Day 6/16: Conflict Outside, Fear at Home
On Thursday, October 31st, Murad Sobay; a young Yemeni graffiti artist, and some other young activists were painting drones on the walls of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, to protest the repeated strikes against al-Qaeda in many parts of Yemen. At the same time, several battles between the Salafists and Shiites (Houthis) were taking place in Dammaj, Saada; northern Yemen.
On that day alone, Yemen was the scene of more than one armed political conflict: there were both drone strikes launched against AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), and sectarian fighting between Shia Muslim rebels (Houthis) and hardline Sunni Muslims (Salafists). On both fronts, civilians, women and children were often killed, wounded or besieged alongside the battles or strikes.
For fifty years, Yemen has lived through a continuous period of armed political conflict. To bring to a close this endless conflict and instability, Yemeni women and men took to the streets and squares in a great uprising that swept Yemen in February 2011. They chanted loudly "peace .. peace", "civil state .. civil state" and "the people wants to overthrow the regime". While these voices were still chanting, a conflict broke out between former forces of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Saleh’s former partner; General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, the second most powerful man in the country.
The conflict ended in November 2011 through a political transition based on an agreement negotiated by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), and in February 2012, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi became the new President of Yemen. In his first presidential speech, Hadi said: “For 50 years we have been fighting with each other. It is a shame on us, a big shame.” But is shaming or blaming enough?!
Women in Aden, southern Yemen, live without security. Since the civil war between north and south Yemen in 1994, the spread of terrorist groups and gangs of thugs has threatened women’s personal freedoms and restricted their movements. Some women have had their faces sprayed with acid for not wearing the veil. In Sana’a, private and domestic lives of women are worsening because their husbands, brothers and sons are being mobilized by different fighting forces. Women do not have the means to discourage them from engaging partisan in conflicts and the culture of hatred between people of the north and the south is growing.
Women become increasingly worried when they notice the attitudes held by their loved ones shift to become increasingly sectarian; Sunni or Shiite. The source of their anxiety is not just because of the conflict with the traditional non-democratic political forces in Yemen, but also because that conflict affects their personal psychological states. Women fear losing family members who belong to different conflicting forces, at any time.
Regardless of the intensified presence of international support, Yemen today looks like a large camp of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) who live below minimum humanitarian standards; nearly half of its population lives below the poverty line and roughly one in two children suffers from malnutrition. While the international community tries to bring political stability by gathering the elite political powers in the conflict around the National Dialogue Conference table, economic and social life is deteriorating severely. And while political elites and conflicting forces hold their meetings at the National Dialogue Conference, acts of terror, destruction, fighting and assassinations are becoming increasingly widespread and violent.
Both national and international actors are still carrying out political processes in a way that is traditional or “patriarchal” and they fail to find grass-roots solutions to the conflict in Yemen, or to achieve public acceptance or satisfaction. The political process is now mainly closed, and limited to traditional forces; political ruling parties and positional parties or forces. The sad thing is that it is these same traditional forces that are in conflict.
Criticism of international players is expressed in many ways. For example women activists have noted how international actors start to act like Yemeni sheikhs from the moment their airplanes land in Sana’a International Airport. Such sheiks work on a system of patronage, networking and holding power amongst themselves. Their political interest is their own and they act in favour of regional powers (Saudi Arabia) rather than the Yemeni people. Within this system, political change is achieved through pursuing armed conflict and they are not orientated towards human rights or state-building. As such, youth activists on social media have nicknamed the UN General Secretary Special Advisor to Yemen Jamal Benomer, ‘Sheikh’ Jamal Benomer.
There are many emerging groups of both women and youth that carry out initiatives towards peace building and inclusive citizenship. They call for strengthening the role of women and youth in civil and political engagement and adopting human rights. They propose the provision of an equal platform of participation for women and access to resources, support, funding and the media. Yemeni Women’s huge participation in the 2011 uprising and calling for peace stunned the world. It seems however that their voices have never reached the ears of national and international actors. What’s more, political interest in women’s vision of non-traditional and grass-roots solutions to the conflict is non-existent.
After fifty years of traditional solutions enforced by national and international actors in Yemen, women and youth groups are looking increasingly towards international, non-governmental organizations and solidarity networks for support; support to solidify their efforts, support in state and peace building initiatives, and more importantly, support to end the fear that women and children feel in their own homes.
Wameedh Shakir is a Yemeni women's rights activist. Having 14 years of field and policy gender experience in 12 governorates in Yemen especially in the areas of violence against women and legal protection, Wameedh has worked on a variety of women's issues including gender and economic empowerment, community development and equal participation, and NGO/CBO institutional and capacity building and humanitarian work. She is a also a member of the WLUML International Solidarity Network
This blog series is an initiative of the Stop Stoning Women Campaign hosted by WLUML - campaigning to bring an end to Stoning.