It is easy to forget how quickly outsiders’ ideas about places like Yemen changed during the early days of the Arab Spring uprisings that began a decade ago—and how quickly those new impressions faded when the uprisings did not deliver rapid transformation.
Such short memories are proving costly for Yemeni women, who gained a place at the political table during and after the 2011 protest movement that ousted then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s autocratic regime, only to be shunted aside amid the violent conflict and international indifference that has plagued the country since. With a cease-fire deal reportedly in the offing in Yemen, international attention is currently focused on the men who have turned the country’s six-year civil war into the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Yet to create the best chance for real, sustainable peace in Yemen, negotiators must heed women’s calls to be brought back into the political process.
The revolt that began in 2011 in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest state, came as a surprise to many foreign observers who viewed the country as a socially conservative backwater. Here, on live television, in a country The Guardian once labeled “the worst place on earth to be a woman,” female activists were fronting a protest movement alongside hipsters in skinny jeans and reformist sheikhs. They were unapologetic in their calls for the ruling elite—almost entirely older men, who had used a toxic mix of violence, corruption and patronage to stay in power for three decades—to step aside and allow a new, more equitable and inclusive order to take shape.