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  • Andrew Walker

Youth Share Insights into Countering Hate and Identity Violence in South Sudan

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

After two years working with youth from across South Sudan on countering identity-based violence, here are some key take-aways from what they learned and shared:

Youth are excellent educators, mediators, and mentors able to scale up attitude change

Youth are often associated with conflict as disenfranchised instigators. We saw another side. Youth leaders across South Sudan demonstrated their power as agents, able to trigger widespread attitude change when given the opportunity. The youth leaders we trained shared incrementally shared their knowledge with more young people reaching thousands more. They demonstrated deep insights into their contexts and lived experiences, showing their ability to sustain huge impacts and become self-sustaining.

For example, youth leader Alith led workshops in a safe space for 30 young ambassadors to discuss solutions to conflicts in their communities and consider how hate speech and identity-based violence can be mitigated and prevented. The participants were able to write and tell their own stories, challenging negative stereotypes that fuel conflict - also using radio and social media. The Writer’s Writing Fellowship continues to meet and discuss the dangers of IBV and discrimination, specifically how to mitigate hate speech in their circles of influence.

“Writing is so powerful it can change the type of human the reader becomes" Alith Cyer Mayer, youth leader (2020)

In Torit, youth leader Saviour directly mediated between youth from two divided communities, training them on identity, dialogue, leadership and conflict mitigation strategies, transforming their perceptions towards one another. Together they conducted community services at public hospitals and a clean-up of a historical memorial site as a ‘learning by doing’ exercise. Saviour's initiative led to the creation of a local Youth Peace Forum aiming to meet every month.

Human rights education really changes attitudes

Throughout the project we used a human rights education methodology tailored to strengthen participants’ critical thinking, exploring personal understandings and experiences around identity, equality, discrimination, prejudice, hate speech, stereotyping, scapegoating and dehumanisation.

"Human rights education can be defined as learning that develops knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and attitudes that encourage individuals to uphold their own rights and those of others."

It develops an understanding that all of us have a common responsibility to make human rights a reality in each community, and makes an essential contribution to the prevention of human rights abuses.

The youth leaders participated in a ‘pre /post’ survey, assessing empathy and critical thinking. Results show huge increases in capacity to withstand prejudice and stereotyping, as well as reverse negative gender attitudes.

All the youth leaders increased their critical thinking and empathy scores following the training they received. The highest area of attitude change was in relation to empathic reasoning (critical thinking, or the cognitive part of empathy), with a 46% positive shift. The highest increases were seen in response to the following questions:

Youth exclusion continues to pose a real threat

Despite their knowledge, skills and convening power, youth continue to be excluded from political and decision-making processes at all levels in South Sudan, both at community level and in relation to national peacebuilding. This is despite youth being key agents of change, bringing a diversity of perspectives, interpretations and solutions in relation to the challenges and opportunities the world faces. They must be treated as important positive actors and change makers in society. Their inclusion in the peace and security agenda, and society more broadly, is key to building and sustaining peace.

At all levels, work is needed to build relationships and trust. Future peace initiatives must include representatives from younger and older generations to ensure diverse representation and collective ownership. As stated by Mabior during his discussions with community elders regarding conflict resolution and the prevention of IBV:

Inter-generational dialogue is a crucial step towards peace Mabior, youth leader (2020)

Inter-cultural dialogue is also key to strengthening social cohesion, due to its ability to build relationships and to break down stereotypes and “othering” views. Intercultural dialogue was promoted in Nehemiah’s initiative, entitled ‘Intercultural Society and Shared Heritage’, which engaged scores of youth from opposing communities in developing music and drama productions carrying alternative narratives to division. These continue to be performed to large audiences, including large public spaces, hospitals and prisons. The narratives covered topics such as common and shared heritage, trauma, discrimination, hatred, and tribalism.

Nehemiah noticed gradual behaviour change among the young participants and audiences:

“those involved started behaving as one community, building relationships with each other”. Nehemiah, youth leader (2020)

Read the full list of reflections, lessons learned and recommendations in the report ‘Learning from Youth as Peace Builders’ here. This report was the culmination of the project ‘Youth Counter Hate-Speech & Identity Based Violence in South Sudan’, led by SSYPADO and Rights for Peace from September 2019 to July 2022 and funded by UK Aid Direct and Jo Cox Memorial Strengthening Grants (JCMG).

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