Students for peace: How young people are changing the world. Part II
We ended the first part of our journey through student activism for peace with Saharawi girl Elkouria Amidane, who is fighting for youth’s access to higher education in the Moroccan-controlled territories of Western Sahara. For the next Student Peace Prize winner, we need to travel across North Africa and the Mediterranean to the Balkans.
2011: Duško Kostić
The Croatian student of Roma origin founded the “Association of Roma Friendship” to promote the rights of his people. Following the devastating ethnic-nationalist war of the 90’s, relationships between different ethnic groups in Croatia are still marked by prejudice and animosity. This is particularly true for the Roma people, who endured persecution, genocide, forced assimilation and discrimination all over Europe. Kostić works to break down stigmatization and stereotyping of the Roma, and to build understanding between different ethnic groups. With poverty rates several times higher than in the average population and a custom for early marriage and childbirth, Roma children and youth face several barriers to gaining an education. Kostić and his association strive to tear down these barriers.
2013: Majid Tavakoli
Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Al Jazeera
Tavakoli was active in the Islamic students’ association at the University of Technology in Teheran. After the 2009 Iranian presidential election, peaceful protests against alleged electoral fraud led to what became known as the Iranian Green Movement or even ‘Persian Spring’. Tavakoli took on the role as protest leader, speaking out not only for students’ rights but for democracy and human rights. Iranian authorities cracked down on the protests, arresting around 200 students at the University of Teheran. One of the people arrested was Tavakoli. Almost a decade later he is still imprisoned. Nevertheless, he remains a powerful advocate and symbol of Iranian students’ battle against the regime.
2015: Aayat Alqormozi
The Bahraini girl studying to become a teacher played a central role in the country’s protests during the Arab Spring. In the pro-democracy rallies, Alqormozi read poems criticizing the regime and promoting freedom, equality, and justice:
We do not wish to live in a palace, nor do we yearn for leadership. We are a nation that slays humiliation and assassinates misery. We are a nation that demolishes injustice peacefully from its foundations. We are a nation that doesn’t want to remain at a constant setback.
The poems led to Alqormozi being expelled from university and put in prison. Despite using peaceful, non-violent means to protest the regime, she was allegedly subject to extensive torture. Despite the violence, she keeps using poetry to speak up for human rights in Bahrain.
2017: Hajer Sharief
Photo: The Student Peace Prize, Together We Build It Organization
Libyan law student who became a strong advocate for including women in peacebuilding processes after the eruption of civil war in 2011. Sharief founded the organization ‘Together We Build It’ to support democratic transition in Libya by gathering grassroots organizations across the conflict-ridden country for peaceful dialogue. Women and youth are playing a central role in the dialogues. Sharief’s effort led to her being appointed by the UN to help implement the UN´s Security Council resolutions 1325 – Women, Peace and Security and 2250 – Youth, Peace, and Security. She is also working with former Secretary-General Kofi Annan to develop positive measures to prevent violent extremism among youth.
The announcement of the 2019 laureate
Photo: The Student Peace Prize, news24.com
On October 9th, 2018 it was announced that the laureate of the 20th anniversary Student Peace Prize would be Fasiha Hassan. The South African student leader became one of the strongest voices behind the #FeesMustFall movement, which fights for access to affordable education for all. The movement started in 2015 after the university where Hassan was a student decided to increase tuition fees by over 10%. The 2015 increase in fees was just the last in a long series of measures to privatize higher education in South Africa. These measures were restricting young people with disadvantaged background’s access to universities, perpetuating the enormous social gaps between ethnic groups from the Apartheid regime: While colored people make up over 80% of the population, the only make up 3% of South Africa’s student body. Labeled as one of the world’s worst education systems, the #FeesMustFall movement called out for South African authorities to increase government funding of universities and make higher education an opportunity for all youth, no matter their economic background.
The #FeesMustFall movement called out for South African authorities to increase government funding of universities and make higher education an opportunity for all youth, no matter their economic background.
While Hassan and most other students protested using non-violent means, the #FeesMustFall movement led to a record-breaking degree of police brutality. Hassan herself was shot with rubber bullets. She remained adamant that the movement must remain peaceful.
What happens after winning the Student Peace Prize?
First of all, the laureate is featured at the biggest student festival in the world, ISFiT, joining the legacy of previous guests Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The prize also includes a scholarship of 50 000 NOK (around $6000), enabling the winner to invest in and develop his or her work for peace. The winner is invited on a tour across Norway to raise awareness about their cause among students, politicians, and organizations, building a network of supporters and sympathizers. Finally, the winner will be included in the Peace Project: an initiative to follow up, empower and cooperate with the Student Peace Prize laureates. An example of a Peace Project implemented together with previous winners Duško Kostić, was the building of a new office for his organization through collaborative efforts including both Croats and Roma volunteers.