In January 2017, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gathered 18 young people from across Myanmar for a Peace Talk in Nay Pyi Taw. These youth, representing a range of ethnic identities, shared their fears, hopes, and insights on how to transform conflict into peace, and how to build trust between, and within, communities. While the Peace Talk was considered by some to be symbolic rather than substantive, the meeting brought the issue of youth inclusion to the fore and reaffirmed previous statements delivered by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi calling for greater engagement of youth in peace.
Throughout Myanmar’s history young men and women have been active at the community level in activities ranging from youth-led social affairs groups (Tha-yay Nar-yay ah thin) to supporting social and community projects such as free funeral and wedding services, cultural activities, blood donations, among many others. In the more formal peacebuilding sphere, youth have supported and sustained peacebuilding processes but have rarely featured in formal, influential public decisionmaking roles. In the lead up to the partial signing of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in October 2015, young men and women were the backbone of Government and Ethnic Armed Organisation (EAO) coordination structures, but were never selected as formal negotiators. Furthermore, key documents guiding formal peacebuilding efforts in Myanmar — such as the NCA and the Framework for Political Dialogue — do not contain provisions related to youth inclusion. These documents also do not consider youth as a cross-cutting issue across thematic discussions. In other words, speeches and statements articulating the importance of youth inclusion have yet to be matched by inclusion strategies and structures that secure the meaningful engagement of young people in the future of their country.
While low levels of youth inclusion in public decision-making persist, there is an opportunity to capitalise on nascent youth policy commitments and harness the contributions of youth leaders, innovators, facilitators, and policy-advocates to increase the likelihood of reaching sustainable peace in the country. Global evidence shows that broadening public participation – including to young people – in peace increases the prospects for it lasting.9 Empowering young peacebuilders has also been shown to create active citizens for peace, to reduce violence and to increase peaceful cohabitation.10 With the passing of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) in 2015, there is also potential for Myanmar to lead globally and set good practice for sustainably increasing the involvement of young people at all levels of decision-making, policy-making and peacebuilding.
Myanmar youth are contributing formally and informally to a host of peacebuilding initiatives; leveraging these contributions, often innovative and catalytic in their approaches, can support the multiple transitions the country is undergoing. Bringing the role of young people to the forefront of Myanmar’s transition also builds on Myanmar’s history where students and youth movements have influenced the trajectory of the country.
This Discussion Paper provides a starting point for understanding the status of youth inclusion in peacebuilding in Myanmar. In Section 1, this Discussion Paper assesses the involvement of youth and inclusion of youth perspectives in peace at both national and sub-national levels since 2011. Section 2 analyses the challenges young women and men face to their substantive involvement in peacebuilding. Section 3 draws upon national and international good practice, articulating a strategic framework for action to overcome obstacles discussed in Section 2.