By Kawkab al-Thaibani
The world witnessed a first step towards peace in Yemen after a week-long consultation in Sweden in December, 2018. That meeting saw delegations from both the Government of Yemen and Asnar Allah (the Houthi) present at the negotiating table for the first time in more than two years. A photo from the meeting was widely circulated. It was notable because men from both sides of the conflict were pictured. And it was mainly just men. There were only two women in the photo, and one was the host-country’s Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom.
Although these peace consultations were a significant step towards ending the four-year war in Yemen, only one Yemeni woman, Rana Ghanem from the Government of Yemen, was at the negotiation table. It fell to her to speak to issues of importance to Yemeni women and Ghanem has been outspoken about the need to have more women at the peace table.
The absence of women from the peace talks represents a setback to the hard-fought gains won by Yemeni women before the war.
The Yemeni women’s movement is not a recent one. After the 2011 Yemeni Spring uprising, Yemeni women called for and got a minimum 30 percent representation in the nation-wide talks on the formal government transition. But with the war, these gains have disappeared. And the women’s voices have been drowned out by the sounds of the guns.
Frustration with the lack of women’s representation in the peace process is not limited to the national or regional level; the entire process, tragically, is gender-blind. In a briefing to United Nations Security Council by Martin Griffiths, the United Nations Envoy to Yemen, women’s peace efforts were given little to no recognition. Yet, it is women who are the most affected by the war and their voices need to be heard in the peace negotiations.
Many issues, essential to building a lasting peace, are being neglected in the current peace negotiations. When women are present at the peace table, they ensure that the lived experiences of women and their communities are reflected in the final peace agreement.
Women are calling for all parties to the conflict to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches the conflict-affected areas and that international aid focuses on income generation for families and communities. Women are calling for the release of all illegally-detained persons and abductees held by all parties to the conflict and that all children enlisted in military operations be immediately released and that their physical and psychological needs be met. Finally, the principle of transitional justice must be adhered to and compensation must be provided as a prerequisite to sustainable peace.
On November 16, just before this recent round of talks started, Rasha Jarhum, a women rights campaigner, and a founder of Women Solidarity Network, briefed the UN Security Council on the significant role women could play in the peace process. Her statement was supported by a coalition of 250 women. This collective statement, focusing on community-related concerns such as ending Taiz siege, child recruitment, and gender-unique challenges, is just one example of how Yemeni women are uniting to have their voices heard.
More examples abound. The Women4Yemen Network, kick-started via Nobel Women Initiative just before the Sweden talks, is using social media to call for the inclusion of women in the process. And side events at the Sweden talks, with the Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights, Operation13, Karama, and UN Women of Sweden, amplified the voices of Yemeni women calling for inclusion in the peace process.
Also on the sidelines of the main talks in Sweden, the Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Group, established by the UN Envoy to Yemen in response to UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, had meetings with both parties to the conflict and met with other officials.
Women need to be part of the Yemeni peace process and should comprise at least 30 percent of negotiators at the peace table.
But the reality is that women are being marginalized at the national, regional and international levels. Peace efforts to date have been male-driven and gender-blind. Various efforts, by the UN and other officials in the international community, to interview women, highlight their efforts, and acknowledge their work is welcomed, but it represents a hollow attempt to address the absence of women in the peace process.
Peace talks are expected to resume in early 2019. In order to ensure a lasting peace, women must be present.
Kawkab al-Thaibani is the Executive Director and Co-founder of Women4Yemen Network.