Placing living heritage at the heart of peace

May 21, 2024

Marina Thabet, a member of the Women's Research and Training Center's Peacebuilding Network at a training in Aden.

UNDP Yemen / 2023

In times of conflict, culture in all shapes and forms is an important tool to reinforce the social fabric of societies and foster a sense of belonging and identity among communities. 

From the ancient mud-brick cities of Sana'a and Shibam to the rugged mountains of Haraz and the shores of the Red Sea, Yemen's beauty is embedded in its architecture, cuisine, poetry, dance, and crafts. Its cultural landscape is a testament to the enduring spirit of its inhabitants, who have safeguarded and celebrated their cultural identity even amidst turmoil and adversity.

Participation and access to culture and its living expressions, including intangible heritage (traditions passed down from ancestors) has been proven to strengthen communities’ resilience and social cohesion, and to create an ethic of shared responsibility. Culture is a powerful factor in creating durable peace in Yemen and beyond. 

Marina Thabet, a community advocate from Aden, believes in the transformative power of living heritage. Actively involved with the Women's Research and Training Center's Peacebuilding Network (WRTC), supported by the UN Peace Support Facility, she was inspired by the network's activities to work on a project that uses Adenain folklore as a tool to promote peace.

Marina Thabet and her colleagues speaking at the cultural symposium they organized.

UNDP Yemen / 2023

Yemeni men preforming traditional dace during the theater piece organized by Marina Thabet and her colleagues.

UNDP Yemen / 2023

Within her project, Marina and her colleagues organized a cultural symposium and a public theater performance to celebrate the role of Adenain popular folklore in promoting a culture of peace among members of society.  This stems from their firm belief in the role of cultural heritage in countering stereotypes and preventing conflict and violence.

“Intangible cultural heritage plays an important role in preserving cultural diversity in the face of increasing globalization. Understanding the intangible cultural heritage of different local communities drives dialogue between cultures and encourages mutual respect,” emphasizes Marina.  

This is one example of how culture can be an enabler for celebrating differences, broadening horizons, and maintaining social cohesion. Culture, especially through the arts, offers an inclusive space for sharing experiences and can serve as a powerful means of solace and healing.

Young men playing football at the beach in Aden.

UNDP Yemen / 2023

“Historically, Aden has always been a city that embraces different cultures,” says Marina.

The city of Aden, a major seaport situated in southern Yemen, has become both a home and a stop for thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons. Its geographic location coupled with the influence of migration and trade have evolved Aden over time into a captivating cultural melting pot.

“The expressions and knowledge that local communities possess descend from ancient times and are passed down through generations. Intangible cultural heritage can make a significant contribution to the local economy,” stressed Marina.

The promotion of living expressions safeguards historical evidence about communities and their identities, vital for peace, security and sustainable development. Enabling intergenerational and intercultural dialogue can reduce the risk of violence, and, ultimately, enhance peacebuilding.  It can contribute to creating a safe refuge and a catalyst for communities to realize human development and enable the provision of new employment and income generation opportunities.

Yemeni women and men at training organized by the WRTC's Peacebuilding Network.

UNDP Yemen / 2023

The Peacebuilding Network at the Women Research and Training Center (WRTC) at Aden University was established in 2022 with technical and financial support by the UN Peace Support Facility to promote the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda and advocate for women’s participation in peace processes.

The UN PSF supports the peace process led by the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen. Since 2019, the UN PSF has implemented upstream and downstream interventions across Yemen to support the national process towards peace, simultaneously expediting local peacebuilding initiatives.  

The UN PSF is supported by generous funding from the European Union, the German Cooperation, and the Government of Norway.