It is the year 1986. Rasha Jarhum is only five years old when the house that she and her family searches shelter in is hit by a Katusha rocket and the room in front of her suddenly collapses. Yemen is a battlefield. Rasha Jarhum recalls the scene: “I was scared and I was barefoot stepping on glass and rubble.”
This was first time Rasha Jarhum experienced the devastating effects of war, but it would not be the last time. Only eight years later another war broke out in Yemen, a war that was even more disastrous. The significance of displacement was something Rasha Jarhum became to know from early on: “On our way, as we were leaving, we saw many displaced people, men, women, children fleeing by foot carrying whatever they could carry,” she remembers. Up until today, Rasha Jarhum experienced more than 12 wars and armed conflicts. But she took it as her determination in her life to stop future generations from going through the same.
Growing up as the daughter of Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s first Human Rights Minister and a fierce women’s rights activist, Rasha Jarhum got involved with activism at an early age. In search of a secure surrounding for her children to grow up, she eventually left Yemen in 2012. However, this did not mean the end of her activism; Rasha Jarhum began working in the humanitarian field supporting Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.
When the ongoing war in Yemen began in 2014, Rasha Jarhum was facing a decision that would change her life forever. She was either going to stay in the humanitarian field to deal with the consequences of war or she was going to become involved in peace processes to prevent future wars and humanitarian crisis from happening. She decided on the latter and founded the organisation Peace Track Initiative to ensure that those directly affected by war become the main stakeholders in peacebuilding and peace processes.
Rasha Jarhum did what the humanitarian agencies failed to do; she showed the true role of Yemeni women. They are strong, resilient and brave women who have been on the frontlines and belong at the table of the peace negotiations. Today, the network counts with more than 250 Yemeni women working hard every day to bring peace to Yemen.
Anita Augspurg Award for Rebels against War
On 20 September 2019, Rasha Jarhum was awarded the Anita Augspurg award for rebels against war by WILPF Germany and the City of Verden, represented by Mayor Lutz Brockmann. She was rewarded for her tireless advocacy and inspiring activism for women’s rights in Yemen.
The award has been established three years ago in honour of the efforts of Anita Augspurg in shaping the women’s movement in Germany and her feminist leadership, to honour current women human rights defenders contributing to strengthen women’s rights globally.
Rasha Jarhum shared: “This award … is not a recognition of my efforts only, it is a recognition of the efforts of all the Yemeni women. Together, we will continue our work until the people in our country are living in peace with dignity.”
She added: “I am working with and supporting women who risk their lives on a daily basis inside Yemen to protect their families and communities … please don’t look at Yemeni women as passive victims of the war, look at them as strong resilient brave women.”
WILPF has got the permission to share the award speech of Rasha Jarhum made at the ceremony:
Award Speech- Rasha Jarhum
When the war started in Yemen for more than five years ago, I was working in the humanitarian field supporting Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. It was difficult to bear two massive world crises. I decided to leave the humanitarian field which deals with the devastating consequences of the war and to focus my efforts on the peace processes to end the reasons that are creating the humanitarian crisis and human suffering in the first place.
I was not alone, this war may have been unfortunate but through this suffering I came to know phenomenal women in Yemen, in the middle east and north Africa, and in the globe, uniting together in true sisterhood bond to help each other towards achieving peace. The colleagues in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom were one of the first believers in me and in my work. They have supported my work at its earliest stages. Through them I understood the meaning of feminism and sisterhood. I am so honored and grateful today to be receiving their Anita Augspurg Award of rebels against war.
During my life in Yemen, I have already witnessed more than 12 wars and armed conflicts. My earliest memory of the war was when I was five years old, a civil war broke down in South Yemen in 1986. The house that we were sheltering ourselves in was hit by a Katusha rocket and I saw entire room in front of us collapse. My mother carried my younger sister and grabbed me by the hand and started running. I recall how I was mad at her, wondering why she didn’t carry me like my sister. I was scared and I was barefoot stepping on glass and rubble.
The second memory of the war was in 1994 as another war started between North and South Yemen. Our home was in the Aden in the town situating the oil refinery. One of the days, the oil refinery was hit. It was one of the scariest scenes I have ever seen in my life. I looked into the sky and everything looked flaming orange. I looked into the direction where the refinery was and the mountain behind it looked like a big piece of burning coal. My father gathered us and the neighbor’s family in the car and we started our displacement journey. On our way, as we were leaving, we saw many displaced people, men, women, children fleeing by foot carrying whatever they could carry.
I may have been lucky not to be in Yemen when this current war broke out, but I understand what war means and to me, the cost of violence is real. My family, my friends, my colleagues, my neighbors and my community, are in Yemen and they are still suffering from a devastating and absolutely unnecessary war.
I have been working hard with many Yemeni women to bring peace to our country. I founded the Peace Track Initiative which is a non-profit organization working to localize and feminize the peace process in Yemen and in the middle east and north Africa. Although the peace process excludes women from participating, we decided we don’t need an invitation to help our country and every time there are peace consultations, we send a women delegation to share the priorities and demands of women’s groups. We organize ourselves and worked towards uniting the women’s movement in Yemen. We created the Women Solidarity Network comprised of members from all political backgrounds.
Today the network has more than 250 Yemeni women members inside and outside Yemen. We work first to protect each other from violence. Second, we work to push for women’s rights and gender equality, and third we come together to contribute to peacebuilding.
I am working with and supporting women who risk their lives on a daily basis inside Yemen to protect their families and communities. Women who stand for hours in front of prisons to demand the release of their loved ones. Women who would rather risk their lives to go through checkpoints controlled by armed groups to secure food for their families instead of sending the men to protect them from kidnapping. Women who mediate to resolve armed conflicts at community level over water and land resources. Women who demonstrate against hunger and as a result of that faced violence and were detained by armed groups for demanding these basic rights.
I work with Yemeni women who are outside the country in the diaspora who are fundraising and leading humanitarian programmes for Yemen. Women who sent cholera vaccines to Yemen when the United Nations failed to do so. Women who work hard to help the Yemeni families in refuge and exile. Women who support the injured seeking medical help outside Yemen.
Yes there is suffering in Yemen, Yes we have the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, but please don’t look at Yemeni women as passive victims of the war, look at them as strong resilient brave women who endure the unimaginable to protect their families and communities.
I am learning everyday from these women’s strength and resilience and it is what keeps me going and what keeps the hope in my heart going that Yemen will find peace soon. This award which I thank the city of Verden, represented by the Mayor today, and WILPF for, is not a recognition of my efforts only, it is a recognition of the efforts of all the Yemeni women. Together, we will continue our work until the people in our country are living in peace with dignity.
Thank you very much.