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Can 2021 be the year for inclusive peace in Yemen?

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GOING IN TO 2021, PROGRESSING PEACE IN YEMEN IS CRUCIAL 

On March 23rd 2020, the UN Secretary General called for a global ceasefire in the face of COVID-19. However, during 2020, Yemen experienced an escalation of hostilities, multiple human rights abuses, increased civilian casualties and displacement of over 156,000 people. With social and productive infrastructure devastated by 5 years of conflict and with the already stretched global aid system challenged by the ongoing COVID-19 response, the UN Secretary General now warns that Yemen is in “imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades”.  The need for peace in Yemen is clear and a prisoner exchange in October 2020 has put hope on the horizon for the renewal of stalled peace talks.

YEMEN'S PEACE TALKS TO DATE HAVE NOT REFLECTED THE NEEDS OF GRASSROOTS WOMEN AND YOUTH - AND WERE WEAKER FOR IT

Growing evidence shows that the meaningful participation of women at the grassroots and other levels of society builds stronger and more durable peace. Women and youth working on activities that contribute to local level peace have invaluable knowledge and understanding of the needs of civilians on the ground, particularly given the overlap between humanitarian and peacebuilding activities.

However, despite the specific and devastating impact of the conflict on Yemeni women and youth and their key roles in local humanitarian and peacebuilding responses, their voices have been largely excluded from the peace process. At present, there is an acute lack of communication between the grassroots and individuals engaged in the formal peace talks, which prevents grassroots women and youth from influencing discussions and recommendations. This exclusion makes the prospect of sustainable peace – and social and economic recovery – more remote.

In April 2020, SDDirect conducted research to understand how different peace actors have engaged (or could engage) with the peace process. We spoke with a wide range of peace actors, including women and youth working at the grassroots, civil society organisations representing women in the peace process, and diplomats engaged in preparing for and facilitating formal peace talks in Yemen.

THERE IS APPETITE FROM ACTOR AT ALL LEVELS OF THE PEACE PROCESS TO ENGAGE WITH THE EXPERIENCES OF YEMENI WOMEN AND YOUTH

Our research found that all actors would welcome greater engagement with women and youth at the grassroots. This could both enrich discussions and recommendations made during formal peace talks and enhance the ability of peace talks to build sustainable and equitable peace. While barriers to achieving peace were significant, they are not insurmountable. For example, if those engaged in formal peace talks could share clear information about the topics likely to be discussed with grassroots organisations in advance, these organisations would be better able to develop substantive recommendations that are relevant to negotiations. Furthermore, whilst funding, technical support and effective management are key to ensuring effective communication between peace actors at different levels,  individuals working at these different levels must utilise these communication channels in order for them to become effective mechanisms for grassroots engagement.

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY MUST ACT TO BUILD MOMENTUM FOR TALKS AND SHAPE THEM TO INCLUDE THE VOICES OF WOMEN AND YOUTH AT ALL LEVELS

With commitment, political will, creativity, and cooperation, the experiences of women and youth at the grassroots level can be meaningfully incorporated into the peacebuilding process in Yemen. SDDirect, together with CARE International, have published two policy briefs to highlight key ways that the international community can support Yemeni peace actors in their quest for an inclusive, sustainable peace process that reflects diverse perspectives across Yemeni society and explicitly responds to the realities on the ground. The briefs make recommendations to the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen (OSESGY), the donor community and other international actors as they support the Yemeni peace process and increase its chances of bringing much needed sustainable peace and recovery to Yemen.

Further details and full recommendations are found in the two briefs:

Overcoming the barriers to an interlinked three-track peace process in Yemen

Barriers to women and youth in peacebuilding in Yemen: What are they and how can they be overcome?