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Youth, Peace & Security: Advocacy and Trauma-Informed Practices

*Content warning: This piece includes descriptive detail about trauma-informed practices and therefore mentions elements of traumatic experiences within peace and advocacy efforts, including social, physical and sexual violence. Please read with care, and make use of your support systems if needed.

June 24, 2021, by Rosalyn Martin

Trauma-informed practices

Trauma-informed practices, an emerging framework within equity and advocacy work, require the systemic recognition of trauma within a field, sector, situation or grouping of people. The consistent use of empathetic and community-grounded knowledge has led to shifts towards collective, systemic action, eradicating harm, and preventing individual and systemic re-traumatization.

While it is impossible to confine the complexity of trauma into a singular, binary definition, trauma is commonly referred to as the emotional and physical responses to an event(s) threatening or perceived to threaten a person's 'normal' coping skills, resulting from acute, complex and/or ongoing distress. Trauma is not bound to a singular experience; it often results from various social factors such as emotional, physical and sexual violence, racism and discrimination, natural disasters, injury, illness, and conflict. The resulting traumatization of individuals and communities causes shifts in neurological responses to everyday situations, hindering survivors' ability to function within the demands of their surrounding social systems.

Thus, establishing the presence and complexity of trauma within communities calls for continuous adjustments to our surrounding environments, leadership styles, and social systems. Trauma-informed practices encompass an understanding of power imbalances, colonial harm, disability justice, self-awareness, compassionate inquiry, and cultural humility. Trauma-informed care shifts societal approaches to advocacy, peacebuilding, policymaking, legal procedures, and medical care to account for the impacts of trauma—compassionate shifts towards collective healing.

Trauma-informed = Equity centred

Equity and inclusion are at the forefront of the Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) agenda. Ensuring that international decision-making spaces are inclusive and proactive in advocating for the intersectional experiences and needs of youth requires a different and diverse approach to prevention and intervention strategies. Often, grassroots and youth-led advocacy efforts are discredited as 'uninformed,' 'ingenuine,' or 'under-qualified.’

Trauma-informed work requires a systemic understanding that specific sectors must step beyond the confines of the false perception of the 'knowledgeable' and 'knowledge-less.' Within youth advocacy and YPS community, such paradigms reinforce harmful power hierarchies between those with experience (and often, age) over younger voices, further de-legitimizing youth, their experiences and presence within the peacebuilding community. A trauma-informed approach to peacebuilding would not only seek to validate youth experiences within the peace community but strive to include youth voices at all levels of decision-making.

Survivors of violence, internal and external to conflict, live at the intersections of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. The work of trauma-informed communities is to understand these intersections, integrate this understanding into response work, and dismantle these forms of violence at the individual, communal, and societal levels. In these respects, integrating trauma-informed responses leads to equitable peacebuilding, survivor autonomy, and a feminist perspective within the YPS agenda.

Young peacebuilders and trauma-informed practices

The presence of trauma within peacebuilding efforts is undeniable, especially impacts youth. Trauma-informed care equates to environments in which resilience and healing are possible. As leaders within the peacebuilding communities, youth play an integral role in ensuring that trauma-informed practices are reflected within international peacebuilding agendas.

Embracing a genuinely equitable approach to peacebuilding and community-based advocacy will include:

  1. The recognition of both trauma and possible harm, including the diversity and complexity of trauma (i.e conflict, peacebuilding, formal peacekeeping)

  2. The integration of processes that recognize, validate, and respect both community and individual accounts of trauma.

  3. Placing the consistent autonomy of survivors at the forefront of advocacy work.

  4. Consistent attempts to avoid re-traumatization.

Trauma-informed care does not suffice as true justice, support and change within international peace efforts, without first seeking to understand the underlying and foundational components of gender, class, and race within the contextualizations of social, physical, and sexual violence. However, as allies, survivors, activists, and young peacebuilders, those invested in the YPS agenda must commit to establishing trauma-informed practices within their work in order to begin equity-centred shifts within the sector. The centring of autonomy, healing and safety for all peace advocates is essential to fully enacting the youth, peace and security agenda.

How can young people encourage the presence of trauma-informed care within YPS advocacy work?

Consider the following:

  • Encourage organizations, government(s)/United Nations entities, communities, and stakeholders to partake in or establish trauma-informed training.

  • Attempt to facilitate youth community organizing/projects/collaborations with a trauma-informed lens. Ask yourself:

    • Are the spaces I am in physically, socially, and cognitively accessible?

    • How can I tailor my spaces to be safer for the participants in this project/community?

    • How can my group accurately recognize existing harm/trauma in our work/projects?

    • Am I willing to alter my/our expectations to reflect a balance of mental/physical wellness and work? Am I willing to be understanding of my team’s circumstances, even if they are not disclosed?

  • Include content warnings and applicable resources when sharing information, experiences and stories, which include physical, social or sexual violence.

    • Familiarize yourself with the appropriate services and resources in your location or sector.

  • Learn how trauma manifests (mental illness, stress, absence, suppression/triggers) within your specific communities (academic, social, geographical, workplace, medical etc.).

  • Advocate for the recognition of systemic, historical, and intergenerational trauma in policy, legal decisions, and community-building work.

  • Trauma-informed care is not bound to a specific sector - apply your trauma-informed lens to all streams of advocacy work.

    • Foundations of community advocacy based on health, wellness, mutual understanding, and kindness produce the most substantial impact(s)!


About the author:

Rosalyn Martin (she/her/elle) is a recent political and gender studies graduate from Queen’s University. Her lived experiences and foundations in feminist organizing have led Rosalyn to research and advocate for the expansion of gender-based violence (GBV) prevention/response efforts in Canadian and international legal precedents. Rosalyn is looking forward to pursuing a law degree and employing her knowledge of trauma-informed frameworks to assist survivors of GBV in Canada and abroad.

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