Inequality is a powerful driver of conflict around the world.
Any discussion of inequality and peace is really a discussion about power – who holds it and how it is distributed.
Across Europe, the issue of migration is winning and losing elections, but the real issue is poverty and exclusion.
Women and young people are heavily under-represented in peace processes, for example, in Syria and Libya.
Inequality – social, economic and political – is a powerful driver of conflict around the world and overcoming it will require a multipronged approach. Women and young people must take a leading role in finding and promoting solutions. Both women and young people are heavily under-represented in peace processes, for example in Syria and Libya. Too often they are seen as only as victims of violence rather than voices that need to be heard.
Discussion of inequality and peace is really a discussion about power – who holds it and how it is distributed. Seen from this perspective, issues of development are really about power relations. When people live in extreme poverty, they are denied the means and the capacity to take decisions about their lives; they struggle to be active citizens.
Action by the EU in the Sahel region provides an example of a holistic approach to the question of conflict resolution. Climate change, the struggle for scarce resources, which can trigger large displacement of populations, and ethnic divisions are among the problems being faced. The EU has mobilised some EUR 8 billion in support of the Sahel and adopted an approach that combines a strong diplomatic and development dimension. It has created an early warning system to alert the risk of fresh threats to stability and cohesion in the region, facilitating the taking of prompt action both at the security and the development level.
Across Europe, the issue of migration is winning and losing elections. But the real issue is poverty and exclusion. Poverty and exclusion, often combined with a lack of access to education, lead to prison and religious radicalisation. Societies in Europe, Africa and beyond are profoundly divided in terms of access to the benefits of economic growth. Too often, a person’s name will define their future.
Perceptions about inequality and injustice are important. Even though economies may be growing in Europe, for example, there is a perception among many that things are still not moving in the right direction or are not moving fast enough. Perceptions of injustice and inequality can be important causes of conflict.
South Africa’s recent political elections – the most peaceful in the country’s post-Apartheid history – offer an example of the importance of empowering local communities and making sure their voices are heard. The South African electoral commission trained a thousand people to go out into the communities to defuse potential disputes, giving local people a role in decision-taking. In Mexico’s Oaxaca region, indigenous groups have come together to demand that local authorities respect their rights of access to water. Civil society and aid groups can help in the struggle of indigenous communities for greater political influence.
Civil society organisations are under pressure in many parts of the world from authoritarian governments. They need to reach out to the international community and perhaps work more closely with journalists, who often share their predicament. Authoritarian governments listen to what the United Nations says about them or what gets written in the New York Times.
Inclusion is not only social and economic. Political inclusion is just as important. People, particularly the marginalised, must get a voice in issues affecting their lives.