Growing up as a Christian in a Moro-Islamic region brought many challenges in my life. Waking up I have constant fear that conflict from both sides will arise. I grew up in a household equipped with guns and underground rooms. Whenever I go outside the Christian vicinity I need to wear hijabs or pretend as if I am a Muslim to avoid conflict from happening. As a child I was briefed what to do whenever there are gunshots. There was this one night where my family and I were deep asleep and we heard gunshots. I don’t quite remember what I did that time, the only thing I recall is that everything was dark and I just duck to the ground and crawled to a safe place even forgetting my slippers. It was a really traumatic event for me, I don’t vividly remember what happened but the feeling of fear was greatly instilled in me.
That moment was an eye opener for me of how important peace advocacy is. At that time instead of having a peaceful discourse, people are getting ready to fight, using violence against violence. Peace-building method used during that time prove to be ineffective and inefficient. With today’s generation, we need new perspectives and fresh idea in implementing peace-building structures. The youth of this generation plays a vital role for that, they hold vast potential and capabilities which can be utilized.
The inclusion of youth to peace advocacy and peace building is very important. Nowadays, youth is often categorized to two extremes: infantilizing and demonizing. They are either viewed as powerless, vulnerable and in need of protection or on the other hand dangerous, violent, apathetic and threats to security. But these stereotypes underutilizes and wastes the youth’s capabilities in bringing peace. This is directly relevant to what is happening in Philippines right now, young people who are fighting for human rights and equality are viewed as enemy of the states when in fact they are just fighting for a better and peaceful place to live in. This is because the government and policymakers failed to see the potential in these youths. They have this common perception and stigmatization of youth as either passive victims or violent perpetrators. Such stereotypes deny youth’s role and their positive contributions to creating sustainable peace. To change this negative conception it is vital for everyone to move away from this thinking and shift their perspectives.
Everyone are thinking that those youths who are subjected to violence can become carriers of that violence and perpetrators, this idea should be debunked. They should not be seen as threats but rather positive forces. They have firsthand experience, that means they have the vision of what peace should be like. This experience is what makes them driven to work towards that ‘peaceful future’- a future without violence and conflicts. Aside from this, the experience they have allows them to gain wisdom to make more informed and strategic decisions about how to properly advocate peace.
Youths are active agents of conflict transformation. They have greater influence and can contribute to shaping societal norms and values. They have this voice and place in emerging peacebuilding structures. Aside from this, they have very effective platforms to convey their message and advocacies. There are many successful youth established NGO’s right now, advocating not just peace but also many other things. They are conceptually categorized as “others” and often marginalized in conflict discourse, but apparently they have the greatest network and influence to catalyzed change. They have the capability to strengthen democratic governance, they serves as peacebuilding actors and key stakeholders to ensure sustainable and inclusive peace within the community and state.
Young people in this generation are have multi-faceted roles, they are good at multi-tasking and have great navigational skills which opens many possibilities for them. Combined with their creativity, they surely have vast potential and ability to establish and mobilize innovative initiatives and solution that will help repair damaged community relationship.
What I realize is that conflicts often happens because of diversity. People having different beliefs, traditions, opinions and/or religions fails to compromise and respect each other’s boundaries resulting to violence and conflicts. But what I see in most young people is that they have this unique characteristic of being open minded, they view diversity not as a hindrance but as an advantage. An inclusion of this positive mindset can very well help the design and implementation of peace processes and open many possibilities for its structure to be more effective and efficient. The youth’s enthusiasm and positive mindset can help resolve and prevent conflicts.
Indeed, youth inclusion and participation is very vital and essential in peacebuilding. They have so much potential and so much to input to give. Their capability should not be taken for granted, they are the leaders of today and it is their very right to participate in building a peaceful world.