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World peace is not only possible but inevitable

COVID-19 has shifted our world. Over the last six months, no matter where we live, our lives, assumptions, and relationships have changed. Now, more than ever, we have witnessed people from all backgrounds and all ages rise to assist each other

While communities have formed networks of mutual support, many of the institutions mandated to support them have failed to fully harness and amplify the wealth of capacities and support structures that already exist. In international development in particular, a key blind spot that limits the effectiveness of our work exists in the rhetoric we use to understand the communities we work with.

UNDP, along with many other partners, continues to advance new approaches to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, but our continued use of terminology that fails to fully embrace the power of people impedes the transformative potential of our work. This can also lead to inadequate policy and programming, or to insufficient – or inappropriate – action. One of the most prominent examples of this is our tendency to target support to individuals and communities facing poverty, conflict, or other sources of instability by identifying them as ‘vulnerable’ people.

For example, the problem with categorizing women as vulnerable group project women’s passivity and helplessness, denying them agency and power in the processes of change. A radical reaction to portraying women as vulnerable in recent years has been an over glorification of women’s role as fighters in support of violent extremist groups, hindering their capacity and role as peacebuilders.

Words matter. They shape mindsets, and mindsets shapes approaches and outcomes. There is an important distinction between a vulnerable person and a person living in a vulnerable circumstance. When we define people by their circumstances, we fail to engage with them as multidimensional beings. It’s time for UNDP to move from using ‘vulnerability’ as a means of defining the people it supports, to considering all people as protagonists for change.

This might allow us to meet people’s aspirations and assist us in assessment and conceptualization of where inequality stems from and who has a role in combating it. By moving away from a deprivation perspective, which leads to divisive mentalities about the capacity of particular groups of people, we are better positioned to recognize the reality of humanity’s common journey in building a peaceful world, and the role of each individual as a protagonist in it. We can start this journey by changing the words we use and therefore the whole narrative from vulnerability to empowerment and constructive resilience.

Whether this reconceptualization of what unites us to be reached only after a global crisis such as this pandemic has revealed the cost of humanity’s stubborn clinging to old patterns of behaviour, or is to be reached through consultation and dialogue, is the choice before all.

We can choose to graduate from the idea of labeling women, youth, racial, religious and ethnic minorities as ‘vulnerable groups in the discussions that guide our decision-making. We can embark on a journey with greater clarity of vision and determination to question and reflect on how our policy and programming promote the nobility of them and draw on their experience.

To accept that the individual, the community, and the institutions of society are the protagonists of civilization building, and to act accordingly, opens up great possibilities for human happiness and allows for the creation of environments in which the true powers of the human spirit can be released.

Several opportunities to enhance our work with peacebuilders, activists, and other populations in bringing about sustainable change and to ensure we recognize and articulate with greater clarity their latent capacity may include the following:

  • To stand with women peacebuilders to ensure they are recognized for their work and courage, have full inclusion and representation in local and global peace and recovery processes and are protected against threats and are receiving the resources to carry out their work. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of WPS, and UNDP is proud to join the International Civil Society Action Network(ICAN) and the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) as they launch the global shebuildspeace call to action and campaign building on our partnership on Invisible Women.

  • To recognize the powers endowed in people of faith, especially women of faith, at all levels. Women of faith are actively engaging in the local peace process and they are advocating against hate speech, initiatives addressing issues connected to the environment, like climate. UNDP and UN Women report on Conflicting Identities: The Nexus between Masculinities, Femininities and Violent Extremism in Asia recommend Programming take a whole-of-family and hole-of-community approach when designing interventions.

  • To recognize the essentiality of community-based peacebuilding as parallel or pre-requisite to high-level negotiations. The effects of COVID-19 proved that local trust, access and resilience is essential part of social cohesion.

  • To include and appreciate young climate change advocates, environmental defenders and environmental journalists who have recognized that creation is an organic whole and they are promoting systems required to respect the earth and to organize and fully utilize its raw materials. Their inclusion in essential in programs that promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

  • To acknowledge the role of storytellers who provoke conversations, initiate reflections and ; and work of volunteer online defenders and work of volunteer online defenders from across the globe combating trolls who spread hate speech.

  • To show gratitude to the unique contribution of Indigenous peoples to our planet and our common future.

  • To recognize persons with disabilities as having significant experience and innovative approaches to navigating barriers in their daily lives.

  • To learn how people make decisions and act on them, how they think about, influence, and relate to one another, and how they develop beliefs and attitudes. We are working with young people to apply behavioral insights to address violent extremism in countries such as Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

  • To recognize persons with disabilities as having significant experience and innovative approaches to navigating barriers in their daily lives.

The innovation and resilience shown by communities amidst the pandemic have underscored the need for more expansive understandings of human relationships, and to place more emphasis on identifying the latent capacities and desires of those we hope to serve. This means believing in people and their desires to be sources of peace and justice. This means opening our eyes to the extent of people’s capacity so that we can see more peacebuilders and changemakers in more places. This means embracing the oneness of humankind and human nobility as a foundation for how we develop our policies and programmes.


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