She talked about why women need to play a bigger role in building peace, “not only because they are the more afflicted by war but because it’s a man-made crisis, it’s not a human-made crisis. Women usually are not the leaders nor decision-makers in wars.” This, she said, gives women the moral ground, motivation and right to participate more towards peace-building and to demand an end to conflict.
At the same time, she cautioned from her own experience that women cannot actually achieve much on their own without being organised. “Women need to have a platform – NGO, an initiative, or media platform. If they don’t have this kind of tool in order to push for peace or put their demands forward, they will not be able to do anything,” said the winner of the 2020 RAW In WAR Anna Politkovskaya Award.
She highlighted the importance of civil society and especially NGOs. “During a war, NGOs are supposed to be an independent voice for the civilians and victims of the war. In Yemen, many NGOs are led by women.”
She added that the role of women is increasing in civil society “because this is the only channel or platform through which they can participate.”
She argued that women should fight for civic space and not just for a space at the table during the peace-negotiation process. “If I am not on the ground, if I don’t have a strong voice outside the table, or a platform to push for what I think is right, then my being at the table will not be that effective,” she averred.
Her human-rights organisation Mwatana, which she co-founded with her husband in 2007, currently has a team of 104 out of which half are women. “We document violations, we publish reports, we give legal support and we work in accountability and advocacy,” she said, explaining that women are doing great work at all these levels. “This is the kind of participation we need towards peace. Human rights can lead to peace.”
She also highlighted the importance of demanding accountability from perpetrators of war. “That is the point I want to focus in when it comes to peace and women. I hope more women will be engaged in criminal accountability and hold all violators accountable.” She regretted the fact that, regardless of the war, Yemen wouldn’t have been facing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis if there had been some kind of accountability – local or international.
She also addressed questions from the audience, including how to be safe if you are an individual standing up for peace and for accountability.