By: Raghad Al Saadi
As the world is consuming its resources to combat the novel COVID-19 pandemic, countries suffering from armed conflicts could hinder the response efforts. Failed states lack the ability to deal with this pandemic alone and any capability to collaborate with world on this matter. Thus, international humanitarian and stabilization programs are essential to defend these states from a total collapse, which would inevitably worsen the global health crisis. Yemen is one of the many complex conflicts in the MENA region. It has a long history of conflicts and a civil war in the late 1980s. However, there is a potential of viable peace, but only if the Women in Peace and Security agenda is fully executed.
With the start of the Arab Spring back in 2011, the Yemeni people had ridden the wave of democracy. Unsurprisingly, the deeply wounded country began to bleed again in early 2015. A civil war erupted and became a larger war led by Saudi Arabia and UAE against the Iranian proxy Houthi armed groups. As a result, the Yemeni people in the southern region are suffering a dire humanitarian and security crisis. Regardless of the gloomy environment, the courageous women in Aden have played a remarkable role to keep local communities functional and resilient.
Dr. Najwa Fadhil is CEO of Aden Future Foundation for Development (AFFD), a woman-owned civil society organization (CSO). In a discussion about the current situation in Aden and other southern provinces Dr. Fadhil mentioned the importance of mobilizing community volunteers to support the relief and stability efforts has been since the war started in 2015. AFFD’s team worked with local councils and local governments to serve local populations. However, the challenges on the ground require a more strategic approach from the international community.
A key obstacle for AFFD and other CSOs is that women have been marginalized or manipulated by political factions. Their independence is not regarded as a merit, but rather, a failing. Thus, implementing the WPS agenda in Aden could be the catalyst for building a solid local governance system. It is fair to assume that many local CSOs need a better structure and a road map for their missions. Nonetheless, they have a key strength that none of the international organizations have, which is the ownership of their own country. By this ownership of the grass-root organizations at a micro level, the humanitarian and development programs would have a more significant and measurable impact at a macro level.
Another issue to examine is the absence of a peace agreement in Yemen. This problem motivates parties to the conflict to continue to attack each other resulting in further harm to civilians. As a result, women are not represented in local governance and decision-making processes and not consulted with matters that impact their daily lives. The other outcome of this problem is an opaque access to resources and funds. For example, political factions and armed groups developed NGO “offsprings” with an “EZ-Pass” to resources they use to serve their own interests. This circumstance does not contribute to peace, instead, it is a step backwards. Inclusive WPS implementation for independent women in CSOs and NGOs in multiple tiers of peace agreements is critical to ensure social balance and viable peace locally.
An advantage of diversifying partnerships with women CSOs is that they have a remarkable influence on local communities in Aden and other southern provinces. For instance, AFFD had mobilized a thousand women in the southern liberated region to celebrate the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020. This is particularly important, knowing that women from various provinces and rural areas were proven to be powerful and have the will to claim their rights and responsibilities in their country. Impressive indeed! In addition, AFFD has a positive influence on youth by engaging them in workshops on drugs, mine fields, equality of education, and vocational training for economic opportunities. These people are the real return on investment for the taxpayers’ donations for humanitarian and stability operations.
Another way to effectively leverage the WPS agenda is through direct consultations with CSOs headed by Yemeni women. For example, AFFD’s engagement with local populations, local governments and local councils, makes them and other CSOs, key stakeholders in shaping policies that feed into the government and the international humanitarian and stabilization programs. The CSOs have access to raw information and deep knowledge about their areas including the culture, root causes of the conflict, and most importantly: solutions that work. With sincere considerations from the international players and the private sector, the future could be prosperous for Yemen.
Because of the global health pandemic it is crucial that we implement a WPS agenda in Yemen immediately. The agenda addresses critical issues for humanitarian and security crises that are applicable to the country. It is a key agent for conflict transformation and eventual peace. Local women in civil society organizations and NGOs will need to be leveraged and have a more transparent access to resources throughout program lifecycles. Their voices should be heard and become an integral part of their society to enable wounds to finally heal.