Yemen’s new activism hubs are strengthening women’s voices8 March 2023
On International Women’s Day, activists in Yemen share their experiences of working together to improve gender equality and women’s rights.
Eftehan, Naseem, Huda, Asmaa, Ola and Arwa are members of two hubs – one in Aden and one in Taiz – that Saferworld established in partnership with Yemeni civil society organisations Peace for Sustainable Societies, National Organisation for Community Development and Youth Without Borders.
The hubs are forums for discussion, decision-making and coordinated action by Yemeni organisations. The women meet regularly – usually in partners' offices – to coordinate with each other, exchange resources and information, and work together on shared issues to influence peace processes and decision-making in Yemen. There is also an annual meeting bringing together both hubs, and the women communicate outside of meetings through WhatsApp groups.
Why are the hubs important?
Eftehan Almashhari, Director General of Libraries at Taiz University: The hub is the first of its kind in Taiz. Saferworld gave us a chance to work together and to unify the work of many activists and women leaders in the governorates, who are already very active in many different fields – but so far their efforts are scattered. The hub allows these efforts to be more directed. There are women who are from civil society, universities, the police department and NGOs, and young people as well. This diversity will lead to many amazing creative projects that will support the community. Taiz has suffered a lot during the war in many ways; there are many women who are working on providing support but their voices are not heard – but the hub will make their voices stronger.
Naseem Ahmed, Head of Arman for Community Development: Women play a big role in peacebuilding, and the hub plays a role in getting their voices heard. The general situation – the lack of security services, the war, and the increased violations against women – is what led to the huge need for such hubs. The hub has also created space for women with disabilities. It allows them to be decision makers and allows the community to see them as decision makers. It gives them space for their voices to be heard.
How have the hubs strengthened and supported your work?
Dr Asmaa Al-Rimi, Head of the Postgraduate Studies Department at the Women's Research and Training Center, University of Aden: This hub enabled us to communicate with the local authorities to find out their needs for infrastructure rehabilitation as a result of the war. For this, the hub needs more support from Saferworld to help to rehabilitate the damaged infrastructures.
Huda Aref, an academic at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, University of Aden: Although I have received many trainings in peacebuilding and project management, I have never implemented any activities in practice. The hub gave me the opportunity to carry out peacebuilding activities at the local level, and it also gave me the opportunity to get acquainted with many active women in society and benefit from their experiences.
Ola Alsaqaf, activist and Head of the Peace Environment for Development: The hub is very special. The women who take part are all very strong in their fields. It has allowed us to meet with the women in the Aden hub as well, and that has enabled us to network and build relationships.
Arwa Alamri, Director of the Businesswomen Department at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Head of Thiqa Development Organization: The hub provides us with an opportunity to connect with local authorities – so they can be aware that in Taiz we are working on peacebuilding as a group.
What challenges have the hubs faced?
Eftehan: People have religious views that are against women working and participating in this kind of work. We have to fight to prove we can play this role. There isn’t always acceptance from the community of our work. Recently there was a huge campaign against women activists, which has resulted in issues with the way the community views us. Also, local authorities refusing to share information to support us implementing projects – for example, on health infrastructure. We have had to push for this; now we are starting to get some information from the local authorities.
Why is important to support these types of hubs?
Ola: International and national NGOs are not very close to people, and they don’t understand their needs in the way a hub made up of different individuals does. Donors tend to support international and national NGOs, but there can be corruption and issues within these organisations. Hubs allow for more than one organisation to operate and for different individuals to come together – and this minimises the risk of corruption. Also, hubs will be more accepted – the community will be more willing to participate with them. The community has a view that organisations have many millions, so the community expects organisations to give them resources – while if a hub is implementing a project, the community are more willing to help and participate as they see them as fellow members of their community.
Naseem: The hub allows the integration of different groups of women who do not have space to participate in public work. In the hub there are women from marginalised groups, women who are displaced, women with disabilities. This space enables the integration of these women into the community, as they are seen participating in and leading projects that the community needs – this helps to change stereotypical perceptions of these women.
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Illustration: Christo Musinguzi.