It has been a real treat to be one of the first round judges of the United States Institute of Peace National High School Essay Contest again. See < http://www.usip.org/programs/initiatives/national-peace-essay-contest >

It is always very impressive to see what young people are capable of producing, and their awareness of what is happening in the world around us.

This year the submission wrote on the topic of 'Gender, War, and Peacebuilding'.

The questions was 'What does it mean to have a gendered approach to war and peace issues?'

I like this contest as it: - Promotes serious discussion among high school students, teachers, and national leaders about international peace and conflict resolution today and in the future; - Complements existing curricula and other scholastic activities; - Strengthens students' research, writing, and reasoning skills; and - Meets National Contents Standards.

Reviewing the student essays allowed me to reflect upon personal experiences in conflicts in Africa, the Balkans and Asia with UNHCR.

One essay addressed the possibility of having UN peace keeping forces teaching communities - great idea in principle. Can this be written into the terms of reference of future peace keeping operations?

Another essay emphasized helping with societal transformation and infusing gendered viewpoints during the peace process, and the importance of making sure women peace-builders will be directly engaged in future operations.

Yet another essay noted that peace is not just simply the absence of violence, but also the presence of mutually respectful relationships among individuals and groups.

It is really true the hardest thing in the effort to end violence against women is dealing with mindsets and changing social norms.