The Role of Women in Yemen's War

Saferworld, along with the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO) and the Yemen Polling Center (YPC), has released a report analyzing how the conflict in Yemen affects the lives of the country’s women. It finds that although the war brings great insecurity about livelihoods and safety, many women feel empowered by their new roles in war efforts or peacebuilding, such as first aid, child protection, and psychosocial support. Despite restrictions and anxieties, Yemeni women have made important contributions to civil society. The report recommends that the international community support these women-led initiatives financially and institutionally.

Women are not passive spectators of the conflict unfolding in Yemen but are actively involved: from contributing to the war effort and combat, to protecting their families, to leading humanitarian relief efforts, or reducing tensions and promoting cohesion within their communities. Regardless of whether women’s efforts are promoting or attenuating conflict, they are playing a significant role, alongside men, in shaping their country’s trajectory.

The report details the threats that women face from the insecurity of war. Although Saferworld conducted research in two separate regions of Yemen, Ibb and Aden, women’s fears and anxieties are similar. The main issues that affect women are related to security, livelihoods, and children’s safety. The lawlessness of the conflict has cultivated fears about theft, murders, and harassment. Additionally, the proliferation of arms worries women, who fear that random shootings or unexploded ordnance will hurt their family and children. Deteriorating living conditions and the absence of government salaries place financial stress on women whose families are often affected by unemployment or by the deaths of male family members. Women also worry about physical and mental health, confronted by the spread of disease, PTSD, or domestic issues such as violence or increasing rates of divorce.

Saferworld identified internally displaced (IDP) women as experiencing even greater difficulties. These women express concerns about social exclusion, which prevents them from accessing community protection mechanisms. Consequently, IDPs emphasize worries about harassment and abuse at higher rates. Homelessness, the higher exposure to diseases, and insurmountable economic burdens compound the poor living conditions that IDPs endure within Yemen.

In spite of the great fears that women express, they also spoke of the resilience and empowerment that they feel due to their contributions to war efforts or peacebuilding initiatives. Women in Aden play a larger role in war efforts, but they view these actions as facilitating peace. Women deliver food and water to battlefields, nurse fighters and civilians, encourage family members to fight, and even man checkpoints and smuggle arms. In some instances, women take up arms alongside men in the conflict. In both Aden and Ibb, women are instrumental in coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, assisting IDPs, and facilitating social unity.

…women have been active agents in the political, conflict and security dynamics in both governorates. While only rarely engaged in direct combat, many women have contributed to the ‘war effort’ in other ways…Throughout the conflict, women have also been integral in developing strategies to secure their safety and that of their families, to provide for their children’s needs, and to contribute to the well-being of the wider community.

The war in Yemen generates complex consequences for women. The conflict and its repercussions jeopardize mental and physical wellbeing, strain economic circumstances, and threaten the safety and future of children by exposing them to violence and extremist ideology while hindering access to education. However, women have still found ways to creatively and resourcefully promote peace and engage with the community.