Dialogue to Protect Young People in Civic Space

The UN High-Level Global Conference on Youth-Inclusive Peace-Processes

High Level Global Conference on 2

In January this year, Mihajlo Matković, a member of the CIVICUS Youth Action Team attended and moderated one of the sessions during the UN High-Level Global Conference on Youth-Inclusive Peace Processes. The Global Conference aimed to secure national commitments to advance gender-responsive country-level operationalisation of the Youth Peace and Security (YPS) agenda, and strengthen political will and commitment toward including youth in peace processes with a particular focus on young women.

The session Mihajlo moderated concerned one of the five themes - Moving Beyond Words – interlinked with the overlapping theme of Intergenerational Trust, and dealt with questions such as how far have we come in translating the three Youth, Peace and Security resolutions into reality, especially for young women? It focused on action-oriented discussions centred on country-level operationalisations, regional cooperation, and resourcing of the YPS agenda from gender-sensitive perspectives.

Following the launch of “If I disappear”, the first-ever global report on Protecting Young People in Civic Spaces, this particular session aimed to explore ways of strengthening protection mechanisms for young peacebuilders and young human rights defenders across the globe. This session tried to demonstrate the importance, possibility and need for a renewed and stronger social contract between governments, civil society organisations (CSOs) and young peacebuilders on the frontlines. 

In an interview with the CIVICUS Youth team, Mihajlo expands on some fundamental elements of his participation in this space and what it has represented for him.

Questions and Answers

1) As a young person, what does it mean for you to be able to be the moderator of a High-Level panel? What do you feel is the role of creating intergenerational spaces? 

The fact that I was there throughout the planning phase, being able to have a say in the structure of the conversation, suggesting potential speakers and preparing some guiding questions, coupled with the fact that I wrote the moderation script on my own, gave me the feeling of appreciation and relevance. After 5 years of experience with CSOs in the field of youth, I feel that my efforts and engagement are recognised by such an important body. This was a boost in self-confidence, but beyond that, I discovered that there are people who can listen to us and value the unique experiences that we bring to the table. It is even better if that someone is someone who can make a difference, bring about the desired change and keep young people safe. It is like a dream come true. This is why intergenerational dialogue with respect and zero prejudice, without ageism and blame-game, is important now more than ever and can open new possibilities for cooperation.

2) How did you find your role in shaping the conversation and promoting more understanding between decision-makers and young peacebuilders regarding their needs for protection? 

As a moderator, you have to take the diversity of all the stakeholders into consideration, from their expertise and background to the level of comfort they need, the time limits, the order of speakers, customising the questions, and checking up on everyone backstage and helping them to prepare, etc. Additionally, you have to keep track of the sudden changes of these at any given moment as you never know what might go ‘off-script’, so it requires your ability to quickly adapt and be flexible. Thus, my role was to bring the best out of each speaker and at the same time allow for the spontaneity of the conversation and catalyse collective insights.

3) What made you feel hopeful about this dialogue? 

When I interviewed the youth speakers beforehand - in order to get to know their stories and the topics they would like to cover – I realised that each one of them had an amazing, unique and relevant life story that needs to be heard by those high-level participants. I immediately felt like their stories can help in motivating decision-makers in taking the pledge and committing to resolving the security issues that young people face. The same stands for the other member states, sharing concrete and precise measures they are implementing on the ground to move forward with a youth protection agenda. 

4) What made you feel frustrated about this dialogue? 

The session I was moderating was an hour long and I felt a bit annoyed by the fact that we have three youth speakers, three really amazing women sharing their experiences, plus four high-level officials who were supposed to reflect upon their arguments and undertake some kind of ‘moving beyond words’ oath about such topics in a very short time. Having so many participants and a restricted time made having a meaningful and relevant commitment seem almost impossible and I felt anxious from the moment I said ‘yes’ to this experience, both helping to organise and being a moderator. I think that a real commitment and conversation would probably require more time and deeper conversation that is more back and forth.  In the end, though, it was worth it and I believe this is the first step to keep building commitments from decision-makers.

5) What was your key takeaway? 

There is a big preparation and organising happening behind a one-hour panel session. For the outsider it might seem like a one-hour Zoom call and that it just happened spontaneously, however it required a big number of meetings, offline planning and coordination among participants. Paradoxically, while it seems like a short period, it is always a surprise how much can be said in under 60 minutes.

On a personal note, this has assured me that I can really do anything I set my mind (and heart) on, and that fear does not necessarily have to be bad, but might be the sign that I am engaging in something that is important and that I am stepping out of my comfort zone. 

6) Which do you consider are some key next steps in moving forward with this subject?

The state of civil society and that of youth peace activists and peace-builders on the frontline has been a growing concern in many countries recently. One of the speakers from Venezuela mentioned that during the protests she helped organise, there were more young people killed than those active in decision-making processes. I am not even going to delve into the topic of the Ukrainian situation right now – as back in January, we could not have imagined what awaits. I can only say that we need more dialogue and understanding, subsequently, between youths and the decision-makers; and we need this dialogue backed up by institutions such as the UN and its representative youth bodies so that they remain sustained and are not once-off events.




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