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To NAP or not to NAP: Applying the model of National Action Plans to Youth, Peace & Security

July 15, 2021 by Marissa Fortune

In 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security (YPS), which recognizes the important and positive role that young people play in international peace and security, and encourages UN Member States to give youth a greater voice in decision-making at all levels. Although a landmark accomplishment for youth peacebuilders, since its adoption, varying degrees of progress have been made at the national level to mainstream the Youth, Peace and Security agenda and operationalize its commitments. One common proposal to address the implementation gap is to adopt the model of National Action Plans (NAPs) by borrowing their structure from the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS), which YPS has been largely inspired by.

The WPS agenda is more well-established than YPS, and has been pivotal in promoting the meaningful inclusion of women in peace and security efforts since Resolution 1325 was passed in 2000. The central mechanisms for implementing WPS at the institutional level are National Action Plans. NAPs serve as tools that outline governmental priorities to operationalize the objectives of the agenda into national and local realities. Currently, 92 countries, including Canada, have NAPs in place and they are widely encouraged as powerful methods to bring attention and action to the WPS agenda.

The YPS agenda, however, has yet to find any similar implementation strategy, and national-level application has mostly rolled out in an ad-hoc, decentralized manner. There is no consensus within the YPS community on whether or not NAPs are an effective tool to operationalize this unique agenda, given the challenges to implementation observed in NAPs for other peace and security frameworks. What remains to be determined is whether or not it would be beneficial to apply the model of NAPs to YPS, or if we should consider other methods of implementation. While there are several strong arguments in favour of creating NAPs for YPS, there are also some potential pitfalls that youth peacebuilders should consider before pushing their governments to adopt them.

The Pros: Why a NAP is sounding really good right about now

There are many benefits to adopting the structure of NAPs. For one, NAPs have the potential to bring legitimacy to the issues outlined by the pillars of YPS. They are a strong signal of government commitment and can bring attention and funding as well as long-term results-based planning and accountability. NAPs can be drafted with strong consultation from civil society, which in theory would allow for local ownership and inclusivity. They have the potential to be great tools for monitoring and evaluating progress towards implementation and can be helpful in measuring the successes and gaps using both qualitative and quantitative indicators. When a holistic, inclusive, and comprehensive process is undertaken, NAPs can be impactful and show genuine progress and results. Ideally, the development and implementation of a NAP is meant to be an ongoing process of transformation and not simply an end in itself or a “tick-box” exercise.

For the WPS agenda, NAPs are a well-established framework and many countries have a wealth of experience working with them, not only for WPS but also for other types of initiatives. This means that the learning curve towards applying the model of NAPs to YPS would be minimal and creating a NAP is likely the quickest, easiest and most reliable way to ensure implementation of the YPS agenda.

The Cons: We can NAP when we’re dead

On the other hand, in learning from the experiences of the WPS agenda, we know that while NAPs can be powerful tools for implementation, they often suffer from key shortcomings. A common critique of NAPs is that few are funded and there is rarely baseline data for many of the indicators that they aim to measure. This has led to claims that the institutional commitment is more rhetorical than real. Even NAPs that are robust and well-designed face challenges when it comes to having the capacity to actualize their goals. As YPS is not high on many countries’ lists of priorities, it is unclear whether they will have the political will to provide robust accompanying budgets and support for accountability, monitoring, and evaluation. Even if the political will is there, there is always the risk that it may be watered down and become less salient depending on shifting government priorities and turnover. NAPs take years of research and resources to get off the ground and the danger in pushing for a NAP for YPS is that it would result in a mere rhetorical success with no concrete benefit beyond political signalling.

More importantly, it is wise to be cognizant of the fact that the process of developing a NAP could very plausibly negate youth agency and, ironically, result in young people losing their ability to drive the YPS movement on their own terms. Entrusting the implementation of the YPS agenda to national governments puts it in their hands and shifts the power dynamics to where forces outside of youth peacebuilding circles hold the resources and legitimacy to implement an agenda in young people’s names but rather on government terms. There is a well-founded suspicion that pushing for a NAP could plausibly lead to young people’s alienation from their own agenda, since at best they will be “consulted,” possibly tokenized and probably marginalized throughout the process.

To NAP or not to NAP?

What we have learned from the experience of WPS is that not all NAPs are created equal. They have the potential to be powerful tools for implementation but they also risk becoming lofty rhetoric without genuine commitment, funding or action. If NAPs are to become mainstream tools for implementing YPS, advocates should fight to ensure that:

  1. Processes are youth-led;

  2. Diverse groups of stakeholders are meaningfully consulted and included at each stage of drafting, implementation, and evaluation;

  3. NAPs have dedicated funding and mechanisms to ensure funds are available for youth-led organizations and initiatives;

  4. NAPs have strong monitoring and evaluation mechanisms; and

  5. The principles of inclusivity, transparency, accountability, and intersectionality are reflected in order to fully represent diverse interests and needs of all young people.

Finally, NAPs must be more than a box-ticking exercise or another report to place on the shelf. If countries decide to develop NAPs on YPS they need to be a robust, flexible, and transformative exercise led by young people for young people with the aim of fostering lasting and equitable peace and justice for all. If it is doubtful that NAPs will be able to do that, then we need to start thinking outside the box about how to push the YPS agenda forward using a more inclusive, youth-centred approach.

This article pulls inspiration from recent discussions and debates held by CCYPS’s Government Advocacy Working Group on whether or not a National Action Plan is the right tool for implementing YPS in Canada.


About the author:

Marissa Fortune holds a Master’s degree in Development Studies from the Institut des hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID) in Geneva and an undergraduate degree from McGill University. Currently, Marissa helps manage the International Assistance Envelope at Global Affairs Canada. In 2020 she was hired to coordinate policy for Canada’s campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council. Prior to this she was living and working in Accra, Ghana where she completed a fellowship at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre. Marissa has held previous roles at the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies. In her off-hours, Marissa works as a Program Coordinator for Young Diplomats of Canada and has a background in advocacy work related to gender, youth, and violence reduction.

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