The role of women transforms during wartime, AWAM Development Foundation study finds

In May 2018, the Awam Development Foundation, in partnership with Oxfam and the Youth Leadership Development Foundation, produced a report titled The  Impacts of War on the Participation of Women in Civil Society Organizations and Peacebuilding. The study explores the ways in which the war in Yemen is affecting women across various industries and regions. A study team conducted interviews in the San’a, Aden, Hudaydah and Ibb governorates, examining the life of average Yemeni women and their roles, or lack thereof, as peace builders in their communities. The evidence gathered from these interviews culminated in new recommendations intended for both national and international policymakers.

The first section of the study focuses on women’s participation in community activities and peacebuilding. The report finds that many women in Yemen are seeking to become engaged partners in the political and peacebuilding processes, but that the war is limiting the expansion of these roles. The study has also shown that women are becoming increasingly aware of the political situation, and are split on whether furthering their engagement in politics will worsen the situation or whether women are essential to peace. While many of the study’s respondents regarded women as inherent peacemakers, about a quarter of those interviewed emphasized that there are skill sets they may lack, such as personal, technical, and leadership skills, that the international community can aid in introducing.  Additionally, a majority of women respondents stated that women have become “main decision-makers” in their own households, however 61% of male respondents believe that the participation of women in decision-making during the conflict is neither important or essential.

The next section within the study examines how war has changed society’s view of women’s social and economic role. The main challenges facing women are security, political, economic, and social obstacles. The increase in working women can be attributed primarily to struggling families’ need for further sources of income or due to the death of a family breadwinner, as opposed to improved education or work opportunities. The largest factors restricting women from getting jobs are the bad security situation and customs and traditions that limit women’s formal employment possibilities, followed closely by the simple lack of job opportunities in general. Many women have pursued jobs in small businesses or simple trades in the face of this slow social progress. While female advancements are occurring at the household level and slightly beyond, men maintain the final verdict on whether their wives may work, and greatly hinder their decision-making power. Still, a small 9% of respondents believe that society’s view of women has improved.

Lastly, the report considers the limited number of active civil society organizations (CSOs) in Yemen and the female leadership within them. The study recognizes funding shortfalls and the security situations as highly limiting the mobility and capabilities of CSOs across Yemen. Additionally, procedural difficulties and restrictions imposed by “government entities” make the jobs of CSOs harder and extend timeframes for simple tasks. Moreover, the war and pressure from conflicting parties has politicized the operations of many civil society groups. As the report concludes, “[m]any of the organizations that are in the country are not independent, and they belong to political entities, which undermines their role in peace building, as well as lack of adherence to international laws that ensure civil activity continues” (55).

Another challenge for CSOs is the absence of effective partnership with both public and private sectors. Challenges CSOs face in integrating women into their establishments stem from the scarcity of persons in peace building and the lack of funds available to train women. Many active CSOs have moved outside of Yemen, making it harder for women to find work and training. In the work these organizations are able to do, not enough is done to empower women, neither politically, economically or socially. Organizations lack the technical aspects to do so, and are as a result weak in any empowerment efforts.

These observations and examinations of the state of Yemeni women in wartime have allowed AWAM to produce recommendations geared towards advancing Yemeni women in society. These include:

  1. “Raising awareness of peace programs among the people and in different age groups” (58)

  2. “Working to implement similar studies in rural areas in Yemen, and knowing the effects of war on women in rural areas, with a more detailed and inclusive study about the changes in the roles of both genders in rural areas” (58)

  3. “Continuous training for women in peace building and translating it into practical activities in society” (58)

  4. “Unifying efforts of those working in peace building, especially in CSOs and international organizations that operate in Yemen, to ensure more women’s participation” (58)

  5. “Organizing outreach programs that reach society about the importance of women’s participation in peace building and social and economic activities” (59)  

  6. “Trying to get benefit from the positive phenomena that have been caused by the war, like women working and getting to participate more in decision making in their families and communities, and getting economically, socially and politically empowered” (59)

  7. “Economic empowerment of women” (59)