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Day 7: Hope for Yemen

1 December 2012

This is my third visit to Sana’a, and it coincides with this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign, whose global theme seems particularly apt for Yemen, a country with a dreadful women’s rights record, and a seemingly endless history of wars and insurgencies.

Photo of participants in Yemeni workshopOn 26 November, WILPF’s Yemeni partners, HRITC, ran the second workshop in a series in our MENA 1325 project focusing on women, peace and security in the Arab uprisings. About 60 people attended the workshop and at least a third was men.

I jokingly remarked that Yemen is the only one of WILPF’s MENA partners that ever makes its quota! What it shows of course, in a Yemeni society torn apart by armed conflict, is that men’s interest in the new solutions offered when we work on gender, demilitarisation, peace and security, matches that of women.

The workshop was based on three high-quality working papers. The first, by Lina Haldrah, gave an overview of recommendations from the first series of HRITC field workshops on SCR 1325 held in Aden, Taez and Sana’a earlier this year. She offered a list of 19 recommendations reached after this consultation process.

Then Maha Awadh gave an overview of the findings from the Geneva workshop in June. Among other points, she observed how important it had been for her to learn that, despite different concepts of women’s rights in MENA countries, participants had found many shared concerns.

She also spoke of the timeliness of this project in Yemen, where SCR 1325, despite its manifest importance as a tool that both complements CEDAW and advances the Beijing Platform for Action, has received virtually no attention. She stressed the importance of creating a National Action Plan to activate SCR 1325 on the ground.

Photo of women at HRITC workshop in Yemen
Maha Awadh joins the Head of the Women’s Committee, Lina Haldrah and Sarah Jamal as they promote women’s rights.

Sara Jamal, a young human rights activist, delivered an excellent paper on women’s role in transitional justice. She started by challenging the relevance of the term: “how long is a transitional period in Yemen? Some have been living in ‘transition’ since the 1970s, or the war in the 1990s – and now we are caught up in this so-called ‘war on terrorism’ even though we’re attempting a civilian-led transition after 33 years of military dictatorship,” she observed.

She expounded on the steadfastness of women’s contribution to resistance across the decades, observing that their participation, both in numbers and substance, had only been undermined in recent months after Political Islamists “began a campaign of oppressing women in Change Square which turned it into a conflict zone, not a place of non-violent resistance, in order to enforce an Islamist agenda to remove women from public spaces.”

She asserted that it was only after political parties made an effort to divide women and men that sexual harassment became a problem on the streets; until then, the uprising was seen as an effort to unseat a dictator that was a legitimately shared challenge of all Yemenis. She concluded her paper with questions on how effective a new Constitution for Yemen could possibly be if women were excluded from its drafting.

A lively discussion followed, ably chaired by two young graduates from a Swedish training course on SRC 1325. Participants delved into many important aspects of the broader human security agenda, raising issues of women’s poverty, lack of healthcare, food and water insecurity and other related issues.

Photo of Yemeni policeman participating in workshopA policeman in the audience announced that he had attended the meeting of this own accord because he wanted to find out more about how to build police capacity to offer responsive services to woman. A couple of commentators observed that Sana’a University would be a good place to establish a formal programme of research on women, peace and security. The role of the media in promoting peace and gender equality was also a recurring theme.

The workshop concluded with a concrete recommendation to set up a ‘1325 task force’ in a partnership between civil society and government, though which to advance the process of preparing a National Action Plan.

Each time I come to Yemen, I gain greater respect for the wonderful young people of the 2011 uprising. Nowhere else in the MENA have I encountered such selfless and committed human rights activists, who, filled with the zest of a young generation determined to tackle and heal the numerous and ongoing violences to which they are still subject, have big dreams about the nation they wish to build. Yet I fear that the storms of war have not left this beleaguered peninsula, and that forces are at work to control Yemen that reach far beyond anything that can be done by a group of committed young change-makers in Sana’a.

The US, for one, is enlarging its independent military base and troop presence, against the wishes of almost all Yemenis. It has already killed several Yemeni civilians with unmanned drones, which it justifies using in a seemingly endless ‘war on terror’ whose only tangible results so far appear to have been to radicalize a new generation of young men who do not have access to the advantages available in the capital city.

I fervently hope that projects such as WILPF’s will continue to spark debate, channel energies and build capacity to work on gender and security issues both in Sana’a and beyond, in the deeply deprived rural areas. My heart is with my young Yemeni friends as they continue their struggle for the vibrant, inclusive and above all peaceful society that they first began to dream of in Change Square.

By Vanessa Farr

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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