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Posted by on Mar 23, 2016 in Blogs, General News

Youth, Peace and Security – presentation by Kasha Slavner

Editor’s note:  Kasha Slavner  representing the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace (VOW) gave this presentation at the “Youth Speak Out on Sustainable Peacebuilding Tools” at a parallel event at United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60) in New York City.  The panel was hosted by VOW, The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), Plan International Global Youth Advisory Panel, and Taking It Global. She later gave the same presentation when VOWs visited the Canadian Mission in NYC later that week.


kasha slavnerHi, my name is Kasha Sequoia Slavner; I am a 17-year-old filmmaker/photogapher & social entrepreneur from Toronto, Canada. I’ve been a member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace since I was 14 and attended their inaugural peace camp for students.  


Recently I was honoured with the Kim Phuc Award for Peace. A woman who has seen the horror of what war can do. You may recall her – she made the cover of Time Magazine at 9 years old running naked from a napalm bomb.  She is one of many who have suffered and seen the atrocities of war and who is now an advocate for peace. So many people have been innocent victims of wars they did not create.  I am lucky to have grown up in a country free from war but that does not mean I can ignore the plight of so many around the world. It is my hope that my voice and the voice of my generation will help to create a movement that will sustain peace on the planet.


After attending CSW for the first time in 2014 and meeting many people from around the world from developing countries, war torn and high conflict zones, I felt overwhelmed at how divided the world could be. On one hand – such problems existed with little hope, on the other, many courageous people and grassroots organizations were digging deep to find solutions – some with support – some without. When wandering through an exhibit at the UN,  I came across an electronic clock that counted the minutes and tallied the total of money being spent by the military towards war.


It was a truly horrifying thought. It led me to think about what could be achieved with that money if it were diverted to programs to ensure peace and created opportunities for all people …sustainable programs.  


In 2014, I travelled to East Africa and Southeast Asia to make a documentary on hopeful stories of  resilient people overcoming adversity, and to highlight what it means to be a global citizen.   When I was travelling I learned about the issues and inequalities firsthand. Travel gave me the opportunity to understand people and their culture much better. To see that when it comes down to it we’re all in this together. I believe everyone would like to live in a peaceful society, where at least everyone’s basic needs are met, where education is available to all and where human rights are respected. We have in more in common than in our differences.


We need to keep in mind that if we are to create a culture of peace we must have the absence of war and militarism. In Canada, we have the cadets program, a government funded program, which prepares, even grooms youth (as young as 9) to go into the air force, or navy.


According to Tamara Lorincz a member of the Halifax Peace Coalition and Nova Scotian member of Vow, “Every year, “The Department of National Defence (DND) spends $122 million on the Cadet program for youth outreach and recruitment”.  About 20,00 youths aged 12-18 learn about pursuing a career in the Canadian Armed Forces every summer in Cadet camps.  Currently there are 52,000 youth involved across the country.


However, at this time, the Public Account do not list a single program funded by the Government of Canada that supports youth and peace.  Personally, I found this to be rather shocking. The Cadet program is the oldest and largest federally sponsored youth program in Canada.


The government information provided claims that they teach “loyalty, professionalism… teamwork and tolerance” through activity. According to research done by the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, these activities include “weapons training…military history lessons and offered exchanges with foreign militaries.”  The issue is systemic, in that it trains youth to participate in militarism, and problem solve with a militant mindset.


So my challenge to policy makers is what if we put a good portion of those millions of dollars being spent on military training into peace building training & education instead? Can we even begin to imagine the possibility of what peace might truly look like?


What shifts might we see in the long-run with the right investment? If we can do this, would it then be possible that we can even start to dismantle the rest  of the war industry as well?  Again, think of how these resources could shift the health of the planet – Especially for women and children who are the most affected by war.


Recently,  young people in Canada took to part in the democratic process like no other time in history and helped to put a new government in place –  one that promises to listen to the voice of youth. Prime Minister Trudeau,  even took office and became the self-appointed Youth Minister. It is our hope that Canada will take a lead on this topic on  the world stage – encouraging other countries to do so too.


Again, to obtain any sustainable change, we must first create a culture of peace. It is a necessary step in laying the foundation for a safer and more equitable world.  The military is such a historical institution, with many strong supporters, we need to find ways to work with them. Peace culture is about inclusivity, not “us” vs. “them”, therefore, one suggestion would be to include a peacebuilding curriculum into the cadet program, so that those who choose to partake in national defense can still learn and practice peace.


More importantly, we must divert as much as we can from the large amounts of military spending and use it more creatively towards building sustainable solutions for the critical issues youth are facing such as lack of education, employment, gender inequality and the list goes on.


There are 1.8 billion youth in the world today, the largest generation of youth ever, referred to as the “we” generation, or generation “Z”, and millennials. We do not want to live in a war-torn world. We have much work to do in the department of caring for each other and repairing damages done as a result of war. Not to mention the work that needs to be done to save the planet from environmental destruction.  Peace has potential to bring prosperity and equality.


I believe engaging youth is one of the best ways to bring about change. We need to be included in crafting our own future, the way we want to see it, peaceful and secure. It’s time to think about a global peace culture for our generation and generations to come. We are looking across all party lines to listen to and include the voice of youth and in particular we the following of the new leadership of this government to create a change that will support peace and not work against it.


Here is a trailer from my upcoming film The Sunrise Storyteller.


I would like to propose the following

  1. Divert at least 50% of all funding in the cadets program towards peace-building and education by the year 2030 while simultaneously investing in peace education and conflict resolution curriculum in schools nation-wide.
  2. Develop a national youth strategy to uphold their human rights and meet our international commitments to promoting a culture of peace.
  3. Conduct a nationwide poll to ascertain the views of all Canadian youth and hold an annual youth-led world peace summit for the purpose of bringing youth to the table in the peacebuilding process as was recommended by United Nations Security Council’s resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security.


In 2012, the Government of Canada ended its $14 million in annual funding to the Katimavik program, a national program that began in 1977 and provided young people with the opportunity to travel and volunteer with non-governmental and charitable organizations across the country. Instead the Harper government increased funding to the Department of National Defence for the Cadet program.


Perhaps the increase in scheduled funding to the cadets program could be put into a new program, similar to Katimavik, to encourage travel and volunteering amongst youth. To conclude, as a youth, a world-traveler, and now as the Sunrise Storyteller, I also believe in the transformative power of travel to make friends and become better global citizens.   
I would like the narrative of the world’s legacy to be one of lasting peace. Let’s make peace our number one priority.