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Yemen must include women in peace talks

Research shows when women take part in peace process, the resulting agreement is less likely to fail

As Yemen's warring parties met in Sweden last week, hopes were high that these peace talks would spark a political process to end the ongoing conflict that has left the country on the brink of famine and created what the United Nations calls a "living hell for millions of children".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the parties had agreed to encouraging steps, including a critical ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah, where most aid enters Yemen.

But though the leaders of the Yemeni peace process plan to resume talks next month, they continue to overlook a vital strategy: the inclusion of women.

This is not just about fairness - it is a strategic imperative.

Research suggests that when women participate in a peace process, the resulting agreement is 64 per cent less likely to fail and 35 per cent more likely to last at least 15 years.

This inspired the US government to enact a 2017 law to support women's meaningful participation in peace negotiations.

Yet in Yemen, women have had little representation in talks since 2011.

The Yemeni people have supported reserving seats for women in contexts such as the peace table, committing in 2013 to a 30 per cent quota for women on political delegations.

Before the Yemeni conflict began in 2015, women's rights were on the march.

After decades of oppression, Yemeni women were at the centre of the 2011 peaceful protests that eventually removed president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power.

Yet once ethnic Houthi rebels from northern Yemen seized Sana'a and the Saudi-led multinational coalition launched its counter-campaign, women's rights were again under assault.

Within the first five months of the war, documented cases of gender-based violence, including rape, rose by 70 per cent.

Of the two million people displaced from their homes, 75 per cent are women and children, forced by war to provide for their families with little training and limited job prospects.

Despite the odds, Yemeni women have overcome their political marginalisation to contribute to peace efforts.

They have already made a difference. Yemeni women from all backgrounds have formed new coalitions, including the Yemeni Women's Pact for Peace and Security.

They have activated local truce committees to prevent fighting over water and land resources, risked their lives to rescue families and evacuate schools held by armed groups.

Hundreds of women-led initiatives to provide education and food to their communities also promote local security.

They have facilitated humanitarian access in areas aid convoys have had difficulty reaching, led efforts to release over 300 detainees and tracked bombings and medicine shortages.

They are also seeding the ground for post-conflict recovery.

Women have advocated the negotiation process and addressed issues that can improve the durability of peace pacts, including the establishment of an international fund for reconstruction, investment in income generation opportunities and the revival of the judicial system.

Women have also pushed for disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration programmes to respond to the needs of female and child soldiers, and called for the inclusion of more women in the security sector.

Including women at the peace table is not just the right thing to do - it is the smart thing to do. - REUTERS

Jamille Bigio is a senior fellow for women and foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Rachel Vogelstein is the Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow and director of the Women and Foreign Policy programme at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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