Speech at UN side event on Women, Peace & Security

News and Press Release
Originally published

When I was asked to talk about the inclusive peace process in Yemen, I immediately thought about the women I meet in visits to different areas of Yemen.

I think about Noor, who despite the difficulties she faced with displacement is still fighting for girls’ education; Nema, the marginalised displaced woman who organised orderly lines for the community to fetch water because she couldn't stand watching people fight anymore; Elham, who is a GBV survivor devotes her time to linking women and girls GBV victims to protection service providers.

These women and other millions are struggling to survive the conflict but they are also inventing means of resilience for themselves and others.

After three and a half years of war, the humanitarian situation in Yemen has deteriorated to a point where today up to 14 million people are now at risk of famine.

And as the conflict shows no sign of ending, what should we be doing in addition to providing humanitarian aid? Yemen cannot survive on food baskets, hygiene kits and cash alone. This is a short-term solution.

Yes, there is a dire need for food as millions are starving, but there is also an imperative to look beyond humanitarian aid & ask ourselves: what will enable lasting peace?

One of the most crucial aspects in realising lasting and inclusive peace is making sure women participate as actors in the peace process. Our thanks to the Dutch government for their leadership on this. But we all know there is much much more that the international community can do.

We cannot deny that amidst the war in Yemen, opportunities have opened up for different types of women’s participation in public life. Women are being formally employed within national and international humanitarian agencies; they are also taking leading roles in community initiatives, and taking up membership in community committees.

Since this has been an organic development, all stakeholders need to invest in building the capacity of women, either as employees or members of community committees, as they represent potential for community leadership in future and can contribute extensively to track three of the peace process.

Prior to the conflict, CSOs were very active in Yemen on issues of civic and political rights, and women were benefiting from that momentum in advancing their demands. Now women – particularly youth – are missing out on opportunities to participate in civil society initiatives because they are focusing so much of their energy on meeting their families’ basic survival needs.

This is coupled with the fact that many Yemeni CSOs working on women’s rights have had to shift their focus to the humanitarian response, and most events and meetings that feed into peacebuilding track ii take place outside Yemen. Women’s participation in such events is decreasing due to access challenges – mainly travel and visa restraints. We therefore call on international governments to:

a) Increase and be more flexible in their funding to civil society initiatives; and
b) Facilitate access via expedited visa and travel processes.

This will ensure the participation particularly of Yemeni women inside the country who are currently consumed with their own survival and excluded from international events.

I would like to thank the Special Envoy Martin Griffiths for his efforts to include women as advisers in his own team. But it is not enough to limit women’s roles to advisers only. The UNSC must ensure that women are at the negotiating table, that their demands and issues are on the agenda and that there is a quota of women in all delegations of Yemeni parties.

Further to this, and pursuant to the Presidential statement in March 2018, we call for an immediate commitment from the UNSC to emphasise the inclusion of Yemeni women in the peace process in all Security Council statements and messaging. We also demand that women’s inclusion in the peace process be one of the key pillars of all reports of the Special Envoy to the Security Council.

There is one last point I want to highlight with you. Security Council Resolution 1325 is about women, peace and security, and as much as we all focus on women and the peace process, less attention is given to the impact of the security situation on women.

There has been an erosion of traditional respect for women and an increase in incidents of violence against women, including rape, street harassment, and attacks by security forces on women searching for detained husbands and male relatives, as well as women protesting about the price rises.

Protection services are extremely limited. In the whole of Yemen there are only three women’s shelters, and these shelters have limited capacity.

There is therefore a vital need for more funding for local NGOs providing protection services including counselling, psychosocial support, legal aid and most importantly economic support to women GBV survivors, as enshrined in Security Council Resolution 1325.

I would like to finish by saying that we believe in the possibility of restoring peace to Yemen and the impact this will have on averting humanitarian catastrophe, in particular widespread famine.

If the international community does not fulfil its commitments to Yemen, it will be failing women like Noor, Rema and Elham who are trying to hold together the shattered pieces of their country.