Design thinking workshop in Namibia tackles the challenges of youth participation in peace and security

Date: Thursday, April 18, 2019

Participants in the Youth Peace Lab hold up their hashtags. Photo: UN Women/Otae Mkandawire.
Participants in the Youth Peace Lab hold up their hashtags. Photo: UN Women/Otae Mkandawire.

On 11 April 2019, the conference room at the Namibia Institute of Public Administration and Management pulsated with energy, as 40 youth activists from around the world debated challenges and solutions to ensure young women’s meaningful participation in peacebuilding processes in their countries and regions.

The message emerging from the two-day design thinking workshop dubbed, “the Peace Lab”, was loud and clear—speaking from the margins is simply not enough or meaningful for young people.

“We need to train with the intent of having young women at the table, not [merely] consulted with…but actually be part of those leading the peace processes,” said Nompendulo Mkatshwa, a youth activist from South Africa.

Esther Antonius a Development Officer (Legislature) from the Namibian Ministry of Gender Equality, Women and Child Welfare shows her groups’ hashtag at the Youth Peace Lab. The Lab was one of the working groups at the 3rd Capital Level Meeting of the Women Peace and Security Global Focal Points Network. Photo: UN Women/Otae Mkandawire.
Esther Antonius a Development Officer (Legislature) from the Namibian Ministry of Gender Equality, Women and Child Welfare shows her groups’ hashtag at the Youth Peace Lab. Photo: UN Women/Otae Mkandawire.

The Peace Lab, taking place at the same time as the Women, Peace and Security Focal Points Network were meeting for the first time in Africa, convened youth activists, young parliamentarians, as well as members of defence and security forces from 11 countries to identify existing barriers to young women’s participation and to propose innovative solutions. The design thinking exercises were facilitated by South Africa-based innovation social enterprise, R Labs, with the support of UN Women.

Design thinking is based on the understanding that sustainable solutions to social challenges must take the circumstances, needs, limitations, strengths and preferences of people into consideration. Using this technique, UN Women is engaging young leaders around the world to address some of the most pressing issues affecting women and girls.

Working in groups, the youth participants identified lack of inclusion and gender equality, negative social/cultural norms and stereotypes, as well as the lack of recognition of young people’s capabilities as the major obstacles to young women’s participation in peacebuilding.

On the second day of the lab, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka joined the session and encouraged youth leaders to continue leading the way. “You are owning the solutions, you are not talking about how you need to go to someone that must rescue you out of the situation …you are saying, ‘open the door, we want to be in, and we have a job to do.’”

Reiterating the critical role of youth in fulfilling the women, peace and security agenda, she added: “As we move towards 20 years of implementing UN Security Council resolution 1325, one thing that we are taking with us is the fact that the exclusion of women in general in peace processes has compromised the quality of the peace that we have. And who are we to exclude young people, young women in particular, when we know what it has meant to exclude women in general?”

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Youth Peace Lab. Photo: UN Women/Otae Mkandawire.
UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Youth Peace Lab. Photo: UN Women/Otae Mkandawire.

At the end of the Peace Lab, four solutions were prototyped by youth leaders:

  • Women and Youth Centres, which would bring together all relevant stakeholders to formulate policies on young women’s participation. The draft policies would be presented to national governments for adoption and implementation;
  • Online communities where young women would share their stories and strategize on how they can contribute to peace and security in their region;
  • Drafting laws on the inclusion of women and youth in decision-making (following local and national level consultations), and elected councils made up of government and civil society representatives to oversee implementation; and
  • Affirmative action for young women’s participation in peace processes to ensure their representation in negotiation, mediation and as signatories.

Out of these four prototypes, a winning proposal will be selected by  UN Women and R Labs and fully developed as a programmatic intervention in the coming months.  

“The tables have turned,” concluded Rita Moyo, a social worker with International Women Peace group based in Namibia.  “You used to call us and say we are having consultations with youth, we want them to bring their ideas…We want to consult you when we need ideas or when we need to be guided.”