Yemeni women press for greater inclusion in peace talks

Women are disproportionally affected by the conflict but could help bring an end to the war, officials and academics say

UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie meets women and children at a makeshift camp for people displaced by war, in Lahej, Yemen. Female stakeholders are pushing for deeper involvement in peace talks. Reuters
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Women in Yemen must be included in all aspects of peace talks for the sake of long-term stabilisation in the country, female officials and academics have told The National.

Female stakeholders in the nascent political process said they had not been allowed to participate fully in talks in Riyadh that concluded on Thursday.

Consultations over the war in Yemen began last week in the Saudi Arabian capital under the aegis of the Gulf Co-operation Council, although the Iran-backed Houthi rebels did not accept an invitation to attend the talks.

A nationwide ceasefire brokered by the United Nations began on Saturday.

The discussions also led Yemeni President Abdrabu Mansur Hadi to transfer power to a presidential council.

“Women’s participation in the Riyadh consultations were little but effective. They participated in five committees but were excluded from the security and combating terrorism one, which I think was the most important,” Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s former human rights minister who participated in the talks, told The National.

“It was vital to include them in the security committee as they can contribute effectively and can include the victim’s points of view."

Yemeni women are among those hit hardest by a conflict that has led to the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and killed thousands of civilians.

Beyond suffering from malnutrition and a lack of access to health care, Yemeni women are disproportionately affected by rape and other forms of sexual violence that tend to increase during war.

Wessame Abu Bakr Basindouh, president of the Yemeni Coalition for Independent Women, told The National the issue of women who are forcibly detained and subjected to the most horrific forms of torture must be at the forefront of the discussions.

“I appeal to all participants in the consultations to make the issue of abducted women inside Houthi prisons, as well as those forcibly disappeared, sentenced to death, survivors of militia prisons and displaced women, in their list of priorities,” said Ms Basindouh, who is participating in the talks.

“Abductees live in tragic conditions which are still worsening with the advent of the holy month of Ramadan,” she said.

“It is hoped that these consultations will strengthen the national cohesion that was destroyed by the war and we hope that it will represent an opportunity to achieve peace in Yemen."

Women provide essential services and are vital in mediation efforts to end armed conflicts, Muna Luqman, executive director ofFood4Humanity Foundation, one of Yemen’s first women-led civil society organisations, told The National.

"Women are key to mediating armed conflicts over natural resources, facilitate negotiations over the opening of humanitarian corridors, facilitate the release of detainees and work to demilitarise schools."

They also have the power to "divert the youth from taking up arms and mobilise them towards peace-building and they are critical for reconciliation and lasting peace", she said.

Ms Luqman, who attended and participated in the Riyadh talks, said the international community must understand that "water, food, energy, electricity, healthcare and jobs are of far greater concern to the average Yemeni than any other agreement or settlement".

Ensuring these factors are covered in peace talks will mean that women must have a greater role in the negotiations, she said.

"We are here in Riyadh on a national duty and responsibility towards the people of Yemen to help in ending this ugly war that has had terrifying impacts," she said.

Aid agencies have issued repeated warnings that Yemen's 30 million people are in urgent need of assistance.

Ms Luqman, similar to the other women participating in the talks, said "the people in Yemen are in need of a nationwide emergency response plan that cannot be implemented or successful while the country is at war".

Yemen's seven-year conflict has divided the country between an internationally recognised government, which was led by Mr Hadi and backed by Saudi Arabia, based in the southern city of Aden, and the Iran-aligned Houthi group, which controls the capital Sanaa.

Updated: April 07, 2022, 3:17 PM