This year, on the World Day of Social Justice (20 February), the United Nations are launching a global call for social justice in the digital economy.
Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has been impacting all sectors in all countries, necessitating social distancing and remote working arrangements. We now rely on communication technologies and the Internet to work, access services and stay connected. The digital dimension has expanded to most aspects of life. In parallel, the digital divide is aggravating pre-existing inequalities between and across developed and developing countries and undermining efforts to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. Those who cannot access digital tools are increasingly left behind.
The World Day of Social Justice is an opportunity to promote new and innovative solutions to address the digital divide, reduce the impacts of the pandemic, recover stronger and achieve fair globalization. On this day, UNICRI underlines the importance of accessing communication technologies by spotlighting two success stories of youth empowerment and resilience in Morocco and in Mali.
Commenting on the success stories below, the Director of UNICRI, Antonia Marie De Meo, said: “These youth showed their resilience and ability to overcome difficulties generated by COVID-19. They are the protagonists of stories that tell us about the importance of equal access to communication technologies. The youth contributed to peace and justice by using any means possible to reach out to their communities, while promoting the values of equality and inclusion.”
She added: “I also want to commemorate this International Day by advocating for the millions of voiceless people who find themselves in the midst of this global crisis with little possibility to meet their basic needs due to the digital divide.”
I won't stand down because of the pandemic
Mohamed, a Malian young leader, participated in the Youth Empowerment Mentoring programme for young leaders aimed at enhancing community resilience against violent extremism. Like other young mentees, he was supported and encouraged by his mentor to strengthen theoretical and practical skills important for his professional and personal growth (e.g., in project management, communication, conflict management, local governance).
Given his background in communications, he and his mentor agreed that he should organize and deliver his first training course on media education and information. However, COVID-19 interrupted his plans.
Mohamed was not deterred: he shifted gears to focus on journalism and professional writing, with the aim to improve his writing skills, another important skill. Mohamed wrote and published several articles, such as “Coronavirus: in Timbuktu, youth is at the forefront of raising awareness against COVID-19”, published in UNICRI’s F3 magazine).
But he did not stop there; he also organized several activities on civic engagement, health and the environment, which contributed to the resilience of his community. For example, after devising the idea of a ‘Day of Cleanliness’, Mohamed brought together 25 women and 47 men to clean up his neighbourhood. He was also involved in an awareness raising day on peace and social cohesion organized by young leaders for peace, cohesion and development of Timbuktu at the Peace Monument in Abaradjou.
Finally, in December 2020, Mohamed was able to host, virtually, the first training course on media education and information in Timbuktu, also writing an article about it.
Mohamed’s story represents a simple but meaningful example of how to adjust to changes and to turn challenges into new opportunities for personal and professional growth thanks to information and communication technologies.
Background: The story is from the project Mali (Dis-) Engagement and Re-Integration related to Terrorism (MERIT), jointly implemented by UNICRI and the International Center for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT-The Hague), in cooperation with many other organizations. Within this context, young Malians have attended mentoring and training programmes (including vocational training) focusing on strengthening skills, conflict management attitudes and political competences. This has enhanced local communities’ efforts in preventing and countering radicalization and extremism.
When "The End" becomes "The Beginning"
After conducting analyses of the main drivers spreading extremist discourse among youth in Tangier (Morocco), UNICRI supported the NGO Cideal Maroc to organize a theatre play, to be performed by 20 young people, some of them frequenting Maison des jeunes (a youth centre) and others attending high schools.
The youth developed the script for the play, entitled “The End”, through a series of workshops, supported by professionals. The play tells the story of the radicalization of a young boy, with the objective to show the importance of building social ties in the local community, as well as the fundamental role youth peers can have in building effective counter narratives.
The youth began to prepare and practice regularly, planning for the play to be performed in the city theatre. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
It soon became clear that a live performance would not be possible. But cancelling the play could demotivate the youth, especially those from difficult circumstances; the theatre play was a significant source of pride and social reward.
The youth demonstrated their resilience by seamlessly adapting to the new context. They rehearsed remotely and, as soon as they were allowed, they came together for a face-to-face performance in a private studio, respecting social distancing, with a small group of five to seven youth.
They recorded the play and broadcast it on social media channels with live screenings, sharing it via Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp. During the summer it was also broadcast in cine-forums in the city of Tangier and Assilah and distributed to youth centres.
This short example shows how digital tools encouraged effective adaptation to challenging circumstances. It also highlights the approaches that have proven to be successful in strengthening community resilience: from designing strategies and solutions in an inclusive and participatory manner, to engaging youth not only as beneficiaries but as primary actors, to focusing on empowering youth to lead and problem solve.
Background: The story is from a programme UNICRI implemented in the Sahel and Maghreb regions where it has been working with civil society and grass roots organizations to strengthen the resilience of local communities to radicalization and violent extremism. UNICRI has involved 83 civil society and non-profit organizations in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger and Tunisia, with more than 500 activities, engaging over 23,000 participants. Key interventions envisaged vocational training, human rights education and non-violent conflict mitigation and management. Other interventions highlighted sub-thematic areas of inclusion, social cohesion, tolerance, active citizen participation and political representation, as well as religious tolerance, women’s rights and respect for diversity.
During the implementation of the projects in the Sahel and Maghreb regions and in Mali, access to information and communication technologies and the Internet was crucial to promote dialogue, professional development, sense of belonging and inclusion.