When it Comes to Social Reform in Lebanon, Youth are Leading the Way

Above: youth from Saida, Lebanon, attend a dialogue session to discuss discuss the recent events that have shaken Lebanon. 

Author: Ghida El Assaad, Project Coordinator,
Strong Cities Network

In line with its efforts to respond to the needs of society and youth in particular, the Saida Prevention Network, in partnership with the Strong Cities Network, is organising a series of dialogue sessions and surveys with youth in the city to discuss the recent events that have shaken Lebanon.

These sessions aim to build an understanding of why youth are participating in the protests and what political and social reforms they are calling for.  Importantly, the sessions also provide youth with an understanding of their legal and civil rights, ensuring their calls for social justice, inclusion and equality are done safely. In this sense, these sessions serve as a platform for constructive debates on social justice, inclusion and equality, and ways to make young people’s voice heard by the many members of the Prevention Network.

The youth showed great enthusiasm and commitment when speaking about building a new free empowered country, rejecting corruption and listing their main concerns such as pollution, unemployment, the right to medical assistance and the rights of the disabled and elderly. More than half of the students perceive the uprising as a means of change and their participation as a way to change society for the better. The dialogue session made it clear that youths see the uprising “as the sole means to implementing good governance and breaking [the] barriers and taboos” that have prevented Lebanon from reforming its system. In addition, youth perceive that their participation has enabled them to build their leadership capacities, raise awareness about citizenship and promote reforms, tolerance and diversity.

When asked about the causes of extremism in Lebanon, more than 80% said political parties, 44% said social media, which is the youth’s most commonly used source of information used  to follow the news; while 37% believe that all factors including religious speeches and government policy play a role in causing extremism. The latter is seen to be a serious problem in Lebanon. Even though youth did not agree whether the social media is a safe platform for self-expression, they all believe that the online content can have a significant impact on radicalization and extremism.

These dialogue sessions are the latest in a long running series by the Local Prevention Networks in tandem with the SCN to bring youth and local actors to the table and discuss how communities and governments can respond to the emerging needs and concerns of society. These responses, which are both owned and led by these teams of local actors, complement the goals of the SCN to build social cohesion and community resilience in its member cities.

The recent events in Lebanon are a powerful reminder of the importance of inclusiveness in politics and society, and of allowing all voices to be heard and taken into consideration, regardless of age or experience. The youth in Saida have provided a moving example of how, with the right guidance, support and knowledge, they can attain the skills they need to become the leaders of tomorrow.

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