Our World Must Prioritize Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Future Peace and Security

When I embarked on the national Youth Observer Listening Tour at the beginning of my term, young people from across the U.S. shared with me domestic and global issues that served as the foundation of the UNA-USA’s 2021 American Youth Priorities Report. Among several key findings, one concern rang true in every consultation, meeting, and survey response: diverse voices are missing. As we embark on ensuring that 2022 is a year full of impact and purpose for the UN’s 2030 objectives, actively promoting diversity will be one of the cornerstones of maintaining international peace and security.

This year, as the tenth Youth Observer to the United Nations, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEAI) has been at the core of my platform. From including U.S. youth from rural communities to meeting with youth leaders from historically black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions, my national youth engagement agenda has focused on empowering and bringing youth of all backgrounds to have a seat at the table. Internationally, supporting DEAI has included founding the Diversity Bloc in the UN Youth Delegate Programme to advocate for marginalized and underrepresented communities–and advocating to leaders during global conferences, meetings, and dialogues to support diversity and inclusion in future proceedings. Enhancing global equity, human rights, and justice are critical to the U.S. and UN’s objective not only because they are at the foundation of the UN Charter but also because they have lasting impacts on global innovation and security.

As humanity inches towards the 2030 deadline for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, our leaders can only meet all seventeen objectives if they enable equity and equal opportunities for all. Most of us grew up reading stories of innovation, ideas, and implementation in our history books. Yet, for centuries, and even today, only a small percentage of the population have dictated these stories. Even more alarmingly, these stories have largely erased or forgotten the contributions of those who built the backbone of our world’s civil, political, and economic systems. In short, our world has made progress, yet it has done so often at the expense of systematically marginalized communities. From barring women from voting to banning certain populations from receiving the same standards of education, exclusionary policies have restrained us from prosperity, and the specters of our shameful past continue to haunt us to this day. How advanced would our society be had we not artificially suppressed a majority of the world having the same opportunities to learn, launch, and lead?

What will humanity be able to achieve in the future once we equitably empower women, who represent nearly half of the population; BIPOCs, who comprise a majority of our world’s inhabitants; young people, who serve as some of our generation’s strongest change-makers; and so many other communities that have previously been held back?

In my personal experience as a young person with nearly a decade of experience in the UN advocacy space, I have witnessed how, despite accomplishing groundbreaking progress in the past century, our society is still far behind in providing equal representation and opportunities for all. Oftentimes, I am the only young person, woman, or person of color in the room–sometimes even a mixture of the above. I have sat in meetings in which older individuals decided what was best for the next generation of young people without consulting anyone from the particular population. I have sat in meetings in which a sea of men talked over women during discussions on gender equality. I have sat in meetings in which people who have no experience or background in a particular topic, identity, or issue have taken ownership of the conversation. Though these meetings fortunately constitute only a fraction of what I have participated in, the very fact that they continue to persist in the 21st century speaks volumes about their state of our world–and how it continues to fail the populations that need their voices heard the most.

Rather than listening to the very people who deserve to be heard and amplified, many oftentimes continue to perpetuate the antediluvian narrative of ignoring vulnerable or underrepresented communities. These practices are rooted in longstanding marginalization, tokenization, and discrimination. Coupled with empty promises to promote diversity as a gilded publicity stunt, actively ignoring individuals with nuanced perspectives can exacerbate existing conflicts and hinder leaders from directly or effectively addressing the issue at hand–and these consequences have devastating ramifications on the future of peace and security.

Failures to properly manage diversity have been linked to deadly, costly conflicts across the globe. A 2018 joint UN-World Bank study suggests that many violent conflicts are the product of harrowing inequalities that generate resentment and antagonism among populations. Additionally, excluding individuals or groups on the basis of race, ethnicity, identity, orientation, or income depletes communities of opportunities, which can lead to a rise in “armed groups at the heart of conflicts” such as rebels, criminal gangs, and other extremists. If we take a look back into the past few decades, this postulation seems to hold weight. In case studies on the Rwandan genocide, the Yugoslav Wars, or even the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, a common theme across the board is the mismanagement of diversity and equity. Tensions rise when we put people on the sidelines in search of short-sided prosperity. Our world can only heal from centuries of oppression, colonialism, and exploitation if we actively embrace inclusionary policies. Rather than building walls, we must take down the ones that divide us.

As such, to promote peace and security, we need to look towards the root of the conflict: reduce inequalities and discrimination to combat hostility and injustice. Even as peace processes among hostile parties emerge, UN Secretary-General António Guterres cautions that “without including a wide range of diverse voices at every step of this process…any peace will be short-lived.” Including all voices in the policymaking process is an essential step for transitional justice. In a world that has battled against democratic backsliding and obstructions to peace, we can no longer rely on a system in which only a handful of individuals who do not represent or understand the experiences of the general population are the sole decision-makers of public policies that impact everyone everywhere.

When I embarked on the national Youth Observer Listening Tour at the beginning of my term, young people from across the U.S. shared with me a growing concern about the lack of diversity and representation in the global space. We cannot leave DEAI initiatives on the backburner; they must be at the forefront of global policy for both the advancement of our society and the maintenance of international peace and security. Although we cannot rewrite history, we can rewrite our policies and actions–we can rewrite the global narrative that has for too long failed to equitably represent the majority of the population. In 2022, we will continue to champion for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion not because the initiatives need the world, but rather because the world needs the initiatives.