Malala’s recent Nobel Peace Prize award highlights a little noticed truth: Youth are disproportionally affected by conflict and violence. Whether it is the young people in Northern Ireland struggling to overcome an inherited legacy of suspicion and mistrust, or young girls abducted and forced into slavery in Nigeria, the fact is: our youth too often pay the price for the mistakes of previous generations.
Yet young people are not just victims of the imperfect and confusing world they were born into, they can also shape it, define it, and transform it. Malala is an example. My own experience has taught me that no peace that excludes young people can last. That is why events such as One Young World, which empower young people as agents of reconciliation, are tremendously important. The energy felt around the meeting rooms and corridors surrounding the many events and gatherings is tremendous.
The diversity of the young delegates, who come from different cultures, religions and ethnicities is trumped by a sense that we are in this world together, that we face the same challenges, whether climate change or youth unemployment. This is inspiring. Better connected, better educated and more aware of events beyond their own borders, these youth reach across the globe to inspire each other and find solutions to even the most intractable and entrenched differences.
Yet for every young person who is part of this global network which has embraced pluralism as a strength, there is another young person excluded from it. Some for economic, linguistic or technological reasons, others because they willfully chose identity politics over pluralism.
So my questions to young people, here in Dublin and beyond, are: How do you plan to participate in political life and shape the world you want? How will you contribute to building strong, inclusive and transparent institutions of governance? How will you hold leaders accountable and assure that they serve their democratic duties and responsibilities? How will you reach out to your peers who are not yet convinced that pluralism is worth embracing? On all of these questions, it’s over to you.
My generation of course, has to ask itself how we can best support the young in their ambitions, it is the least we can do.