Shadow on Concrete Wall

Rethinking Peacebuilding: Women, Revolution, Exile and Conflict Resolution in Yemen

 

Introduction to the Peace Women Project

by Ewa K. Strzelecka

This article was originally published in Jemen-Report, 2022.

 

The Peace Women Project is a full-length and multisite study of women, revolution, forced migration and peacebuilding in Yemen and beyond. It proposes a deeper and more critical understanding of the role of women’s rights activists and refugees in post-revolutionary conflicts and peace processes. It focuses particularly, but not exclusively, on female Yemeni activists based in the Netherlands, Germany and Jordan. The project, which began in October 2021 and will continue until September 2023, is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship. It is hosted by the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (Netherlands) and by CARPO – Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient in Bonn (Germany). 

 

Research Overview

The revolutionary process in Yemen has mobilized masses and led to a significant politicization and polarization of Yemeni society, including women. Female political activists participated in Yemen’s uprising (2011-12) and in the National Dialogue Conference (2013-2014) (al-Sakkaf 2018, Strzelecka 2017, Strzelecka 2018, Shakir et al. 2012, Shakir 2015). However, they have been largely excluded from decision-making in the ongoing war that broke out in 2014/15 (Transfeld & Heinze 2019, Zabara & Al-Thawr, 2021). Up to now, for example, almost no women have been among the negotiators in the U.N.-sponsored peace talks for Yemen (Qassim et al. 2020, Buringa 2021). Yet, women leaders have been active to bring about peace (Heinze & Stevens 2018, Buringa 2021, Awadh & Shujaadeen 2019). Many of them fled the country and continue political activities in exile. 

 

Most recent studies on gender, migration and peace have identified a strong link between the durability of peace and the political inclusion of women and refugees (Krause 2018,  Janmyr 2015). Scholars further argue that women’s participation increases public representation and brings their social knowledge and gender-sensitive expertise to the negotiation table, thus improving the legitimacy of the agreements reached and increasing chances for a more inclusive and equative culture of peace (Bell 2015). At the same time, an analysis of women’s roles in major peace processes between 1992 and 2018 shows that women remain largely unrepresented at the table, where key decisions about post-conflict recovery and governance are being made (Domingo et al. 2013). According to statistics, women comprise 3% of chief mediators, 4% of signatories and 13% of all negotiators around the world (UN Women 2020). Similarly, refugees, particularly female refugees, are rarely consulted and represented in the official peace talks (Koser 2009, Jacobsen et al. 2008). Academic literature on women’s efforts and actions in peacebuilding and conflict resolution pays little attention to the potential role of female refugees and migrants in peace processes. Moreover, the current wave and impact of Yemeni refugees and asylum seekers have been almost completely overlooked by researchers.

 

The Peace Women project attempts to bridge this knowledge gap by focussing on Yemeni female refugees and exiled activists to explore how the situation of post-revolutionary violence and ongoing war has shaped their political participation, and how these women have contributed to conflict resolution and peacebuilding in and outside the country. Until 2019, Yemen’s war produced more than 71,000 Yemeni refugees and asylum seekers, and more than 3.62 millions of internally displaced people (UNHCR 2020). Women (24%) and children (54%) prevail among displaced persons in Yemen, while conflict-induced international migration of Yemenis has a predominantly male character. Men comprise more than 51% of the Yemeni refugees and asylum seekers, while women make up 22% and children 27% of this group (UNHCR 2021). Among these women are highly educated and well-connected activists who participated in the 2011 Yemeni uprising and who became involved in Yemen’s transnational politics. A number of them claim their agency to participate in peace processes and contribute to social change. These women are not a homogenous group and may come from different political backgrounds,  hold diverse understandings of peace and pursue distinct priorities and political goals (Krause et al. 2018).

 

With this in mind, the Peace Women project addresses the specific questions on how these politically and culturally diverse women enter and negotiate their goals in peace processes, how they influence homeland politics through political remittances, and what women transnational networks emerge and endure. The study looks mainly, but not exclusively, at the Yemeni community in the Netherlands, Germany and Jordan. According to UNHCR data, Jordan has one of the highest numbers of Yemeni refugees and asylum seekers (14,477 in 2019: 75% male and 25% female) (UNHCR 2021). The number of Yemenis in Europe doubled between 2014 and 2019 to over 11,000 (IDMC 2020). Most of them live in Germany. In 2020, the UNHCR registered 3,879 Yemeni refugees and asylum seekers in Germany (65% male and 35% female) and 1,621 in the Netherlands (82% male and 18% female) (UNHCR 2021). The current political exile community also consists of Yemenis with dual citizenship. 

 

The research aims not only at exploring and rethinking women’s role in peace processes, but it will also shed light on the dynamics between gender, conflict, migration, and peacebuilding. The results will be put in a broader perspective that links warfare, migration and state formation with previous research on gender, revolution and transnational politics. Last but not least, the study will link research findings to relevant policymakers and put forward evidence-based gender-sensitive policy recommendations to address the Yemeni crisis and support the peace-building process. This will be done by addressing the root causes of the conflict and by recognizing the significance of the inclusion of women and refugees in sustainable peacebuilding and in the politics of post-conflict reconstruction in Yemen and beyond.

 

 

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