global arenas, which allow for them to share their valuable perspectives in important policy and decision-making spaces. Young women peacebuilders have participated in the UN Commission on the Status of Women, parallel events to the Anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on WPS, the UN General Assembly, the High-Level Political Forum, Beijing+25 review and Generation Equality Forum processes, and the annual meeting of the WPS Focal Points Network, amongst many other meetings.