Knowledge exchange emphasizes civil society’s role in advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda in Yemen, Australia, and Indonesia

September 4, 2023
UNDP Yemen / 2023


Civil society plays a vital role in promoting gender equality and fostering sustainable peace and security. On 18 May 2023, experts with experience in Yemen, Australia, and Indonesia came together in a knowledge exchange to discuss the impacts of civil society on the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda within each individual country context.

During the interactive online session, representatives from UNDP Yemen, Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Research Centre, the Australian Civil Society Coalition on WPS, Aden University’s Women’s Research and Training Centre (WRTC), shared their experiences in advancing the WPS agenda. Participants emphasized the vital role of civil society as a catalyst for effective action on WPS, despite geographic location.

Across the three country contexts, participants highlighted the significance of civil society to:

  • Advocate women’s inclusion in decision-making on peace and security matters.
  • Build knowledge and understanding about WPS within the wider community.
  • Support the localisation of WPS principles.
  • Facilitate consultation between government actors, international agencies, and local communities.
  • Monitor and support the implementation of WPS programmes.
  • Build networks and connect WPS-focused actors.

It was determined that civil society groups also face similar challenges, including lack of funding and sufficient resources to support their work and occasional tensions with other actors. Challenges and successes have manifested differently in Yemen, Australia, and Indonesia.

Yemen has been embroiled in a protracted conflict since 2015, greatly impacting the day-to-day lives of Yemenis. Civil society organizations in Yemen have encountered challenges as they strive to support the WPS agenda, such as a lack of baseline data concerning the experiences of women with conflict, hindering the ability to fully comprehend the challenges faced by women and develop targeted interventions to effectively address their needs. Moreover, greater inclusion of women to actively participate in key policy-making processes focused on peace and security is encouraged. Participants also highlighted a pressing need to enhance the awareness of the WPS agenda and its contribution to durable peace amongst stakeholders. By raising the WPS profile and its significance, decision-makers and influencers can better appreciate the importance of gender equality and the inclusion of women in all aspects of peace and security initiatives.

Despite challenges, there have been notable successes achieved by civil society organizations in Yemen. They have effectively utilized broad-based and impactful networks and alliances to support women's rights and empowerment. Initiatives such as the establishment of the Women's Police School in Aden, the promotion of women to leadership positions in the military, and the allocation of powers within police departments have paved the way for greater female participation in these sectors. It was widely acknowledged by participants that civil society organizations in Yemen play pivotal roles in various aspects, including cultivating a society that promotes tolerance and acceptance, building capacity of human rights defenders, and facilitating dialogues and partnerships that advocate for the empowerment of women in decision-making.

In response to numerous localised conflicts in Indonesia, the country’s second national WPS implementation plan was launched in 2021, and regional governments have been encouraged to develop local action plans that respond to the issues that affect their communities. These issues include conflict, violence, violent extremism, land disputes, and disinformation. Participants from Indonesia noted that civil society plays an important role in coordinating consultations between the national government and local communities on WPS issues. It is also pivotal in developing the plan of activities for NAP implementation and monitoring.  However, Indonesian colleagues noted that in practice, several significant challenges remain. These include a lack of data on implementation and impact which makes monitoring difficult, and lack of coordination between actors. Nonetheless, similar to Yemen, there has been an increase in women’s leadership in key areas of peace and security and the delivery of WPS training and community workshops by civil society organizations has strengthened implementation of the WPS agenda.

Like Indonesia, Australia recently released its second WPS NAP (2021-31). Unlike Indonesia and Yemen, much of Australia’s WPS commitments focus on work overseas through foreign aid and military deployments. However, Australian colleagues noted that civil society organizations advocate for greater domestic inclusion of experiences of First Nations people, refugees, and women survivors of violence in Australia’s WPS work.  Civil society organizations also play an important role in monitoring the government’s implementation of the NAP, however Australian participants noted a lack of reliable data and strong co-ordination between agencies.

In all cases, civil society is central to the advancement of the WPS agenda.  In Yemen, Australia, and Indonesia, it is clear that a strong, well resourced, supported and networked civil society has the capacity to strengthen a nation’s literacy around WPS issues and bolster the capacity for effective implementation of the WPS agenda.

In collaboration with Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Research Centre, the Australian Civil Society Coalition on WPS, Aden University’s Women’s Research and Training Centre (WRTC), UNDP coordinated the knowledge exchange as part of the Peace Support Facility Phase II (PSF). Funded by Germany and the European Union, the PSF supports the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen (OSESGY) and the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO) with implementation of confidence building initiatives and subnational peacebuilding interventions.