Guest Blog: Delphine Valette "Women & girls are paying the price for Yemen’s war"

CFID are delighted to host a guest blog by Delphine Valette from the International Rescue Committee. She argues that the UK should continue to be a world leader for women and girls caught up in crisis, highlights the importance of commitment to the conference on Gender-Based Violence in Oslo next month, and showcases the work of Conservative Peer, Baroness Hodgson as Chair of the APPG on Women, Peace and Security.

You can read the recent debate in the House of Lords debate on "Yemen: Giving Peace a Chance" (International Relations Committee Report) here.

You can read the recent Joint statement by the International Development Secretary and the Foreign Secretary on the Yemen Conflict here.

Women and girls are paying the price for Yemen’s war

by Delphine Valette, Head of Policy – Europe, International Rescue Committee

Five years into the war, Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Right now, 80% of Yemenis are in need of humanitarian support and the country is teetering on the edge of famine. As with other conflicts around the world, women and girls are paying the heaviest price. Yet, the humanitarian community’s current response is not strong enough to protect women and girls and ensure they are involved in the peace process. The UK Government has long been seen as a leader on women and girls caught up in crisis, including paving the way with the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. However, we know that violence against women and girls remains a global epidemic, and the crisis in Yemen demonstrates much how much there is to do to prevent and respond to it.

Even before the war, Yemen was one of the hardest places in the world to be a woman. A highly patriarchal society and traditional political and legal systems meant women and girls couldn’t use or access their family’s money, make decisions for their household, or even move about freely. Sexual violence, forced and early marriages of girls, and FGM (female genital mutilation) were also common place. This is why since 2006 Yemen has been given the unwelcome lowest ranking in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index.

The war has exacerbated gender inequalities and left Yemeni women and girls at an even greater risk of violence. While violence against women and girls was widespread before 2015, the war has led to a staggering 63% increase in gender-based violence. The rate of forced and early marriage of girls has also risen dramatically, tripling since 2015, to reach 65%. In Yemen, men are often viewed as “the protectors”. Without them, women are exposed to physical attacks and sexual harassment. Women are also not safe within their homes. The stress of daily life amid war —as well as a shift in traditional roles as women seek work to help support their families—has led to a sharp increase in domestic violence.

Despite the best efforts of humanitarian agencies, the country’s health services simply cannot meet the complex and increasing needs of civilians caught up in this violent conflict. Just half of the country’s health facilities are functional and according to the World Health Organisation, only 35% of maternal and newborn health services are fully operational. There is also a huge lack of female health workers, which discourages
women and girls from going to the hospital or clinic,
putting them at even greater risk.

Last month, the International Rescue Committee joined forces with the APPG on Women, Peace and Security and the APPG for Yemen to highlight the lack of services for women and girls caught up in Yemen’s war. At the event the then Foreign Office and DFID Minster Alistair Burt MP reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to Yemeni women and girls and highlighted the support the Government has provided to date. As part of the government’s £700 million aid package, the UK was able to reach more than 1,700 women and girls who has experienced violence against them, and over the next three years will support 240,000 women each year with reproductive health services.

Meanwhile the UK has joined a chorus of other countries in calling for women to be properly included in any future peace process on Yemen. As Baroness Hodgson, Conservative Peer and Chair of the APPG on Women, Peace and Security, stated “women need to be included in any peace process to ensure peace and security for all. Despite this women’s participation in recent rounds of Yemen’s peace negotiations has been low. The rise in women’s participation in political life before the war and their role as peace buildings in their communities shows the vital contributions they can make. The UK has provided valuable support for the UN Special Envoy’s peace process, including Security Council action and the funding of a gender advisor. The UK must continue to use its position to be the most vocal champion for the inclusion of women at the table throughout the peace process.”

In May the UK Government has an opportunity to demonstrate that it has heard our call for more money to help women and girls in Yemen by taking part in a global pledging conference on Gender-Based Violence in Oslo. As the international leader on women and girls' rights, all eyes will be on the UK to set the bar. The government must rise to that challenge.

You can read The IRC full report "Protection, Participation and Potential: Women and Girls in Yemen’s War" here.