“I think there’s growing recognition that social inclusion and accountability has to be part of the international system and yet I think we often pay lip service to the concept,” said Matthew Scott, Director of Peacebuilding at World Vision, to Andrea Ó Súilleabháin of the International Peace Institute. “Citizen voices and social accountability is not difficult to do, but it’s difficult to do consistently.”
As citizens’ demands for greater accountability and representation grows, multilateral organizations will need to incorporate social inclusion and citizen voices in helping to build peace in societies in conflict and transition, Mr. Scott said.
However, when it comes to social inclusion he argued that there’s a bit of box checking, citing the participation of women as one example. “We have a framework and the Security Council Resolution 1325 to ensure that women are participating and integrated into peace processes, and yet often at the community level it feels like the international community’s steps to make this happen are pro forma, not seeing it as a social good in and of itself.”
And although young people play an important role in building peace in their communities, they are often dismissed or belittled. Mr. Scott has found that policy makers generally see youth as either the problem or merely victims in need of protection. “If we only stay in a protection paradigm, we miss the opportunity to support and empower those young people working for peace in their communities, and in fact, an excessive focus on the victim problem or the perpetrator problem actually does harm to the efforts of the peace builders because it draws all the spotlight towards young people as the problem rather than we would contend.”
This discussion was part of a series of interviews done on the margins of ICM’s second retreat on social inclusion, political participation, and effective governance in challenging environments, held on March 13-14.
Listen to the interview:
Today we’re discussing social inclusion, political participation, and effective governance. How can multilateral actors better understand citizens’ demands for representation and legitimacy within their states?
That’s an excellent question that I think there’s an increasing recognition within the UN system [for]—that conflict analysis is a critical component of pre-deployment, pre-programming, pre-planning stage working in conflict-affected states. Conflict analysis is a growing field, the OECD has sort of defined the parameters of what constitutes good participatory conflict analysis, and there are many member states. The United States’ tool on conflict analysis is well known, the UNDP has an excellent tool, and other donors. We also have our own tool, and are increasingly partnering with other civil society organizations, international NGOs like ourselves, but also local organizations to make sure that we’re gathering the information from the participatory— wouldn’t say grassroots level necessarily—but as deep as we can go to understand what are the structures of the conflict, what are the drivers, and how will our own activities (us as an international aid organization) interact with those drivers of the conflict.
And in those conflict analysis conversations, do communities and civil society groups express common priorities?
What we’ve found over the last 12 years [is that] there’s an emerging body of evidence that we’ve collected that highlight four areas that communities draw attention to in fragile states. The most common one across every conflict analysis that we’ve done is good governance, and of course that’s a buzzword in the international development arena, and they may use many different terms to refer to governance, but that’s come up in every instance. Not necessarily as the top issue, but it’s always come up whether we’re in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Middle East, Eastern Europe—good governance comes up. But interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly for us, almost equally prevalent in our conflict analysis results was the need for sustainable and equitable economic development. Perhaps we should have been more attune to that need, but it’s come up again in almost 80 percent of the conflict analyses that we’ve done, alongside peace and reconciliation processes—perhaps that’s not surprising [since] there needs to be safety valves for communities to vent differences and also to be reconciled with one another. And the fourth one, almost equally prevalent, again about 3/4 of the conflict analyses we do highlight the need for civic empowerment, citizen voice and participation—broadly speaking. And it’s important to distinguish that from governance. Governance is more about the institutions that work, but civic voice is the opportunity to express yourself and your identity, and your needs in terms of the services the state is trying to deliver.
All of those topics certainly echo the growing demands for accountability that we’ve heard around the world in recent years from the Arab Spring and beyond, so how does the principle of accountability help to build peace more broadly in societies in conflict and transition?
I think there’s growing recognition that social inclusion and accountability has to be part of the international system, whether it’s multilateral organizations or aid organizations, and yet I think we often pay lip service to the concept. Citizen voices and social accountabilities is not difficult to do, but it’s difficult to do consistently. The way we approach it, and we use a tool that was co-developed with a number of other international NGOs as well as the World Bank, a tool that we call Citizen Voice and Action—that approach works with communities to understand what their rights are, what has been guaranteed to them in the constitution, for instance, or other universal documents like the Convention on the Rights to the Child, and then to compare that or give a score carding system at the community level with what they actually experience.
The interesting part of that is that it can sometimes lead to tension and conflict—when you realize that there’s a significant gap between what you’re owed and what is actually being delivered to you either through international NGOs, or ideally through the government. The critical ingredient of the Citizen Voice and Action process is to then—the third step—design a constructive community dialogue to address the gap. So not to resort to a predatory or antagonistic relationship between service delivery organizations and the citizens who are owed those rights, but to construct a community-agreed path to realize those rights together, and not to make enemies of the other, but together plan how to realize those services that are due to them.
And to continue on social inclusion, in your work what have you found are the benefits of including often overlooked groups such as young people, or even women’s groups?
Again, it sounds like one of those things that to perhaps you and I might just make intuitive sense, that you should include marginalized voices, and yet again it feels like in the international system there is a bit of box checking that goes on with consulting women. We have a framework and the Security Council Resolution 1325 to ensure that women are participating and integrated into peace processes, and yet often at the community level it feels like the international community’s steps to make this happen are pro forma, not seeing it as a social good in and of itself. And I guess the key thing we’ve discovered as a child focused organization is the important role that children and young people play already today in building peace in their communities. We often hear adults talk about “well, children are the future,”—that’s true, [but] they’re also the present and they’re building peace in their communities. We’ve experienced it in places ranging from Colombia to Sri Lanka to Lebanon, Kosovo; all kinds of places where young people are building peace across ethnic, religious, or sectarian divides often at considerable risk to their own safety and health, and we’re there to ensure that they are protected from harm and to advise them on how to build peace with others and to mobilize other young people at scale.
So it’s not just a cute bunch of kids doing some nice reconciliation activities, but they’re mobilizing their voice across the board. One thing that they complain [about]: youth say to us that their efforts are often dismissed, belittled... literally. We had a young woman from Lebanon tell us the reaction from legislators to their efforts in the Beqaa Valley to integrate Syrian youth was, “Oh that’s so cute,” and that’s incredibly harmful to give that reaction to youth peacebuilding efforts.
The biggest challenge that we find, however, is that policymakers generally want to think about young people in conflict zones under two or three different modes, but not the one we would like to. They either see them as the problem, so they see young men especially as recruits into violent action, or they see children merely as victims in need of protection. So for instance the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict—excellent protection work, those frameworks are the basics of what we need, but if we only stay in a protection paradigm, we miss the opportunity to support and empower those young people working for peace in their communities, and in fact, an excessive focus on the victim problem or the perpetrator problem actually does harm to the efforts of the peace builders because it draws all the spotlight, all the attention, the oxygen and the funding towards young people as the problem rather than we would contend. And we would like to have stronger evidence to say this, but we contend for now that the silent majority of young people are constructively involved in peace, again taking risks to do that, and need the support and empowerment of multilateral organizations of NGOs to do their work. That’s what they’re asking us to do.
And we’re having this conversation about these community-level needs and priorities alongside the Independent Commission on Multilateralism. Think you’ve given us some good reasons already, but I also want to ask why should the multilateral system pay attention to the community dynamics?
To give the example of Chad, I was just there a month ago to do a conflict analysis and our civil society partners there, women’s organizations, human rights organizations, even journalists said when 47 percent of our population in Chad is under the age of 15, we need to find ways to communicate to young people, to listen to their voices, and integrate them into the plans that the international system is making for Chad’s future development, prosperity, and peace. And it feels to me like the international multilateral system is a bit creaky. I don’t think anyone would dispute that now with the UN celebrating its 70th birthday we have institutions that are locked into very old frames of interstate relations, and that [they] are not very flexible or open to consultation with civil society actors, generally defined [as] youth groups, trade unions, NGOs, human rights activists.
One of the opportunities that really needs to be seized in this season of review and reform at the UN and through this Independent Commission on Multilateralism is the need to open up to other perspectives beyond just the state perspective. It’s not saying states don’t matter or are irrelevant, it’s saying the international community has changed, the nature of conflict has changed so much that we need alternative vehicles for viewpoints from the ground, from civil society, to be heard within UN deliberations. It seems like we’re still a long ways from that—the UN has developed workarounds over the years like the Arria Formula discussions and the Security Council, which allow NGOs informally and off the record to brief Security Council members, but those are ad hoc arrangements, not institutional commitments. Other institutions like the European Union have made inroads with that. They have a civil society dialogue network, for instance, that requires EU policy makers and civil society to sit together and compare notes on conflict zones, among other things. I think we really need to consider mechanisms like that in the Independent Commission on Multilateralism.
Thank you so much for speaking with me. A lot to think about as we move forward.
My pleasure. Thank you.