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Nesmah Mansour - Towards Feminist Peace in Yemen

From 28 June to 2 July, the Peace Track Initiative (PTI), the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with  the Norwegian Government Agency for Development (Norad), will co-host a High-Level Convening on the inclusion of feminist perspectives in peace negotiations in Yemen. 

The convening will celebrate and build on the progress made over the past two years to claim spaces for women’s voices in formal and informal peace talks, and will inform the development of the Feminist Peace Roadmap in Yemen – a comprehensive document offering solutions and recommendations to advance feminist peace in Yemen. 

While the convening is not open to the public, outcomes will be shared along with the Feminist Peace Roadmap in the coming months. 

To learn more about the High-Level Convening and some of the key challenges preventing peace in Yemen, we spoke with Nesmah Mansoor, Communication and Advocacy Officer for PTI.

 

First of all, can you tell us a bit about the work of PTI? 

PTI was founded in 2015 by Yemeni women inside and outside Yemen who came together to support the peace process. It was incubated in Geneva at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in 2017 and then incorporated as a non-profit in Canada in October 2017. 

We’re now leading efforts to directly embed women in peace talks in Yemen. PTI is an official Track II partner, meaning that we are actively involved in hosting consultations with women leaders and women’s groups inside and outside Yemen. 

Our role is to empower women, to create platforms for women’s voices, and to engage women directly with political and international actors engaged in peace processes. We’re also working to link grassroots leaders and activists directly with official Track I peace dialogues. 

 

Before we talk about the High-Level Convening, can you tell us about some of the key issues preventing progress towards peace in Yemen?

One of the biggest roadblocks to peace is the absence of women and youth from decision-making positions and monitoring committees and at negotiation tables. 

Even though women and youth were the most important actors in Yemen’s movement for change back in 2011, and have played a central role as negotiators and mediators since the beginning of the war in 2015 — leading the release of victims of enforced disappearances, the opening of safe humanitarian corridors, and the fight against child recruitment — they have been largely excluded from the political, social, and economic dialogues of the country. 

So, the peace building processes are lacking accountability and inclusivity due to the absence of these groups.

In addition, the peace agreements being created tend to use very vague or ambiguous language, which makes implementation very difficult.

Let’s talk about the High-Level Convening. Why is it taking place now?

This convening will celebrate the progress made over the past two years by Yemeni women leaders of diverse backgrounds, who have been working to support the peace process by bringing grassroots-centred, inclusive, and sustainable agendas to peace negotiations in Yemen. 

The agenda has been designed to cover the majority of the topics or thematic areas currently on the peace negotiation table. Presenters and guests will be speaking about the work that has taken place to date and what needs to be done to ensure continued progress towards peace and inclusion of women in peace processes. 

Yemen Feminist Peace Convening
Yemen Feminist Peace Convening

Can you tell us a bit about who will be presenting?

Presenters and guests represent a broad range of stakeholders – from grassroots leaders to academics to government representatives to diplomats. In planning the convening, we focused on ensuring UN representatives – like the UN Special Envoy office for Yemen – would be in attendance. 

This will allow us to directly connect our Track II and Track III work – which focuses on organising community-level dialogues and grassroots action – with Track I spaces, which is the level at which official diplomatic peace negotiations are taking place. 

The majority of speakers are individuals from across PTI’s global network, which we’ve been building up over the past several years through a series of consultations and grassroots initiatives.

 

On that note, can you share a bit about the process leading up to the convening?

The convening is essentially the culmination of many dialogues and consultations that have taken place over the past two years. We have hosted or supported a series of online and in-person meetings and virtual training sessions on a variety of themes related to peace processes in Yemen, and we have engaged countless Yemeni women leaders and grassroots activists – including both those within Yemen and those living as part of the Yemeni diaspora around the world. 

From this work, the agenda – including the core questions, the themes, and the speakers – for the convening emerged. 

What are the primary goals of the convening?

First, our overarching goal is to create space for women to showcase their expertise and leadership on issues relevant to the peace process in Yemen, and to help them engage with key diplomatic stakeholders. The convening presents a critical opportunity for women to have their voices heard and to inform official policies being developed in relation to the peace process. 

The other primary goal is to collect feedback from stakeholders on the Feminist Peace Roadmap, which is a major publication we’re currently developing that brings all of the major issues together in one place and offers a series of recommendations for moving forward towards an inclusive peace process. 


Can you speak a bit more about the Feminist Peace Roadmap? What are some of the issues it covers and how will it be used? 

The Feminist Peace Roadmap will essentially lay out what needs to be done to move towards a future of inclusive peace, justice, and human security in Yemen. 

Through the consultations and dialogues we have hosted or supported over the past two years, many proposals for solutions have emerged on a broad range of topics. These solutions have all sought to integrate a gendered perspective that recognises and addresses the unique issues and challenges facing women in Yemen, with a goal to influence a fully inclusive and gender-responsive peace process. 

Through the Feminist Peace Roadmap, we’re bringing all of these issues, ideas, and recommendations together in one place. The document will cover themes like security, the economy, prisoner exchange, salaries, local governance, humanitarian issues, transitional justice, ceasefire, the necessity of an inclusive peace process, and much more. 

During the convening, participants will have an opportunity to provide input into the draft of the Feminist Peace Roadmap. We’ll then work on finalising the publication. Once it’s complete, it will be shared through official UN diplomatic channels, including Arria Formulas, to provide UN Member States and UN Security Council members an opportunity to better understand Yemen’s challenges from a gendered perspective and to engage more closely with the women leading this work. 

I think the roadmap will add a lot of value for the various actors working towards peace in Yemen.

 

Personally, what are some of the presentations or highlights you’re most looking forward to?

To be honest, I’m looking forward to all of the presentations! But one thing I’m particularly excited about is that women will be leading this initiative. And while the convening has been designed to empower women and women’s voices – meaning that women are leading the convening and represent the majority of speakers – it’s also a sign of great progress that men are part of this dialogue. 

Traditionally, some Yemeni men have been afraid to show and express their support for women’s work or activism. But we’re hearing more and more that they trust us and are impressed by the resilience and power that Yemeni women are demonstrating, and increasingly recognising the value this work is bringing to the peace process. 

 

What can people around the world do to help support a future of peace in Yemen? 

First of all, it’s so important to dig deeper into the situation in Yemen to truly understand the conflict, why it’s happening, and what impact it’s having on human lives and security. Don’t just learn about the conflict from the media; learn about it from the Yemeni people themselves. There’s a lot of misleading information out there and we always encourage people to take a more active role in acquiring information about the situation. 

I also think people around the world can raise their voices for the inclusion of women and young people in peace talks. And we should all be holding the international community accountable. 

As I said earlier, the international community – meaning UN Member States and the UN Security Council, led by the UN Secretary-General – loves to speak about the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and call for peace. But those words are not being backed up by action, and the Yemeni people no longer have any trust in the UN. We can work to rebuild trust by demanding genuine action towards a future of peace. 

 

With so many obstacles in the way, do you have hope that the peace process in Yemen will eventually recognise and fully address the unique challenges women face? 

If we had no hope, we wouldn’t be here doing the work. We are not waiting for them to invite us; we are absolutely claiming our spaces. That’s why we’re conducting this convening – so we can show exactly where the gaps lie and what solutions are needed. We’re not only talking about problems; we always provide solutions. 

Don’t forget to check back for updates on the outcomes of the High-Level Convening, and stay tuned for live updates on social media using the hashtags #FeministPeaceYE #سلام_نسوي_لليمن.

 In the meantime, we encourage you to learn more about the work of the Peace Track Initiative and about WILPF’s work in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. 

You can also get involved by joining WILPF’s global community of feminist peace activists: become a member, find your country’s Section or a local Group, or donate to help WILPF address the root causes of violence and inequality. Visit wilpf.org to learn more. 

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