By Bahare Safavi
Shadi Rouhshahbaz is a young Iranian peacebuilder with a wide array of experiences, including being a Global Youth Peace Ambassador and consultant, a language teacher and a freelance interpreter for English, French and Persian. Shadi has received many honors, awards and certifications and has been active in the local, regional and international community working on peacebuilding and female and youth empowerment. She was awarded the Conference Management and Facilitation Award from Tehran International Peace Event by UNOY Peacebuilders, World Peace Initiative, Peace Revolution, and Iran Peace Studies Association. Shadi is also a fellow of UNAOC’s program Young Peacebuilders of the MENA Region.
From the early process of the foundation of her initiative, PeaceMentors, it has flourished into building multilateral partnerships with various stakeholders and UN agencies despite the challenges that they faced.
The first time Shadi heard the words peace and peacebuilding was at the Asia-Pacific Youth, Peace and Security Consultation in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2018. The consultation was led by UNFPA, UNV, UN Women, PBSO and other UN Agencies which also involved other NGOs and development partners. After the session on UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security, she wondered about the places she could use as safe platforms for peacebuilding in the context of the Islamic Republic of Iran. With focus on two of the five pillars of UN 2250 agenda-Participation and Prevention; inviting “Member States to consider ways to increase the inclusive representation of youth in decision-making at all levels for the prevention and resolution of conflict”, she thought about finding a safe space and a platform for peacebuilding in Iran.
In this phase, with the support of one of her friends, a young Iranian peacebuilder Afsaneh Seifinaji, she started finding key partners and social actors to support their work and provide them with the required safe spaces. “We had to start from the UN as a partner of the government, but things did not run as smoothly as we expected”, said Shadi.
One of the challenges was shutting down AIESEC as a safe space for practicing youth leadership and peace and fulfilment of humankind’s potential. “This happened as I was in India, engaged in a training-of-trainers on youth and peacebuilding”. Mrs Rouhshahbaz added that “every second spent in the workshops made me think and worry about where I could promote peacebuilding and implement my lessons learned in my country without facing the risk of being arrested or detained for political reasons”.
Trying to overcome the challenges, they managed to earn the trust of several governmental bodies such as a state university and a research center to hold an event for training 250 young people on peacebuilding. After all, she still believed that they did not have direct access to a secure platform to voice their opinions and engage in dialoguein a sustainable way.
Considering the things that she had learnt in international events such as APINY (Asia-Pacific Interagency Network on Youth) Live and the Young Peacebuilders of MENA Region Training held by UNAOC and Generations for Peace in March 2018, she reached to this motivational sentence “Be the change you wish to see”. She said excitingly “these words hit me, in the form of an epiphany that sometimes, safe spaces are not out there for us to use or to take. Sometimes we have to create these spaces and be the light in the dark”.
When she was asked to expatiate on the reason for her involvement in peacebuilding and the reason behind initiating this social movement, she said; “every time I looked at these amazing individuals in the face, I could see how powerful the women are in my society and how deeply they can be affected by proper training and empowerment. Young women in this country are key change-makers”.
Her social movement, PeaceMentors, received both national and international interest and appreciation. It secured for the team other opportunities for the promotion of the UNSCR 2250 and peacebuilding, this time with the support of the United Nations Information Centre in Tehran. The team also facilitated workshops with the support of other NGOs, like Raad Alghadir, Iranian Research Center for HIV/AIDS and UN agency on youth and peacebuilding. The participants were from different groups including youth, disabled people and children workforce.
A year later, PeaceMentors is still active. The mentors have participated in various events, taken numerous internships in NGOs and associations and broadened their scope of activities and target groups even wider. They now hold three programs: PeaceTalks, PeaceEvents and PeaceMentors.
In terms of constructive and specific advice to a global audience, she had this to say;
“the world is changing and we young people are among the most influential sculptors of these changes. Without the correct platform, we may find it challenging to promote peacebuilding in our contexts but we can always start at home, either in the backyard or more importantly, within ourselves”.
Shadi encourages youths to start with themselves, their communities, their cities and countries.
“You should think about what you are passionate about and then start the project. Absolutely, it needs planning and a lot of effort but do not be scared of planning. Do not be scared of asking for help and support. And the last and foremost key point is teamwork. Motivate and persuade your friends and community to join you”.