Youth contributions to peacebuilding in Yemen

Young people in Taiz, Yemen engaging in a peacebuilding training workshop Young people in Taiz, Yemen engaging in a peacebuilding training workshop © Improve Your Society Organisation (IYSO)

This is a report presentation of “The situation needs us to be active” by Saferworld

Young people in Yemen are providing innovative and adaptive responses to the current conflict as demonstrated in Saferworld’s new report ““The situation needs us to be active” Youth contributions to peacebuilding in Yemen.” 

The report describes the situation in Yemen as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, due to the ongoing Civil War . It emphasises how young activists in Yemen are especially impacted. Interviews describe how they are highly reliant on face-to-face communication for information and activities. However, ongoing airstrikes and the use of explosive weapons greatly restricts movement and creates risks for convening meetings and activities. Based on a survey by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s (FES) Yemen Office, it was found that only a third of youth respondents have access to the internet. Also, activists are constantly faced with threats by security forces, militias, and criminal gangs against youth activism. Moreover, one of the most detrimental obstacles for youth activists identified is the extreme strains on the mental health caused by the conflict.In fact, most activists interviewed experience some kind of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and endure mental breakdowns. Interviewees describe how this can easily lead to a lack of hope and capacity to engage in activism. 

Despite these obstacles, the report illustrates how the youth in Yemen are strongly convinced of the importance of their contributions, and how they continue to actively initiate peacebuilding work. It  found that most youth activists have shifted away from overtly political work, and prefer to direct their activities to the needs of society and local areas. One case study describes the many local camps set up and managed by young people for internally displaced persons (IDP) across Yemen. A notable example is the emergency IDP camp project managed by the youth-led civil society organisation, The Marib Dam Foundation. According to the report, it is currently supporting over 4,500 families in Serwah, Vally, Al-Maghzar, Raghwan and Marib city. The camps provide water, sanitation, solar lamps and emergency shelter materials. Some even go beyond, providing psychosocial support sessions for children and fundraising for the reconstruction of IDPs’ homes. The success of the project has led to its funding by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The precarious economy and lack of employment opportunities in Yemen has encouraged the youth to be innovative in starting enterprises and small businesses. Another case study focuses on the successful ‘1000 Bakery’ project. The Bakery was set up and is managed by youth initiatives. The proceeds of the sales at the Bakery go beyond keeping the business alive. They are also used to provide families with a stamp which allows them to get bread from other local distributors that may be closer, i.e. grocery stores or mini-markets. Furthermore, the employment opportunities at the Bakery were found to prevent young men from choosing to be involved in fighting in the conflict. The successful business model of the Bakery has also allowed for it to be replicated in other parts of the country. Thus, the report emphasises how such projects form an alternative livelihood model and bring new markets within the war affected economy. People are provided more dignified and peaceful ways of earning an income, ultimately laying the foundation for long-term peace.

Local mediation and conflict resolution performed by youth activists is beginning to be a common response to particular issues surrounding conflict. For example, in 2015 a group of activists in Taiz organised talks with conflict parties, visiting all political parties, and meeting with the Sheikhs and public figures. One activist involved describes how “our aim was to pressure leaders of political parties to reach an agreement to help Taiz avoid any conflict. Sadly, our efforts didn’t work.” Nevertheless, despite the setbacks, efforts are being made to equip active youth networks with the skills to become future mediators. This includes engaging with youth who were trained by international organisations during the transition period in 2011–2015. For example, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) such as Saferworld have provided grants to activists across Yemen to conduct training programs, and produce a set of guidelines for educating youth in peacebuilding work and conflict resolution.

The report concludes by recommending eight areas for donors, diplomats, INGOs and the United Nations to focus on when supporting the work of youth activists in Yemen. These include fast funding that meets their needs; turning away from old elite groups and focusing on the youth; understanding local dynamics and avoiding historic marginalisation; the participation of young women; platforms for the work of peacebuilders, especially peer-to-peer learning; ways that replace lost livelihoods and education; mental health support; and ways that reduce risk of harm and keep youth activists safe. 


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Author: Catherine Gregoire; Editor: Sara Gorelli

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