In Pursuit of a Political Solution in Yemen: Perspectives From the Frontlines

Thursday, October 25, 2018
A woman and a boy walk past the ruins of buildings destroyed in Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen's capital Sanaa. September 13, 2015. Mohamed al-Sayaghi/REUTERS
Speakers
Sawsan Al-Refaei

Member, Yemeni Women's Pact for Peace and Security

Najiba Al-Najar

Member, Yemeni Women's Pact for Peace and Security

Presider

Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

As crisis in Yemen continues unabated, United Nations Special Envoy Martin Griffith hopes to nurture a political process that would bring an end to the war and its dire humanitarian consequences. Dr. Sawsan Al-Refaei and Najiba Al-Najar report from the frontlines on daily life in Yemen and the prospects for a peaceful political solution. This meeting is part of CFR’s New Strategies for Security Roundtable Series, generously supported by the Compton Foundation.

Transcript

BIGIO: Good morning. Welcome, everyone, to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Jamille Bigio, and I’m a senior fellow with the Council’s Women and Foreign Policy Program. Our program has worked with leading scholars for fifteen years now to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign-policy objectives, including prosperity and security.

I want to take a moment before we begin to thank our Advisory Council members and to thank the Compton Foundation for its support for today’s discussion.

I also want to remind everyone that the presentation, discussion, and question-and-answer period will be on the record.

So today—in fact, in just a few hours—the United Nations Security Council will meet to discuss progress in implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which was the first U.N. resolution focused on women’s contributions to security. It passed eighteen years ago, and since then, there is a growing body of research that suggests that standard peace-and-security processes routinely overlook a critical strategy that could reduce conflict and advance stability, and that’s the inclusion of women. In fact, research has shown that the inclusion of civil-society groups including women’s groups in a peace negotiation makes the resulting agreement sixty-four percent less likely to fail; and according to another study, thirty-five percent more likely to last at least fifteen years.

According to the Council’s own research, since 1990, women represented fewer than five percent of signatories to peace agreements and eight percent of negotiators. This matters in Yemen as it faces a protracted conflict and dire humanitarian consequences. We can look just at the news from the last few days to see what the costs are.

There’s ongoing debate on the U.S.’s role in the war, spurred most recently by the assassination of the Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi. Yesterday an airstrike on a market in southern Yemen killed close to twenty civilians. The U.N.’s humanitarian chief told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that, and I quote, “There is now a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen, much bigger than anything any professional in this field has seen during their working lives.” And yet U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths’ latest attempts to restart the political process have faltered.

With all this news, there’s little attention to the perspective of Yemeni civil society, and less so to the perspective of Yemeni women in civil society, who are doing so much every day to try to not only help their families’ communities survive, but to lay the groundwork for a hopefully peaceful and inclusive political settlement.

We are so lucky to be joined today by Dr. Sawsan Al-Refaei and Najiba Al-Najar. Najiba comes directly from Yemen, and Sawsan most recently from Amman. They are Yemeni activists, political advisers, and members of the Yemeni Pact for Peace and Security, with whom successive U.N. envoys have consulted.

I wanted to start by asking you—Najiba, as I said, you are based in Aden. Sawsan, you are continuing your work on Yemen and have close connections there. I’ve shared what the news tells us about Yemen. Can you share more about daily life there? What does it really look like for people that are surviving across the country?

(Note: Ms. Al-Najar’s remarks are made through an interpreter.)

AL-NAJAR: My name is Najiba Al-Najar. I come from the province of Aden. I could tell you about the situation in Yemen. And right now I could share with you that the situation is really dire, not only in the north but also in the south; that it’s very, very hard for people in Yemen in general.

As I said, the situation and the suffering is great. We are facing a famine situation that is described as could be the worst in the world. One in five families suffers from food shortage. Thirty percent of children less than five years old suffer from malnutrition. As do two (thousand) of every ten thousand people.

The situation has been exacerbated by the drop in the value of the Yemeni currency, the inflation that’s been tremendous, and that makes the citizen’s ability to survive very, very hard.

Yemeni people stand in long queues to get fuel. The fuel has reached prices that are extraordinary at this point.

My country now is being split by many powers in the region. For the northwest, it’s been dominated by the Houthis. Part of the north is dominated by the government of Al-Hadi, while the south is the terrain of the United Arab Emirates. The south was its own independent country up until 1990.

Right now there is a conflict between the groups in the south that are allied with the United Arab Emirates. They are in conflict with people with the government of Al-Hadi, and they are both vying to control the province of Aden.

And the burden of all of this has been tremendous on women. Women do pay mostly the price. Women become the breadwinner for the family as men go on fighting in the north. They go on fighting, wage war in the north, or try to liberate the north.

People have not received their salary. Civil servants have not received any salary since over a year now, especially in the northern parts.

The impact has been tremendous also on education for children. The schools have been shut down because there was a strike from the teachers. Teacher salary before the war was $200 and now it is a mere $50.

Let me tell you that there are women, children, and men who cannot find anything to eat. And they are left to eat trees. And some parts, there is a famine.

I’ll speak a lot about the suffering of Yemeni people. And I really appeal for support for the Yemeni economy, and try to stop the rapid downfall of the value of the Yemeni currency, because the Yemeni people are not able to survive at this point if things go down this way.

BIGIO: We read of the costs of the conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. But to hear from people who are witnessing it first-hand is a different experience and a different call to action for us all.

Sawsan, what are your reflections on daily realities in Yemen?

AL-REFAEI: I wanted to add from a perspective of women, because I think that there are tremendous challenges on the ground. And still it is even more difficult to be a woman in such circumstances. And I wanted to highlight specific things that the Yemeni women are subject to.

One important area is education. We have been working for decades to get girls into schools. Millions of dollars have been put to do that, and now there is a huge withdrawal of girls and dropout. The coping mechanisms to the economic situation, which my colleague has elaborated on, falls heavily on girls more than boys. There is a tremendous rise in GBV cases, in early-marriage cases. And people try to cope with famine and with hunger using their girls for child labor, for child beggary, and so this falls more heavily on women.

I wanted to also highlight the security situation, the deterioration of security. It falls also more heavily on women. They are subjected to rape and harassment and kidnapping because of the collapse of the security system and the collapse of the traditional law-enforcement institutions.

In addition to this, I want to add that even female humanitarian workers, female human-rights and civil activists, are now under double scrutiny. They are harassed. They are subject to detention. They face tremendous challenges to move from one place to another, to give or express their opinions.

And, of course, they face even double challenges to go out of Yemen and express these opinions of women in Yemen, because not just of the general limitations to travel like the travel ban and other visa issues, but specifically because they are women and they are not able to cross these long hours through security checks to come, for example, from the north to the south due to the closure of the Sana’a airport and then go abroad to express their opinions of women.

So I just wanted to highlight again that it is difficult for everyone, for every man and woman and child, but it is more on women and girls. And those women not being able to speak for themselves and to speak for their own suffering, this is causing a tremendous blockade for women in Yemen.

BIGIO: You both have outlined the tremendous toll of the war in Yemen, of the conflict. On the other side of that, we see incredible work that’s being led by communities in Yemen to overcome these challenges, to survive and to try to lay the groundwork for a future.

Can you tell us what some of these organizations are doing? How are they contributing to improving security in their communities and to helping to advance the potential of a political settlement in the future?

AL-REFAEI: Despite what has been said and despite all the challenges and all the risks, it is amazing and outstanding how local women were able to stand out and upscale their role in this crisis. I’ll give concrete examples of how women were able to mobilize their local communities in order to fill the gap that is caused by the collapse of state of fragmentation of state.

So one is there is a huge number of young girls who were students, who were housewives, who were normal women who upscaled their role and started to contribute effectively in the humanitarian sector, not as—of course, there are members of NGOs and of humanitarian agencies, but they have initiated their own humanitarian initiatives using their own funds, the funds that they mobilize from the communities.

Women played an important role trying to save education, especially education for girls. Local women have opened their houses and transformed their own houses to become local schools. Female teachers continue to teach without receiving their salaries for over two years now. Some local groups are going around local schools distributing breakfast for children because children faint in schools because they don’t have their morning meal.

But also I want to highlight the efforts of local women in trying to build peace and trying to open dialogues, which is something that the world does not expect from women who are mostly illiterate. But they have done a great work trying to keep politics aside, trying to open dialogue, and they succeeded in mediation between local conflicting parties in opening safe corridors in releasing detainees, because those women, they’re trusted more by the communities. Their political intentions are not very—not suspicious. And therefore they were able to do this.

But in the same time, these local initiatives are still small scale. They are still not supported, and they still are not well documented and modeled, because there isn’t enough attention to this level of initiatives.

BIGIO: What’s the work that you’re seeing going on every day in Yemen to try to overcome the situation and to build something better in the future?

AL-NAJAR: Yemeni women work on the ground. Women direct the society towards peace in villages, in cities. They contribute to the transport of food and medicine, humanitarian aid. Women are fighters, and not many people know about this fact. Women are joining the fight. They have opened corridors for detainees. They participate in the education of children, because many schools are shut. They bring relief and humanitarian aid and assistance.

Let me give you an example of a woman called Fikreya Khaled. This woman has been very active. She’s an activist at the local level. She helped settle disputes between families in over 30 areas in the villages. And she’s been a defender of human rights, and she worked for peace and security, awareness. She provides humanitarian aid to all who need it in the village.

There is another example of a woman called Amata Salamehad. And she works hard on the social level to rescue raped girls and to give them assistance. She also works to find disappeared persons—men, women, children. And there are lots of disappearances, as you probably know. She works as a volunteer. She’s a very strong woman. And she spares no effort to bring assistance locally to the people.

BIGIO: You’re both part of a network, the Yemeni Women Pact for Peace and Security. And you have advised previous U.N. envoys, and you will soon have a formal role advising the current U.N. envoy, Martin Griffiths, on his attempts to foster a political solution. So what are your recommendations? What do you think will help to restart the process that’s faltered to date? And what do you want to ensure is part of that process? What do you recommend to him?

AL-REFAEI: So the Yemen Pact is a group of sixty women coming from different backgrounds. They work in different sectors, and most of them represent grassroots NGOs, academia, and also women affiliated with political parties.

We came together to advocate for one goal, which is better and meaningful representation of women, but not just that; also to transfer and make the women’s agenda present during any peace process.

So we have provided consultations to U.N. envoys under our capacity of Track II initiative. Currently the Yemen Pact is doing a lot of advocacy with all our development partners, with the U.N. envoy office, but also with the parties to the peace process, for meaningful participation and inclusion of women.

During this time, the Yemen Pact has three members in the Technical Advisory Group, which was formed by the U.N. envoy. They traveled with him to Geneva, and they provided consultation on several important aspects that were going to be discussed during the talks or the consultations in Geneva, like the economic solutions, like the security sector. They were not pigeonholed into only the women issues. But unfortunately the consultations did not proceed in Geneva.

And we are hoping that the formation or establishment of the Technical Advisory Group would be a good first step towards more upscaled representation of women. We are recommending to increase the number of women from the Yemen Pact and other women that are active in the field. We are recommending that maybe a more defined role is given beyond just consultation, but also more empowered position to influence the agenda of the peace talks.

We also recommend more frequent activities that are done and not waiting for talks to happen to engage women, because women have a lot to offer. They have a lot of experience, and not to just focus at the Track I level, which is very complicated—it’s very complex—but to start with the local-level initiatives of peacebuilding and trying to link them to Track II and Track III.

We also recommend that women’s inclusion does not remain an adjunct component, and for all the actors—not just the U.N. envoy office, but all the stakeholders—to have a broader look at the women peace-and-security agenda, and trying to address not just the inclusion of women at the table of the talks but also to have them contribute and be voicing their women’s needs, and also the women’s contributions outside the room of negotiations.

And, of course, we would like to recommend a very structured and meaningful plan for women’s issues to remain in the public rhetoric of the U.N. envoy. We don’t want it to remain seasonal. We want it to be something that is addressed every single time the issue of women is raised.

BIGIO: Najiba, what do you recommend—

AL-NAJAR: We recommend a resumption of the peace negotiations and a political settlement with the collaboration of the U.N. envoy.

We are aiming for a greater contribution of women in the peace process. Quite unfortunately, men have ignored Resolution 2216, which calls for the participation of women. And we are keen that women participate and bring their insight in the settlement of the war.

So we support the U.N. envoy or his efforts; however, the fact that women contribute to the consultative or the advisory group is not enough. Women should be at the negotiating table. They should participate, they should be present in the negotiations process.

And we call on the international community to help solve the problem of the shipping and transport in the Red Sea, and to invite all parties concerned to participate in the negotiations, too, for a peaceful settlement of the crisis.

BIGIO: What are the challenges that you both face in doing the work that you are doing? Sawsan, why are you in Amman and not in Yemen now doing this work?

AL-REFAEI: I traveled to Amman in March 2015, and I was there as part of a regional funding committee, and from there I stayed one day. And then I went to Beirut for work with ILO regional office, and it was a one-day trip. So in the evening of that last day, I packed and I was ready to leave, but unfortunately in the morning we gathered that there was—that the airport is closed, and so basically I was outside when the war happened, and there was the closure of the main airport of the capital city, Sana’a. And then my family was in Sana’a. There were my kids, and my husband, and my parents, and they were heavily bombarded.

So it was not possible to return, but I was able to get my two children out. But since then it was very difficult to return because of several security issues as a human rights activist, and for the security of my children. I was very lucky to obtain a position in Amman working for the Arab Campaign for Education. It was my passion, and I was already a founding member in Yemen, and I felt that if I was in Yemen in the first place when the war happened, I wouldn’t have been able to go out, or possibly it would have been, you know, like a psychological burden for me to leave my country.

But being outside, I think I was able to contribute a lot to not only the education sector, but the humanitarian sector outside, trying to get funding, trying to voice the needs of the women, and because of that, I always say that we have to support women—not just those women inside, but women in the diaspora.

I was one of the very few lucky ones who were able to—you know, who had the connections, who had the job, who had the English language that enabled me to do things for me and my family, but also to voice the needs of women. But there are lots of women in diaspora, not by choice like me, but that are in the diaspora because they are either threatened personally or they are wives, or daughters, or mothers of people who have direct threats, and therefore, they are not as privileged as I am. And we have to look at these women—not just support them, but also use them as a resource because I was able to travel around speaking about things that Yemeni women cannot speak about to the media inside Yemen. There is no neutral media any more in Yemen. Women are harassed, and threatened, and defamed. Even our delegation to the technical advisory group, which is associated with the U.N. envoy—we should be a delegation that is prestigious. It was defamed on certain social media, they are receiving continuous threats. People view them as traitors, as women following a foreign agenda, and they are under huge scrutiny. So women like us who have the luxury to speak, we’re using every single opportunity to transfer the voices until hopefully one day they will be able to speak more freely.

BIGIO: And in fact, one of your colleagues, who was meant to travel with you, was not granted a visa in the end, and one of the speakers that we had intended to join us was not granted a visa to travel here. And she requested the opportunity to share a brief word with you, and so here is a very short video clip of her, and then we will open for the question and answers.

(Video presentation begins.)

BIGIO: It’s a challenge for women from countries that are under the travel ban to attend meetings of the United Nations here in New York. There are exceptions, obviously. Najiba has made it to us from Yemen, but there are many whose visas aren’t approved and whose recommendations and voices aren’t heard.

I’d now like to open to question and answer from the audience, so if you could please raise your placard, we will take as many questions as we can.

Elizabeth.

Q: Thank you so much, and I think we all want to make sure you know that we are very angry and frustrated as well, and that we will all go away from this room and talk about what you have shared with us, both to people that we hope can make a difference, but also just to other people in our lives so more Americans become aware.

I’m from the Department of Peacekeeping at the U.N. We agree with everything you said about women being part of Track 1, that being observers is not good enough. It would be helpful for me if you could share any additional specifics on what the special envoy could do, what the Security Council could do to help you.

I’m also very interested in any changes you may have seen about women’s groups being involved by the newish humanitarian coordinator. We’ve had a change on the humanitarian coordinator side. The country teams are supposed to be involving women’s groups in their work; it doesn’t happen. I’d like to hear from you if that is happening or not.

Thank you.

AL-REFAEI: Thank you for your question, and thank you for your support. There is definitely a huge muffling effect for anything that is relevant to Yemen. It’s very painful, it’s very devastating, and any effort to speak out—what we mentioned today is highly appreciated.

For the special envoy, we are cautious about not being caught in the very small details of how women can be involved, and the reason behind that is it is always—these arguments and discussions are healthy, but sometimes they are used as an excuse to delay the inclusion of women. And this is something we don’t want to happen, so we always say that we are calling for an upscaled membership for women, a wider scope of involvement, and definitely a more empowered position to influence the agenda. But I am concerned that maybe if we try to suggest particular numbers, or figures, or mechanisms, then this would be used as to, you know, impact the outcome, which is more women sitting around the table.

We know that there are several women groups—the Yemen pact has been the consultative body for the U.N. envoy, but there are so many other women who can be a part of this. Well, we know that the process cannot be transparent a hundred percent, cannot be like accountable a hundred percent. We are sixty women from different sectors, but we are not representative hundred percent of all women. But we shouldn’t be, and we think that this should not be an obstacle to a full and meaningful inclusion of women.

The U.N. envoy could have, under his discretion, the decision to involve like, say, from eight to fifteen women, and who will be the members. This is not our issue. We just want a mechanism that is workable, that is formed by consensus and not driven by one party alone, or one institution alone, and we want a very clear and well-defined role for the women. So it’s not enough for women to go, and observe, and come back, or provide consultation papers and come back; there is room for a lot of activities that will allow women not necessarily sitting on the table because that’s really—nobody is sitting on the table yet—but to influence the peace agenda and to say what could be done now until peace talks can happen.

As for the humanitarian sector, there are some good steps in terms of the new plans and the new approaches. However, the humanitarian operation in Yemen being the largest in the world now, quite disappointed about how it is handling protection issues. Protection is a huge challenge for Yemeni women, especially those in displacement. Protection is still looked at as a pure humanitarian issue, and it’s disempowering, the way that the OCHA, for example, is handling gender in its programs. Women have a lot to offer; they are not just there and the IDB comes to receive food baskets and blankets. Me and my colleague, we already gave examples on how women are able to lead, they are able to decide, they are able to localize policies—humanitarian policies and programs, and we feel that the approach is still very passive towards women, and we need more empowerment.

Thank you.

BIGIO: Yes.

Q: Gareth Sweeney, Crisis Action. And thank you both sincerely for sharing your experiences.

You mentioned that the pact engages not only with the Griffiths process but also with the key actors. So a two-part question if I may—firstly whether you think the consultations so far are sufficiently inclusive of key actors within Yemen, including southern groups, and whether all of those that are part of the consultation, whether their delegations have any women representatives as part of the consultation.

And secondly, I’m curious to know if you engage with—you mentioned that you engage with key actors bilaterally. How receptive are those actors—for example, the Saudis or the Houthis to the pact?

AL-NAJAR: So with regards to the Yemeni women pact for peace and security, the special envoy has chosen three women from the pact and five from outside this pact, and all these women are asked to do it to provide papers at each step. So, for example, at the Geneva part, they were asked to produce three papers: one on the economy, one on politics, and one on building trust.

But as far as having any role with the parties, the advisory group does not talk directly with the parties because they are outside of the table of negotiation.

So with regards to talking directly with Ansar Allah and Saudi Arabia, as I mentioned the pact, there are people from different political persuasions, and there are women from Ansar Allah, and they did have conversations with those people. But as I talked about earlier, people have been using the Resolution 2216 to actually sideline women and say this specific moment does not call for the participation of women.

That being said, the Hadi government did have a delegation with a seat for one woman in Geneva. With regards to Saudi Arabia, we have not talked to them, but we hope to be able to talk to the Saudi delegation and talk to them about the importance of the inclusion of women, and the inclusion of women for any of the negotiations, but there were no direct talks up to now, but we hope it will be so in the future.

AL-REFAEI: Yeah, I just want to add on the representation in the delegations, again, from a practical point of view, you can never be a hundred percent inclusive. We are concerned that whenever the issue of women inclusion is raised then we are faced by the argument that if we include women, we will have to have another quota for civil society, and another quota for southern people, and another—which is a very bizarre argument because women are inherent to the process, and of course, the parties’ delegations are expected to be inclusive of all the groups.

But we don’t want to fragment our fight or struggles. We are for an inclusive process, but we are holding our government specifically accountable to the National Dialogue Conference outcomes, which is the basis for the legitimacy of the government, and where thirty percent quota is already approved and adopted, and at least we expect from our own government to have that quota in the delegations. We expect it less from the Houthis, and that’s what we’re pushing for right now.

BIGIO: This is such an important point that the National Dialogue process was an incredibly inclusive process. There is a model of how this can be done in a way where all voices are at the table and where women had a very influential role at the table, and as you’ve said, managed to negotiate that the outcomes have an agreement for a 30 percent quota. So that’s already there and should be followed through in the next process, both by the U.N., as well as by the parties themselves.

Q: You’ve mentioned the contacts with groups in Saudi Arabia. Have you gone further in the Arab world? And I have in mind particularly Tunisia and Cairo. Now politically their governments are all over the place as far as Yemen goes and who they support, but in those countries there are some very active women’s associations, a source of counsel, perhaps, a source of support and of pressure on their own governments.

AL-REFAEI: So the Yemen pact is working to be as inclusive as possible, so we’re trying to work with other women groups in Yemen that have been formed. But in the same time, we are approaching Yemen groups—sorry—women groups that are in other countries, but more of the countries that are facing the same challenges we are facing, so we are in close proximity to their advisory bodies. And the groups are formed in Syria, and Libya, in Iraq, and we try always to get lessons from Kurdistan, for example.

So these efforts take place. The political process influences our work, although we are a(n) apolitical body, and we feel that maybe countries like Tunisia and Egypt—the political dynamics are quite different than Yemen. We definitely read a lot about that. But we feel that the dynamics and the challenges are shared with the countries I’ve mentioned.

We are trying, in our recommendations to try to, you know, like address ourselves and also the U.N. envoy office, and partners, to learn lessons from what happened in Syria, for example, in terms of inclusion of women, what happened in Libya and Kurdistan. And we’re trying also to give them—countries that are about to start a transition process to give them the lessons we learned from the National Dialogue that happened in Yemen in 2011. So, yeah, we’re trying our best to work with other countries.

BIGIO: And it’s a great point, as you look at the regional politics and the regional process around an attempt to restart the political settlement, as you said, can women’s groups in those countries be allies in pressuring their own governments and their own—and informing their own governments’ policies when it comes to their engagement around a political settlement; that there is this incredible network of very active women’s groups across the region who are looking to—who share common priorities around highlighting how women are affected differently and their contributions to the process, so thank you.

Q: Thank you. Patricia Rosenfield.

First of all, I want to thank both of you and Jamille for this powerful and upsetting, but at the same time, very exciting discussion because what I think is very important and perhaps somewhat distinctive, although reminiscent of other situations in—at a phase perhaps not quite as egregious, but very difficult situations, is the role of women locally organizing without outside support to really try to build the basis for peace and development, and positive outcomes.

What I wanted to ask—and it relates to the points about connections with other groups, and I think it’s extremely important to connect with groups facing comparable situations—but I’m wondering, and I think it was Sawsan who said that the critique from within is when you work with others outside the country, particularly from the West, that you are succumbing to the Western agenda.

So I wanted to ask you both about what is the role of the outside, non-governmental actors, whether it’s the foundation, the philanthropy community, the—around the world, not just the American philanthropy community, but others—in sustaining or encouraging the connections of women in and outside of Yemen, the diaspora activities, and the connections of networks of women. Would this be positive? Could this be negative? Is it better to rely on the U.N. however disempowering the humanitarian—official humanitarian assistance can be, but trying to improve that. I’m just curious what would be the—what your take is on the positive or negative aspects of outside assistance and connections from the international—perhaps Western—financial support community.

AL-REFAEI: For the humanitarian sector, I can answer you because this is the sector I have been working in in the past three years. And I think that, first of all, we have to acknowledge—like Najiba introduced this morning—there are huge, tremendous humanitarian challenges and needs. And in such a context, sometimes when we criticize, you know, we really look like—cruel and insensitive. But what we are aiming for—we appreciate all the humanitarian actors in Yemen, whether it’s the U.N., whether it’s the international NGOs coming in with their different types.

However, we feel that also learning lessons from Syria and Iraq, that in protracted crises, you have to be very strategic. You have to provide direct aid, but in the same time, you have to be very strategic.

Because the conflict of Yemen has, you know—is prolonged—it’s the third now and we’re going to the fourth, and fifth, I hope not—but the short-sighted approach to humanitarian aid is not only causing depletion of resilience of communities, but on the other hand, it is leaving a lot of room for corruption, for warlords to make advantage of the situation, and in different areas of Yemen so across areas in Yemen. I'm not speaking of a specific area.

And for this I think that there is a divorce between the humanitarian sector and the political and security sector, and this should not continue. The humanitarian sector is politicized, and the political agenda is also influenced by the humanitarian challenges. But these sectors should speak to each other.

There are huge economic challenges, and if we continue dealing with a humanitarian crisis as if it is going to end tomorrow, then we are—we are deteriorating; we are not helping. There is a huge call from the people of Yemen for sustainable economic interventions.

The urgent need now is to help the deterioration of the Yemeni rial. It’s an urgent thing that should be done. It’s to save what is left. We can continue giving food, and water, and shelter—these are important, but if we do not do something about the limitation of imports, the problems with the central bank, all these economic huge issues that are solved by political will more than anything else, then we will be meeting three years from now saying the same things.

So I call for reform in the humanitarian sector, and I also call for more connection and coordination between the peace process and the humanitarian process.

BIGIO: And as you raise funding, another data point just to share is that a review—globally only around 0.4 percent of total funding given to fragile states makes it to women’s groups. So the groups that are doing the work that we’ve heard, of opening corridors, of releasing detainees, of responding to the daily needs, and of negotiating for improved situations received just a drop of the total aid that is given, so it’s certainly an issue that we have to highlight.

Q: Very quickly. I’m Marta Colburn from U.N. Women Yemen, and we are the technical support for the Tawafaq, the Yemeni women’s pact. And we worked on their visas since February basically, so long process, a lot of networking.

But I did want to mention just briefly, recently U.N. Women Yemen finished a film on Yemeni women peacemakers, so it profiles four Yemeni women from different parts of the country, one of them who Najiba mentioned, and it’s on the U.N. Women Yemen’s website. So it’s called something like Yemeni Women Building Peace in Times of War.

BIGIO: Thank you. And I just want to thank Sawsan and Najiba so much for joining us today, and for sharing their insights, and for the incredible work that they are doing. (Applause.)

(END)

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The education gender gap costs the world between $15 trillion and $30 trillion in human capital. U.S. aid programs need to equip girls and women to participate in the modern digital economy.