Peacebuilding and Volunteering

Peacebuilding and volunteering

What is the issue and why is it relevant to volunteering?

Sustaining peace is not limited to the absence of war, but encompasses activities to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of conflict and violence more broadly.  

Volunteers play a crucial role in promoting justice, protection and conflict prevention around the globe.  They sensitize and build awareness about peace and development, work on peaceful resolution of conflicts and can be strong advocates for social cohesion leading to reconciliation at the community level.  

What are the challenges and opportunities?

Some of the challenges and opportunities around peacebuilding and volunteering include:

  • Understanding the strengths and limitations of volunteer action in conflict contexts.
  • Advancing on the provision of safety, security and well-being mechanisms and systems for volunteers in fragile contexts. 
  • Advancing research that explores humanitarian-development-peace intersections  and the complementary roles of volunteers in those contexts.
What is UNV doing?

UNV is the designated focal point working with UN Member States and partners on the implementation of the UN Resolution on “Integrating volunteering into peace and development”.  

In terms of volunteer deployments, UNV liaises with relevant partners in the aftermath of conflicts to coordinate the placement of volunteers experienced in peacekeeping and peacebuilding processes, such as early recovery, human rights reporting, local institutional capacity support, and democratic governance. 

What does the evidence say?

Strengths of volunteer action in peacebuilding

  • Volunteers, especially informal volunteers can contribute to increased trust and social cohesion in communities as part of efforts to sustain peace and prevent conflict.

  • In addition, the High-Level Independent Panel on United Nations Peace Operations report mentions the role of volunteers in strengthening community liaison and national capacity development.  

  • Building and keeping a culture of peace is a dynamic process that takes many forms within communities. It can be promoted through formal structures, such as through the establishment of volunteer district peace committees in Malawi. Or it may be approached less directly through working together on a common cause, such as volunteers in the Wadi El Kuu natural resource management project.

Gender and inclusion

  • Although volunteer-led community protection is key to sustain peace, in some contexts volunteers are not accepted and their rights are not respected. 

  • Volunteers might also not be perceived as neutral because of their ethnic, racial or regional identities and can be perceived as partisan or disloyal by different groups, especially in conflicts. These pose critical risks to their safety, security and well-being that need to be addressed accordingly.  

  • Evidence suggests that volunteers from “external” groups, including international volunteers, can play key roles in peace-making efforts as third-party impartial intermediaries. However, there is a need for further research to critically evaluate the role of international volunteering practice in peace and conflict.

Gender and inclusion

  • Gender mainstreaming needs yet to become a norm in conflict analyses to account for women’s everyday peacebuilding efforts in their communities that are wide but often go underacknowledged.  

  • One study found that amongst the priority areas of the Cambodian government’s development strategy, volunteers have positive effects in increasing lawfulness and peace in communities, including enhancing legal protection for women.  

  • Safety, security and well-being issues are particularly relevant to women in fragile contexts and echoed by evidence of gendered experiences of local volunteering in conflicts and emergencies.

Youth and Peacebuilding

Evidence suggests that local interventions involving youth volunteers can have greater effects on sustaining peace in the future. In Kenya, youth who joined volunteer peace initiatives reported more trust of members from other ethnic groups and stronger belief it the capacity of different communities living together peacefully. The collaborative project “Youth Volunteers Rebuilding Darfur” builds upon the potential of young Darfuris to sustain peace in Sudan by acknowledging the links between volunteering, peace and sustainable livelihoods: “We need more education, financial programs for beekeepers and protection plans for farmers. But without peace, there won’t be development, and this project is giving us some tools to make it possible” (Youth volunteer testimony). In Timor-Leste, young volunteers take on an active role in monitoring conflict-related risks through a national early warning system and in Sri Lanka a study commissioned by UNFPA and UNV has shown the potential role of young leaders and volunteers in preventing violent extremism.

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