The Hague, Netherlands – The third day of the Yemen International Forum (YIF) saw participants detailing the growing challenges faced by Yemeni women and environmental experts warn of increasing risks from climate change.
Over 250 participants from inside and outside Yemen, including members of the Yemeni government, party representatives, activists, civil society members, academics, diplomats, and international mediators, have come together in The Hague to discuss the current state of the conflict, with a particular focus on challenges and potential solutions related to politics, the environment, and transitional justice as part of a just and sustainable peace in Yemen.
“The dignity of Yemeni women has been directly attacked,” said journalist Wedad al-Bedawi during the first plenary session of the day, describing the rollback of women’s freedoms and civil space during the conflict. These include requirements for a mahram (male guardian) to accompany women during travel and harassment of women working in the public sphere.
Al-Bedawi noted that the Forum provided a unique opportunity to convey the daily experiences of Yemeni women and discuss the critical issues of women’s participation and rights directly with the international community, as “the political parties don’t listen to us.”
Members of the panel unanimously called for the international community to adopt a different approach when it comes to their engagement in Yemen, notably the need to comprehensively confront oppressive measures enacted against women and gender-based violence.
“I understand how difficult it is for aid agencies and the international community to work in Yemen,” said Sawsan al-Refai, a public policy and development expert. “But if it was easy we would not need the presence of the international community. The fact that the situation is difficult is not an excuse for the UN and the international community to not be present in the country.”
A second plenary session focused on how climate change has compounded Yemen’s economic woes and human suffering, and explored how green investment could build resilience, promote sustainable development, and create new economic opportunities.
Anwar Noman, an expert on climate change at the Yemeni Ministry of Water and Environment, noted that the country has witnessed an increase in extreme weather events such as cyclones and deadly floods, which have destroyed property and livelihoods. Floodwaters have swept landmines and unexploded ordnance into civilian areas, bedeviling removal efforts.
Panelists acknowledged Yemen’s challenges accessing international climate financing and explored avenues for unlocking such funds. “Most green financing takes the form of loans rather than grants… and there is a preference for large infrastructure projects,” said Leonie Nimmo from the Conflict and Environment Observatory. “These are barriers for conflict-affected states.”
Nimmo suggested combining remote data collection on the impact of climate change in Yemen with field data gathered by local communities, and conferring with potential donors on “what evidence they will accept.”
Another YIF session saw prominent Yemeni social figures and activists detail their experiences with local mediation, which has led to the release of thousands of detainees during the conflict, and discuss how the international community could better support such efforts. In a panel focused on security sector reform, Yemenis and international practitioners explored the pros and cons of local versus centralized control of armed forces, and how fighters could be reintegrated into civilian life and provided with economic opportunities in a post-conflict setting.
Working groups were held focused on challenges facing the banking sector and the priorities of Yemenis from southern governorates. A scenario-building workshop on the potential for transitional justice processes in Yemen invited Yemeni and international stakeholders to engage in dialogue and envision different futures for the country.
The YIF 2023 was organized by the Sana’a Center of Strategic Studies, an independent think tank focused on Yemen, with the support of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the European Union, the Kingdom of Norway, Open Society Foundations, and the Folke Bernadotte Academy. The first YIF, held in Stockholm in June 2022, was attended by over 200 Yemeni and international actors invested in the promotion of peace in Yemen.