In the countries where we work, young men and women often constitute the majority of the population. Youth are often hit very hard by the social and economic consequences of past and present conflicts. They grow up in the wake of violence and the high unemployment rates and acute insecurity that often follows conflict means that young people have limited economic prospects; rendering them particularly vulnerable and easy to manipulate by political actors.
Youth are also habitually excluded from decision making, both in the public and private sphere. This exclusion from decision making within their own families, communities and country, even in matters that directly concern them, has led to many youths having a perceived lack of control over their own destiny. It is in this context that they become susceptible to political manipulation, and join armed groups which might provide them opportunities to regain their decision-making power and take fate into their own hands.
There is often a tendency to reduce “youth” to young, less educated, violent males, involved in crime, rebel groups and so forth. This however disregards the rich diversity of youth and their opinions, motivations, political leanings, backgrounds, and ethnicities in the region. The role that youth may play as active participants in (political) decision-making is consistently hampered by socio-cultural norms that effectively block their participation as a consequence of their perceived lower social status. In effect, the combination of these factors means that the potential for youth in processes of conflict transformation, community reconciliation, and transitional justice remains under-explored.
Through stimulating intergenerational dialogue, we aim to break the cycle of violence and address the root causes of conflict. We have found that exchanges between older and younger generations lead to increased awareness, confidence and empowerment among youths. It also opens up the channels of communication, ensuring that they have a stake in peace building and transforming their communities.