GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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After the Arab Spring: The roles of women in Yemen’s national security and why now is the time to pay attention
Paper Proposal Text :
Abstract for presentation for conference: The Future of Yemen

Working title: “After the Arab Spring: The roles of women in Yemen’s national security and why now is the time to pay attention”

Author: Joana Cook

The Arab Spring initiated sweeping political change across the Arab world. Traversing from authoritarian to democratic regimes, security sector reform has been a critical component to transition where previously this had been largely built on nepotism or cronyism of former regimes. In recent years (even prior to the Arab Spring), women have taking on broader roles in the security sector where there was once little space for them. Now, as these sectors attempt reform amidst fragile security situations and transitioning governments, it is critical to look at how this may affect women’s involvement in this transitioning sector.

Examining Yemen specifically, I will discuss two recent shifts, which have brought women into the security sector: the all-female elite counterterrorism unit as well as their increasing presence in the police forces. Using a constructivist approach, I will discuss who is driving and shaping these changes in Yemen in the current period, their motivations, and what potential impacts this could have on women currently in, or looking to enter, the security sector. I will also briefly outline the potential practical, social and political impacts that these roles can offer in these transformative security structures, particularly in light of the increasing number of public roles women have been taking in the post-Arab Spring period.

This topic is particularly timely for a number of reasons. As the constitutional drafting and electoral preparations continue, it is of critical importance to discuss the roles that women currently are, and can play, in Yemen’s security sector. Combined with an increased focus by the Ministry of Interior, and external actors such as UNDP and U.S. Department of State of increasing female police leadership, the topic is timely.

Yemen’s security situation is critical to both domestic and international actors and remains a focal point for donors and governments alike; we need to ensure that women in security remain a consideration in their strategies. Yemen has been labelled a country ‘on the brink’ and many analysts state that Yemen risks becoming a failed state. It has become a safe-haven and base for international terrorists, particularly al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has led to regional and international actors taking a more ‘hands on’ approach in Yemen to deal with the issues that threaten their security (the most visible being the controversial use of drones). The country is also struggling with a transitional government, as well as a southern separatist movement and Northern-based Houthi rebels, who threaten to further destabilize the country and worse. The critical development situation also constantly threatens the civilian population and adds to a vulnerable situation.

The security sector has continued to be targeted by non-state actors. The direct targeting of attacks against military bodies, such as the December 5, 2013 attack on the Defence Ministry are stark reminders of this. Wider weaknesses in the security infrastructure have demonstrated themselves in examples like the February 13 prison break, which saw 29 prisoners, including high level AQAP figures escape. Security personnel have also been targeted and assassinated with alarming frequency.

Traditional literature in the field of women and security has often linked women more to human security, not women in the security field. This could have serious consequences in many areas. One rare report that examined gender broadly in counterterrorism (though in a US context) found that when gender was ignored, human rights and counterterrorism initiatives suffered. In some cases they had direct negative impact on gender equality, in unique areas like antiterrorism financing laws. Recommendations included means to measure gender and input/output outcomes of CT measurement.

It is amid this wider backdrop that this presentation will examine the roles of women in Yemen’s security infrastructure. While analysing the transitional security sector in Yemen in light of the upcoming constitutional changes to be determined, the challenges the sector faces on the ground, and the roles women have begun to establish in it, I will show why it is indeed a timely and critical period to bring to the foreground the importance of including women in Yemen’s security sector and what benefits this can bring to an sector that has long lacked public trust.

Examining Yemen as a case study for the growing roles of women in the security sector in the Middle East encourages questions which traverse the region and are of critical importance to both policy makers and those employed in the security sector, governance and justice. This will be left as a broad final point for the audience to consider.

Joana Cook is a PhD researcher in the department of War Studies at King’s College London where she is looking at the role and agency of women in counterterrorism in Yemen. A former journalist, she is also a Junior Researcher at the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security, and Society (TSAS) and Research Affiliate with the Kanishka Project, Public Safety Canada.

For full list of publications, please let me know and a full history will be provided.