Meet Fadia Thabet: Student, activist, humanitarian

This interview was originally published on Dec. 6, 2018, by the Nobel Women’s Initiative as part of their initiative16 Days of Activism 2018. The post is reprinted here with permission.

Photo courtesy of Fadia Thabet.

Yemeni women take a lot of bullets from men. They take on a lot of responsibilities and play a key role in reintegrating kids recruited by extremists and militants. Protecting our kids and reintegrating is the way we are going to heal our communities.”

Fadia Thabet is a Yemeni peace activist. After completing a degree in computer science, Fadia switched gears to humanitarian work. As a child protection officer for the Danish Refugee Council, Fadia reported violations against children during the conflict in Southern Yemen—and pushed for the protection and reintegration of children recruited to fight in the war. Fadia was recognized with the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2017 for her work as a child protection officer in Yemen. She is currently pursuing post graduate studies in the United States, but one day hopes to return to the field to amplify the voices of local women.

How did you begin your work as a child protection worker?

It’s a funny story. Having graduated with a degree in computer science, I happened to start work with a local organization that was helping refugees arriving from Ethiopia and Somalia. While there, I began to get exposure to and slowly change my perspective on humanitarian work. I interacted with so many refugees. Eventually, I was invited to a training session on refugees, internally displaced persons, and the application of international humanitarian law. That training changed everything. I became interested in how we can use these treaties and conventions to bring refugees a decent life with dignity, and that prompted me to apply to work in child protection.

Could you elaborate on your role as a child protection officer?

My work was to document violations in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict. We worked to reintegrate those kids who were ex-combatants back into their communities. And that was a long process. We provided medical and psychosocial support. We also partnered with and trained other community-based organizations and local non-governmental organizations on the ground.

What is the role that women are playing during the peacemaking process in Yemen?

Women are not at the table of peace negotiations yet. Even with a quota system in place, where women’s representation is supposed to be around thirty percent, we have only one or two women participants.

But what we have been doing so far, as civil society and human rights activists, has been remarkable. I am a part of the Women Solidarity Network in Yemen, which was founded by an incredible woman peacebuilder, Rasha Jarhum. This network, composed of more than 250 women and women-led organizations in Yemen and diaspora, has been a tool to both maintain women’s solidarity and coordinate efforts for peace on the ground. Recently, there have been a lot of women arrested, abducted, or even assassinated. The network has been releasing statements on their behalf. Within the chaos that’s occurring in Yemen, women’s solidarity is spreading everywhere.

What is the reality on the ground for Yemeni women peacemakers?

Yemeni women take a lot of bullets from men. They take on a lot of responsibilities and play a key role in reintegrating kids recruited by extremists and militants. Protecting our kids and reintegrating is the way we are going to heal our communities.

When I was working with other community-based organizations in Yemen, I found that women were often in roles of leadership. I remember working with so many women in the field—ordinary women—who work in agriculture, who bring water to their families after walking for hours. These women deserve recognition. They’re not in the spotlight, but they are the ones that have sacrificed a lot to bring communities together.

What do you plan on doing after graduation? Will you be back in the field?

After I graduate, I’d either like to go back to working in the field or at a humanitarian agency’s headquarters. If that doesn’t happen, I want to be back out there, possibly working in war zones. We don’t have a lot of women working in war zones, besides those in the medical field. I want to be there to bridge that gap, ensure that women’s voices are heard. I know that this work might end my life one day, but I will be happy to go on this path because this is what I’m most passionate about.

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About the Author: Kate Casa