An unlikely place for women to help end a tragic war

A new cease-fire in Yemen’s war required women at the table. For a country with the largest gender gap, this is a breakthrough for the whole Middle East.

The Houthi (left ) and Yemeni government delegates shake hands in Stockholm after a Dec. 13 agreement.

The country of Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula has two notable distinctions. It is currently home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, caused by a war raging since 2015. It also ranks the worst in its “gender gap,” or inequality between men and women. Both of these reputations took a hit on Thursday.

The first was big news. Yemen’s warring parties agreed to a cease-fire for the port city of Hodeidah, the main entry for aid to feed a country on the brink of mass famine. At talks in Sweden sponsored by the United Nations, the two sides also agreed to an exchange of prisoners and to prepare for negotiations to achieve a political settlement of the war. If the agreement holds, millions of Yemenis could be saved.

The other was that Yemeni women were involved in the talks. Rana Ghanem, who was a member of the government delegation, sat at the table while other women from different political sides assisted the UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths.

In the history of Middle East conflicts, their presence may have set a precedent for peace negotiations.

For several years, the voices of Yemen’s women activists have helped create momentum for the talks. “It is Yemen’s women who during the conflict have maintained the social fabric of society and kept communities together. They are the nurturers, mediators, peacemakers, and keepers of tradition,” writes Nadia al-Sakkaf, who was the first Yemeni woman appointed as Information minister.

Women could also ultimately influence how Yemeni leaders put their society back together. Of the country’s 3 million displaced people, about three-quarters are women and children.

Critical to this female participation has been ongoing UN efforts to include women in peace negotiations everywhere. UN envoys for Yemen have made a point of consulting Yemeni women, especially at a gathering in 2015 that brought women together from all sides in Cyprus. Their work was made easier by the prominent role that women played in Yemen’s protests in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, such as activist Tawakkol Karman. For her work in the nonviolent struggle for the safety of women, she was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

To implement Thursday’s cease-fire agreement, the UN Security Council still needs to pass a resolution of support for the UN’s role in the deal. It should also reinforce the global effort to ensure women are involved in every peace negotiation. Yemen may be last in gender parity. But it is far ahead by the example it just set.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to An unlikely place for women to help end a tragic war
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today