Negotiations to end a bloody conflict in Yemen have a far better chance of long term success if women have a place at the table, says Oxfam.
The current conflict has had a devastating impact on women and girls with millions hungry, out of school and lacking vital healthcare. Women are also facing a rise in sexual and domestic violence. Yet political discussions about peace and the country’s future are still largely run by men and those who have taken up arms.
Yemeni activist Atiaf Alwazir said: "Without a place at the table for women to fight for their rights, the battle for equality will fail. None of the rival groups will remember we exist or work for our interests unless we are there to push them and remind them that we are here and must be heard."
Following Yemen’s popular uprising in 2011, female activists entered politics and began pushing for democratic changes. But the peace process ultimately squeezed such progressive voices out, and the resulting political arrangement was a costly failure that ultimately led to the current conflict.
Oxfam Yemen Country Director Sajjad Mohammad Sajid said: "Yemeni women stood side by side with men to demand change in the country’s uprising. They demonstrated that not only are they peacemakers that they are also leaders. Peace in Yemen depends on avoiding the mistakes of the past.
"Sadly, what we have seen so far is that not only are women’s lives getting worse, they are being sidelined by those responsible for bringing about Yemen’s current catastrophe. Bombs and bullets don’t discriminate, so why are the current peace talks run almost entirely by men? Unless women are part of the discussion, any potential peace deal will be unsustainable, and the advances made since 2011 could be lost. The international community must show that its commitments to involve women in peace efforts are not just empty words."
Unable to safely get food, many women are now skipping meals so their children can eat. Over 30% of displaced families in certain areas are headed by females and these women often face immense challenges seeking humanitarian assistance.
Nearly 80,00 of the 522,000 women who are currently estimated to be pregnant in Yemen are expected to face complications in delivery due to shortages in the fuel needed to reach health centres, and lack of medical supplies there. Almost 600 health facilities countrywide are no longer operating due to lack of fuel, staff and supplies, or conflict related damage.
Nearly 1.3 million young girls are out of school and 3.6 million girls need protection. In Yemen, girls are particularly at risk of early marriage and Oxfam staff in Amran and Hajja are already seeing more such cases due to the economic hardships brought on by the current war. Pre-conflict gains won on addressing early marriage in these areas are now at risk of being lost. Parents unable to meet the basic needs of their families, see early marriage as a way to alleviate the economic pressure, and secure their children’s future amid increasing insecurity and volatility.
Women that Oxfam is supporting who are among more than 2.5 million people forced to flee their homes by the conflict told us of their increased fears for their safety, restricted movements and freedoms, and increased sexual and domestic violence. Despite uneven reporting and difficulties collecting data, the UN estimates that since the escalation of the conflict in March, incidences of violence against women has increased by 70 per cent in September.
Dalya Qassem, Head of Hodeidah Girls Foundation said: "The conflict has strangled our freedom to talk and move. There are more cases of sexual and domestic violence. I dare not go out after sunset into the unlit streets."
Only two months ago, the international community renewed promises to support women’s right to protection and their participation in peace efforts when the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2242 on 13 October. Well over 100 countries expressed their support for such aims at the time. Efforts by the UN Special Envoy to increase an adequate level of women’s representation in peace talks must be supported by the international community and the Yemeni warring parties.
A growing body of research shows that women’s involvement in peace processes, transition and future governance structures is more likely to address justice, reconciliation, accountability and ownership of any deal. As Yemeni women showed in their country’s transition process women fought for equality and changes to laws that would benefit the society as a whole.
Statistics on pregnancy, girls out of education and in need of protection, violence against women and damaged health facilities are from the UN Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen. The full report is available at: https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2016_HNO_English_%20FINAL.pdf