With over 25 million people, that is 80% of the population, dependent on humanitarian assistance, Yemen is one of the worst humanitarian crises of our times. Two thirds of Yemenis today do not have access to basic sanitation, and 20 million lack access to basic health care. In these conditions, the spread of COVID-19 represents an imminent danger for a highly vulnerable population. Despite the heavy impact of the conflict and the worsening humanitarian crisis, women continue to lead the response to the double-crisis on the ground.
‘‘Yemeni women have been the forefront of relief, human rights protection and peacebuilding. Today they continue to be at the forefront in the fight against COVID-19,“ recognized Deputy Head of the EU Delegation in Geneva, Ambassador Carl Hallergard, as he welcomed the distinguished panel of prominent Yemeni women, joined by the OCHA Office in Yemen.
Outlining the current situation, the Head of the OCHA Office in Yemen, Aidan O’Leary, underlined that the ongoing armed conflict has left the country’s health system in ruin and health workers already struggle to address current epidemics, such as cholera. COVID-19 restrictive measures further aggravate an already dire humanitarian situation, hindering access for humanitarian aid to and within the country.
Muna Luqman, winner of the 2019 ICAN Peace Award and Founder of Food4Humanity, a network of humanitarian actors inside Yemen, stressed the dual impact of the coronavirus on the already vulnerable population, particularly on women. The most vulnerable are already deprived of access to health care and income. Additionally, voices from the ground testify that military escalation continues despite an announced ceasefire. The negative economic consequences COVID-19 will further have consequences on food insecurity in a country that imports 90% of consumption goods.
Kawkab Al-Thaibani, Executive Director of Women4Yemen and TRT ‘Women of War’ prize awardee for her work in peace building, reminded participants that long-standing inequalities in Yemen contribute to the disproportional impact of COVID-19 on women. Violence against women in Yemen has increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Women are also the primary caregivers in Yemen, making them more at risk of contracting the virus and more vulnerable to the economic outfall. Women4Yemen produced the video ‘What women want in Yemen’ stressing the call of Yemeni women for peace and a seat at the peace table.
Radhya Almutawakel, Founder of Mwatana Organization for Human Rights and one the TIME100 most influential people in 2019, highlighted the human rights dimension of the crisis and thanked the EU countries who advocate for accountability by pushing for international investigation for human rights violations by all parties through the Human Right Council in Geneva. She stressed that “all populations are not equal“: while the world is facing a non-discriminatory COVID-19 - in Yemen, the simple steps to protect oneself cannot be taken.
Misk Aljunaid, a prominent activist and Executive Director of Tawakkol Karman Foundation, demonstrated that despite facing the bulk of the hardship in the ongoing conflict, and now the consequences of COVID-19 restrictive measures, Yemeni women are resilient, strong and determined: they work hard to survive and to support their communities, and they never give up. Their critical role must be supported, including through their meaningful participation in the peace process and economic empowerment through a long term strategy.