“Nothing about us, without us.” This phrase is most often attributed to disability rights activists. It refers to the need for directly affected communities to play a central role in decision-making about policies that impact them.
It makes intuitive sense, but this wisdom is often ignored in the world of D.C. policy. The dangerously U.S.-centric approach to the war in Yemen exemplifies this failure to center affected communities in decision-making.
The Current State of the War in Yemen
For eight years, Yemen’s people have suffered a brutal civil war. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, and over 16 million more are on the brink of famine.
The dangerously U.S.-centric approach to the war in Yemen exemplifies this failure to center affected communities in decision-making.
In April, China helped broker an agreement to normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This opened political space and relaxed tensions between Saudi-backed forces and the Houthis in Yemen, who have received arms support from Iran. It cleared the way for the warring parties to renew peace talks, leading to the exchange of nearly 900 prisoners and the loosening of some restrictions.
Since then, diplomacy has slowed, and momentum toward peace has stalled. All the while, millions of Yemenis still suffer from one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Listening to the Voices of Yemeni Women
At a June 8 briefing featuring four Yemeni women who have dedicated themselves to ending the war, panelists shared their concern that the United States may be slowing down diplomatic progress toward ending the war in favor of U.S. strategic concerns.
Dr. Shireen Al-Adeimi, a professor at Michigan State University, addressed the audience of congressional staff and grassroots advocates. She asserted that the United States’ continued support for the war through arms sales and military assistance is driven by a need to prove that U.S. intervention was worthwhile. She encouraged those present to continue their advocacy to end U.S. military involvement in the Saudi-led war.
Her call for the U.S. to help speed negotiations was echoed by Neda Saleh, a Yemeni-born peace activist working with Action Corps, who said: “That’s our ask: stop slow-walking peace talks and diplomacy!”
The briefing, co-hosted by FCNL, Action Corps, the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, and other organizations, uplifted continued efforts by some in Congress to advance diplomacy, including a recent letter signed by 39 Representatives and led by Reps. Rashida Tlaib (MI-12) and Ro Khanna (CA-17). In it, lawmakers urged the Biden administration to respond to the crisis in Yemen by prohibiting weapon sales and military aid to the warring parties, supporting Yemeni self-determination, working to lift the Saudi blockade unconditionally, and increasing humanitarian assistance.
“We are here. We are half the population. Include us, don’t treat us like we don’t live here.”
These steps are urgently needed. The conflict continues to extract a terrible toll on civilians. Dr. Aisha Jumaan of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation illustrated this by sharing a story about her sister, who, unable to leave Sana’a (the city where she resided) to seek medical treatment, died of cancer.
“I was able to buy [my sister] medicine from Egypt and then to try to get it to Yemen,” she said. “By the time it got there, my sister didn’t need it anymore.”
Working outside of her country, Aisha has secured enough funding to provide all the children diagnosed with leukemia in Yemen the medicine they need for an entire year. Due to ongoing international restrictions on imports and delays that impact the delivery of humanitarian aid, she has been unable to get the medicine into Yemen.
Such stories underscore the need to center the concerns of the Yemeni people, whose voices are too often excluded from negotations. Sumaya Ali Raja, a journalist and the first woman to declare candidacy for President of Yemen stressed the critical role women could play in resolving the conflict. “We are here,” she said. “We are half the population. Include us, don’t treat us like we don’t live here.”
To ensure peace and Yemeni self-determination, U.S. lawmakers must work with Yemenis like Shireen, Neda, Aisha, and Sumaya to help lift the Saudi blockade and support a truly inclusive peace process. That starts by listening to and amplifying the voices of those directly impacted by the conflict.