Yemeni women are demanding that their voices be heard at the decision-making table as peace talks resumed on Friday to end the civil war.
The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, invited a group of eight women to assist him during negotiations that opened on Thursday to set a framework for ending the crisis.
“I will personally benefit from the expertise and experience of an advisory group comprising eight leading Yemeni women with a variety of professional and technical backgrounds, and they will advise me on the issues addressed during these consultations,” Mr Griffiths said at the opening of the talks on Thursday.
The women represent different political parties, civil society, activists and development workers in Yemen. But the only woman taking part directly in the negotiations is Rana Ghanem, assistant secretary of Yemen's Nasser organisation, as a member of the government delegation .
A woman close to Mr Griffiths' advisory team, who asked to remain anonymous, said there needed to be more women at the negotiation table to ensure that their voices are heard.
"Although there are women consulting the UN special envoy I feel that our voices need to reach a wider audience and the international community. What is happening in Sweden will set the future of Yemen and women must be included in every aspect of the talks," she told The National.
Hooria Mashhour, a former Yemeni human rights minister who advised a group of women who assisted Mr Griffiths during a failed attempt to hold talks in Geneva in September, agreed that Yemen's women were struggling to be heard by the international community.
The participation of women would provide opportunity for their voices to be heard in these talks, she told The National.
“But neither the Houthi or the government delegation have committed themselves to representing women,” Ms Mashhour said.
Women will not stop demanding their rights but they need the support of those who control the political scene, and most of them are men, Ms Mashhour said.
The former minister said many of Yemen’s male politicians do not believe in the competence and capabilities of women and are unaware of the importance of their participation in the peace process.
Ms Mashhour insisted that atrocities committed by the rebels against the Yemeni people must be stopped.
“We thank the Saudi-led coalition and the UAE for their humanitarian support and assistance during our troubled times; I think the situation now is very complicated, we need extra assistance and help from our neighbouring states and even the international community,” she said.
The women advising Mr Griffthis have set a number of objectives aimed at ending the fighting, building peace, improving living conditions and amplifying women’s voices and participation in negotiations and peace-building.
The first step is to get peace, said Muna Luqman, co-founder of Women Solidarity Network that is assisting Mr Griffiths' group of women advisers.
"Women are playing an essential role in the peace process. Their participation will bring attention to a more comprehensive peace plan by addressing societal needs rather than solely focusing on satisfying the warring parties," Ms Luqman told The National.
“The members of the group [supporting the UN envoy] are selected based on their professional background. Their advice is based on technical expertise and not on their political inclinations or any other personal motives,” she said.
"We are finding a way for women’s voices to be heard in order to make a difference to the devastating situation on the ground," Ms Luqman said.
“We will continue to lobby and advocate the UN special envoy to Yemen to support the inclusion of at least 30 per cent of women in the peace processes in all tracks and on all committees stemming from the negotiation process,” she said.
“We have many challenges to overcome, especially the patriarchal mindset.”
Ms Luqman said that the Peace Track Initiative and the Women Solidarity Network are forming an independent women’s delegation that will campaign to be included in talks on Yemen’s future.
Women in Yemen and the region are undeniably at the forefront of resolving conflict and seeking peace in their communities, said Mohammad Naciri, regional director of UN Women for Arab States.
“These efforts must be better linked to national peace-making processes,” Mr Naciri said, adding that a failure to hear women' voices and harness their expertise would only make peace more elusive.