What I lament the most is that pre-war Yemen, with all its institutional injustices against women, had nevertheless overtaken Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in its advancement of women's rights – a progress that today is basically undone.
Over the course of the Yemeni war, women in Saudi Arabia and the UAE have witnessed some positive developments, such as the lifting of the driving ban in Saudi Arabia and an increase in women's political representation in the UAE, while Yemenis are facing the decline of their rights and freedoms. This is a very important comparison as the disastrous bombing of Yemen is carried out by none other than its neighbours: Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Independent press and CSOs have disappeared as a venue to raise awareness about women's empowerment. Journalists, activists and aid workers have been harassed, attacked, and/or made to disappear by all warring parties. The space for civil action has shrunk drastically. Voices that dare to speak out in support of women's rights are effectively being silenced.
Women are fighting back
Meanwhile, women are pushing back. At the grassroots level, with some 12,000 men arrested and more than 3,000 forcibly disappeared, mothers, sisters and daughters of those abducted have begun to gather in front of the central prison or police stations across major Yemeni cities in search of their sons, fathers or brothers. They have organised themselves as a collective named "Mothers of Abductees Association". At the political level, UN Women has supported the establishment of the Yemeni Women's Pact for Peace and Security, which calls for women's inclusion in the political dialogue and peace process.
In addition, Yemeni women's political activism has been supported by the three UN Special Envoys for Yemen – Jamal Ben Omar, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and currently Martin Griffiths – over the past eight years. In accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 – on the full involvement and equal participation of women in conflict resolution processes – Griffiths has ensured the presence of women in the Yemeni peace talks in Kuwait, Geneva and Stockholm through consultancy groups.
Even though Yemen has not witnessed a strong women's movement in recent history, women have become an important pillar in the formation of a new democratic Yemen since the 2011 uprising. Their activism under the difficult circumstance of continuing conflict has played an important role in shedding light on gross human rights violations and in peace advocacy.
The future of Yemeni women depends on the future of Yemen. Women activists will therefore not rest until the country is back on its feet and peace prevails. Within the space available to them, Yemeni women are looking to achieve something that is worth the world's solidarity.
© Goethe-Institut Perspectives 2020
Afrah Nasser is an independent Yemeni journalist, living in exile in Gothenburg, Sweden. Her reporting on Yemen's political affairs has been published in numerous international publications, such as the Huffington Post, CNN, Al Jazeera English and The National. Nasser was also mentioned as the 15th most powerful Arab by Arabian Business. In 2017, she won the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. She is also the recipient of the Pennskaft Award 2016 and the Dawit Isaak Prize 2014.