We know that conflict is gendered: that men and women have different experiences and play different roles. We also know that although women are often politically, economically and socially marginalised, they still play a significant role in peace and stability. This research sought to understand how women in Yemen are engaging in conflict prevention, peace and stability activities in three target governorates (Ma’rib, Ta‘iz and Lahij) and investigates how their capacities and opportunities to engage are affected by their experiences of conflict, insecurity and changes in the wider social and governance environment.
Our findings point to both a core set of overall trends which validate existing knowledge on women, conflict and peacebuilding in other parts of Yemen, as well as important local nuances and contrasts in each target governorate – and even within governorates.1 It found that women are at the frontline of sustaining families and communities and addressing the devastating effects of conflict. In a protracted conflict such as Yemen’s, de-escalation in ways which do not undermine long-term peace is a key need alongside efforts to address the dynamics that drive further conflict. Women are playing an essential role in this in a number of ways: by meeting humanitarian need and mitigating suffering; maintaining local services where government is inadequate or absent; addressing the psychological impact of violence; promoting peace; mediating between armed parties; and contributing to economic recovery.
Our research also highlighted the very real risks of doing harm. If not implemented thoughtfully, humanitarian distribution can provoke tensions by not providing for everyone in the community (or assessing areas without providing follow-up support), targeting only one segment (e.g. IDPs) of a highly vulnerable community, or using women’s organisations purely as conduits for aid distribution, inadvertently diverting their agendas and priorities. Programming in support of women’s empowerment could equally expose women to further risks if not very carefully designed in a context where women’s public activity is being directly threatened by violent extremist groups, and domestic violence is increasing as traditional gender roles are challenged. There may also be times when international partners should not support women’s effective local responses to conflict and instability, such as direct conflict mediation in tribal areas, for risk of undermining their local legitimacy. Time and again, local women emphasised the need to work in partnership with them, and to make external support inclusive of the whole community, whilst making the most of the opportunity to advance women’s strategic interests and status.