Jennifer, you are moderating the panel discussion on youth empowerment and the Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE) at this year’s FriEnt Peacebuilding Forum. Before we start our conversation, could you please briefly introduce yourself?
Yes, of course. My name is Jennifer Philippa Eggert, and I’m a researcher and practitioner who works on violent conflict and development, with a focus on gender, faith and local approaches. I currently have affiliations with a university and an NGO, but my main job is with the JLI, the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Local Communities, a collaboration of academics and NGOs who produce and communicate evidence on the role of faith actors in development and humanitarian action. I have been working on development and violent conflict for almost twenty years, in different parts of Europe, South Asia, the Middle East and the US - with NGOs, international organisations, and as an academic. The topic of the session I am moderating is PVE and youth, and I have been working on PVE, as a researcher and practitioner, for ten years now.
What are the main barriers to youth agency in PVE? How can we empower youth to play an active role in PVE and/or peacebuilding?
I think young people are often excluded from making decisions about issues that affect them and their lives. The same often happens with women and girls. Or, and this is something I see in my work with the JLI a lot, religious actors. So there are some groups that tend to be marginalised in lots of spaces, and the question is then, how do we integrate them - not as an add-on, because we think it looks nice, but as integral parts of a project, an intervention or an approach. What is also important in this context is to not just see youth as a uniform group of people. I have already mentioned gender - we really don’t want to be in a situation where we say we include youth, but then there is no space for girls, for example. The same is true with regards to race, faith, class and so on … so it’s really important to take an intersectional approach to working with young people and to always ask oneself, who else is there and why are they not included? Specific barriers vary from context to context, so it is really important to be aware of the specific context one works in and involve a variety of different stakeholders. Lastly, and I’ll touch on that only very briefly, PVE and peacebuilding are not the same, and I think it’s important to also be aware of that.
Based on the previous questions, which tools and opportunities, i.e. in strengthening capacities, does the international community have to adopt and enhance their approaches?
I think the main job of the international community is to listen and learn from young people. So if they, the international community, want to strengthen capacities, then the first step would be to go out and speak to young people about what their needs in this area are. And these conversations need to be completely open. So if, for example, it turns out that capacity-strengthening is not actually what young people want, then the approaches of international actors need to be adapted accordingly. I think one thing we still see way too often is international actors who go into a specific context, already knowing what kind of approach they want to implement. And that can work and be beneficial, but it can also backfire and not give space to young people to shape the kind of interventions that they need and want.
Would you be able to provide 1-2 good practices?
In general, you want to go for approaches that are participatory, holistic, evidence-based, gender-sensitive, aware of local cultures, faiths and customs, and led by people on the ground. What exactly that means very much depends on the specific context, so there is no one solution or approach that is going to work everywhere. There are lots of great initiatives out there. I liked the idea behind the iDove approach of GIZ and the African Union, who bring young people together and give them the space to develop their skills and come up with new ideas. I particularly liked the focus on interfaith as it intersects with PVE and youth, because there are lots of assumptions about the role of religion in radicalisation and involvement in political violence, but a lot of these are informed by stereotypes and assumptions rather than proper evidence and experience. We really need more exchange between research, practice and policy-making in this area, and involve groups that are often marginalised by the mainstream and leaders, like youth, women, and people of faith and colour, across the board.