A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
Chapter nine: Conclusion and lessons for advocacy
Revisiting the Research Hypothesis
The basic framework within which the ‘Voices of Youth’ study was conducted was the Social Exclusion Analysis (SEA). This has proved useful in understanding the realities of the lives of vulnerable young women. It enabled researchers not merely to see these realities as tragic outcomes of war, but also to analyse them as part of a broader pattern of relationships, characterized by systemic discrimination. A key factor contributing to this discrimination is the stereotyping of affected girls and young women as having infringed norms of behaviour and therefore being deserving of rejection, even though these infringements were forced on them through the violence meted out to them by others. At the root of such injustice are attitudes, values and beliefs that relegate children, young people and women to an inferior status, and which are upheld by relationships of power in society generally. These relationships are not significantly challenged by the international community intervening in conflict situations. Indeed, in spite of policy statements to the contrary, the international community effectively connives in the discrimination faced by these young women, principally by turning a blind eye to their rights and needs.
The research set out to explore four hypotheses. First, it was thought that young people experience a wide variety of forms of discrimination at the hands of adults, including those adults who have a duty of care towards them. The young women interviewed in Burundi and Uganda do indeed carry a double burden of victimisation: mistreated at a vulnerable time in their lives, and bearing the scars and long-term consequences of that mistreatment, they now face discrimination from the very people who should be offering them support in rebuilding their lives. While one encounters occasional examples of adults lending them a helping hand, discrimination is the more characteristic response, and comes from an extraordinary
wide range of peers and duty bearers:
parents, teachers, neighbours, friends,
potential partners, local police, lawyers and other authorities, service-providing organisations, the army, peace-keeping forces, and so on.
The second hypothesis was that the power relationships which make this discrimination possible are rooted in culturally sanctioned ideologies, in which youth are, at one and the same time, both demonised and infantilised. Respondents’ experiences have exposed them to things (violence, sex, living an unregulated life ‘in the bush’) that children are normally protected from. On their return to society they are expected to behave as adults, fending for themselves and their children with little support from others, while their labour and their property are often exploited by others. Moreover, they are seen as feckless, irresponsible and a danger