Two years of war: supporting Yemeni civil society’s path to peace
26 March 2017 - Saba Albess
On the second anniversary of Yemen’s war, states and international organisations must step up their support to the vital peacebuilding and development work being done by Yemeni civil society and include them in national peace talks.
Even under extremely challenging circumstances, as the war continues and the humanitarian crisis deepens, Yemeni civil society organisations are successfully promoting alternatives to violence and working for long-term peace. States, donors and international organisations can and should increase their support for this vital work and engage regularly with civil society to ensure any future peace deal is inclusive and representative of all groups and communities across the country.
Political and diplomatic efforts to secure peace in Yemen have so far failed and the country is witnessing more fighting, bombardment and polarisation. The number of people who are affected by displacement reached an estimated 3.1 million people, and humanitarian organisations warn that the country is on the brink of famine.
Despite facing significant challenges and daily risks in the course of their work - including injury, arrest, displacement and even death - Yemeni activists and organisations have been relentless in their response to the political, social, economic and humanitarian impacts of the war. They fill gaps where the government is not providing basic services such as food and shelter for internally displaced people, education for children, and waste collection. They organise safety campaigns and raise awareness of youth and women’s rights, peace and coexistence using available spaces in their communities and social media platforms.
This vital work must continue. Supporting Yemeni civil society allows access to a wider range of local communities, particularly in remote and marginalised areas where help is most needed. Their work can bring together vulnerable communities that are otherwise excluded from decision-making circles and help them come up with peaceful solutions to problems and grievances. It is also helping to sustain a vibrant civil society in the short-term and develop a generation of leaders who can offer peaceful alternatives to conflict and violence in the longer-term.
With local demand high but funding for non-humanitarian programmes extremely limited, international donors such as the US, UK and EU should provide greater political and financial support to sustain the work of Yemeni activists and organisations even as the conflict continues. They should also defend strongly the need for civil society and community voices to be heard in the peace talks and represented in any subsequent peace deal.
Alternatives to violence
Even in the most difficult circumstances peacebuilding and social development work is possible. For example, Youth without Borders, a local organisation based in Taiz working on supporting youth has carried out trainings on conflict resolution and social peace for ten youth initiatives from the contested governorate. The Youth Contribute initiative, a local initiative in Taiz, held an open day for children to help them express their fears and concerns. The Hodeida Girls initiative has been promoting peace through a series of songs, festivals and friendly competitions that bring together women, youth and children from different political and social backgrounds in Hodeida. And the Riwa’ Foundation in Aden broadcast radio episodes about social peace targeting youth in the governorates of Aden, Lahj, Dale’ and Abyan.
Yemeni organisations are also active on social, economic and humanitarian issues. For example, the Wojood Foundation for Human Security is developing the leadership skills of local women and youth in Aden and the National Foundation for Development and Humanitarian Response is delivering food and water to internally displaced people across the country. Supporting and promoting these activities will help civil society establish itself as a reference point for positive community mobilisation and promoting alternatives to violence.
While the likelihood of an agreement between the warring parties in Yemen in the near future is very low, civil society is making a considerable contribution to the welfare and peace of individuals and communities across the country. International donors and organisations should not only step up their support to the local efforts of activists and organisations but also consult and engage with them regularly on the national peace talks to ensure any future peace deal is inclusive and representative of all groups and communities across the country including youth and women.