"Becoming familiar with the dynamics of privilege and oppression between religious groups in the community or country where a program takes place allows peacebuilders to be sensitive toward participants and ensure everyone is included and comfortable."
This toolkit presents an overview of how Search for Common Ground (hereafter, "Search") programmes are designed to engage, respect, and accommodate young people's religious identities around the world, based on insights from Search staff and evaluations. As explained here, Search works at different levels of society in more than 30 countries, using a multi-faceted approach to find culturally appropriate means to strengthen societies' capacities to handle conflicts constructively. They employ media initiatives - methods consist of mediation and facilitation, training, community organising, sports, theatre, and media production including radio, TV, film, and print - and work with local partners in government and civil society to understand differences and act on commonalities. In particular, Search works in partnership with young people to create stronger enabling environments for children and youth to transform conflict their communities - rather than just be conceived of as either victims or perpetrators.
According to Search, when designing programmes engaging young people in peacebuilding, it is important to ask the following questions, even if the programme itself is not focused on religion:
- Do all the youth in this programme practice the same religion?
- How can we make sure that young people of all religions (even minority religions in the community) feel welcome to participate in this programme?
- Does the programme need adaptations to make it equitable to youth with different religious identities?
- How might the societal privilege of one religious group unintentionally manifest and cause conflict in programming?
In that context, the toolkit identifies positive outcomes and challenges from case studies in the field, examining the different types of programming engaging young people and their religious identities. Case studies explore inter-religious peacebuilding (case studies from the Central African Republic (CAR) and Jerusalem), intra-religious peacebuilding (focus on Indonesia), and non-religious programming, or religious sensitivity in non-religious programmes (with a case study from West Africa). Lessons from these experiences are shared. For example: "Creating safe spaces for open dialogue and reflection can foster tolerance and understanding, challenge misconceptions, and build trust among young participants in interreligious programming. Interreligious dialogue may include verbal and non-verbal exchanges of perspectives and information between people from different religious groups - from informal discussions to joint art exhibitions and performances - and is more constructive between participants who are firmly grounded in their own beliefs. Religious identity and references - including holy texts, sites, and figures - can be a powerful resource when working with youth in peacebuilding. Engaging young people's religious identity can help enrich dialogue among participants and further examine their beliefs about self, others, and spirituality as a whole."
A section with recommendations for incorporating gender sensitivities in religious peacebuilding follows. For example, in many traditionally religious cultures, men often have the final say in the day-to-day activities of mothers, wives, or daughters. Educating young men on issues relating to gender and religion can help them become advocates for women's participation in the community and in leadership positions. A chart in this section includes more information on challenges and solutions to gender sensitivity and religion in peacebuilding programmes. A "note from the field" examines a pilot Search programme called "Naija Girls, Unite!", wherein Search staff reportedly found success when they worked specifically with young girls to help them build their knowledge, skills, and relationships with girls from other faiths.
The toolkit concludes with a review of practical religious considerations for designing and implementing programmes. For example, particularly as youth are still learning about the unintended consequences activities may have (e.g., some youth participants in a project in Indonesia were labeled as "infidels" or "liberals" because of their participation), technical support and guidance is important to ensure that youth-led activities uphold ethical and protection standards and do not cause harm. In a project empowering youth "ambassadors" to promote inter-faith and intra-faith tolerance in Indonesia, young people attended a youth camp to build their skills on conflict resolution and project management, and then received seed grant funding to implement activities engaging peers and the community. Some youth-led activities were successful in bringing together people from different faiths and increasing empathy and understanding. However, some youth-led activities also provided a platform to intolerant messages, and others failed to follow international development and ethical standards. Ongoing technical support and oversight helps ensure such issues are quickly addressed and prevents reoccurrence.
At the end of the toolkit, two appendices provide additional guidance on religious sensitivity in the programme cycle and relevant resources for further reading.
Search website, May 30 2017.