SANAA, International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women and girls worldwide.

Today we think gratefully of the countless inspirational women, However, today is also a chance to highlight some of the challenges faced by the world’s most vulnerable women, particularly in the context of humanitarian crises.

Yemen is a country devastated by war, starvation and disease, whose women face unimaginable suffering. But far from passive, silent victims, they can be found on the front lines of the war, delivering aid and negotiating access to vital water sources.

Leonie Nimmo finds that this grassroots peacebuilding has been ignored by the international community, which is failing to live up to its decades-old commitment to ensure women’s participation in peace processes.

The call to protect basic human rights and access to healthcare for women and girls in Yemen, who face deadly threats on a daily basis.

On International Women’s Day 2018 the UN Envoy to Yemen received an open letter calling on him to take a firm stand on women’s demands and to prioritise women in peace processes. Signed by more than 100 women, and endorsed in solidarity by global civil society organisations, the letter highlighted the crucial role of women as frontline distributors of aid, human rights defenders, campaigners for community reconciliation and negotiators of local truces and security.

In a damning indictment of the international community’s response to the conflict, these efforts were said to have been “ignored and not adequately supported,” whilst women’s contributions to UN-backed peace talks were “not taken seriously enough”.

The exclusion of women from peace processes in Yemen must be especially galling given the multiple ways in which the impacts of the war are uniquely and disproportionately felt by women. In Yemen, a country in the throes of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, and which has persistently ranked bottom in the world for gender equality.

The impacts of a society subjected to extreme levels of disease are felt disproportionately by women. It is pregnant and breastfeeding women, particularly those that are malnourished, who are most at risk of death.

Women’s role as caregivers becomes more physically and emotionally taxing as diseases spread, and according to the United Nations Population Fund, in Yemen they may face increased exposure to cholera as a result of this role. Yet they may also be less able to seek medical care if they become ill due to having less power over decision making and less control over household resources.

They play a key role in the distribution of resources such as hygiene kits, in educating household members in hygiene practices and it is women who will most efficiently allocate household resources to hygiene needs.

With the general deterioration of health services, women’s health has been dramatically deprioritised, making it incredibly challenging for women to access crucial reproductive services. This is devastatingly evident in the sharp increase in maternal mortality rates, which have risen since 2015 from 148 to 385 deaths per 100,000 births.

Gender-based violence is by no means a new threat to Yemeni women, but war has made their situation more desperate. Gendered violence rose by a staggering 70% during the first five months of this war, while child marriage rose by 66%. Moreover, violence against women and girls has led to a rise in unwanted pregnancies and infections which this war-torn country is poorly equipped to handle.

Food insecurity in Yemen has also worsened the situation for women. An estimated 1.1 million pregnant or breastfeeding women are malnourished, which leaves them and their children highly vulnerable to illness. Despite the urgency of these issues, women and girls in in Yemen are still critically underserved by the international humanitarian response.

Water infrastructure has been a casualty of Yemen’s conflict, whether through direct targeting, ancillary damage caused by urban warfare, the cumulative impact of years without maintenance or the breakdown of water and sewage systems caused by a lack of fuel and other inputs. Such damage has direct environmental impacts, as sewage goes untreated and pollution is not dealt with.

It is primarily women that shoulder the burden of collecting water, women that are most at risk of violence when they do so, women that are most in need of private and hygienic toilets and women that suffer from a lack of sanitary products.

Women in Yemen face extreme hardship and oppression but it is critical to recognise that they also play a vital role as peacebuilders.

They have been leading efforts to bring peace to Yemen and hold communities together with limited resources.” There are many inspiring stories of the work being done by Yemeni women towards a just peace.

On International Women’s Day 2002, we call on the global humanitarian community to prioritise the urgent health needs of Yemeni women and girls, to ensure that life-saving assistance is delivered where it is most needed.

Source: Yemen News Agency

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