Who is Maeen Al-Obaidi: The woman who has taken on the role of mediator amidst the civil war in Yemen

While it may not be covered on western media very much, the civil war in Yemen is in its eighth year—and it has only grown more violent and the situation appears bleaker than ever. 

Not only is the country plagued by a never-ending  war and the defragmentation this brings, but the emergence of de-facto authorities and the almost complete absence of any semblance of state have compelled the local communities to rely on themselves to maintain peace. 

In the midst of all the strife, United Nations human rights monitor and lawyer Maeen Al-Obaidi has made it her mission to monitor and focus on peace building in the besieged area of Taiz, located in the southwestern part of the country. 

Here is our list of the things you need to know about the woman who meditates on the front lines of Taiz and is doing everything she can to bring peace to a region unrelentingly ravaged by war. 

1) She has broken traditional social roles and filled positions previously exclusive to men 

Al-Obaidi courageously negotiates, mediates, and intervenes in matters that are considered “men’s domains.”

She was also the first woman appointed to the Syndicate Council. This council oversees the human rights and freedoms committee and the peacekeeping role helps to ensure that justice is accessible to all in Yemen. 

2) She works with politician parties and has suggested a humanitarian truce

When the war in Yemen broke out in 2015, Al-Obaidi felt that she could not sit idly by. She worked with colleagues to communicate with political parties and parties in conflict: she suggested drafting an agreement.

“Since the war’s first shot was fired, civilians have paid a heavy toll,” she has said. “So I thought of the simplest solutions so that people could move around with less danger, as we struggle to implement a truce to alleviate people’s suffering.”

3) Her family was forced to flee Taiz, but she remained behind

Because Al-Obaidi’s home and family were close to the armed front lines, they were forced to flee Taiz. This included her only child.  

Al-Obaidi chose to remain in the city and she struggled to monitor violations with the Human Rights Commission. 

“I had to travel every two weeks to the village to visit my daughter and family, where I crossed all the alternative, bumpy, and rugged roads,” she said. “I felt and lived the people’s suffering as a result of the roads being cut.”

4) She facilities prisoner exchanges 

Al-Obaidi has taken on the role of mediator, and she facilitates prisoner exchanges between the conflicting groups. 

While she may not always be successful at getting the fighters home to their families alive, she does try to make sure the bodies of the deceased are returned to their loved ones. 

5) She says that moving through Taiz to take documentation has been very difficult 

The city of Taiz is known for having undergone some of the heaviest fightings since the beginning of the current conflict. 

The people have had to endure a siege, regular bombing, and shelling—not to mention the shortages of food and water. 

Al-Obaidi—whose job it is to document what has happened as well as the danger—has found it to be disheartening. 

“Sometimes, I felt that when I went out to do my job, I would never go back home,” she has said. “But it is my job to monitor and document these violations. If I step down, if everyone sits in their house, then the violations will increase and the victims will have no choice.”

Human rights monitors in Yemen often have to investigate areas where civilians—including children—have been killed by air strikes or shelling. 

Part of Al-Obaidi’s job is to take testimony and gather evidence of what has happened soon after the incident occurs. 

6) She has defended women who have been imprisoned 

Women in Yemen are facing unprecedented circumstances. 

The country’s social code of protecting women and children has completely collapsed since the civil war. Women have been subjected to situations where they are targeted by snipers. They’re also forced into arbitrary detention and there have been forced disappearances and displacement. 

Sexual violence is also a weapon of war and children are forcibly recruited into the armed forces. The men are either recruited, detained, and/or murdered.

As a lawyer, she often handles the cases of poor women. 

7) She mediates between warring parties even though she knows it’s not a winning battle

Not only does Al-Obaidi negotiate the opening of roads, but she is also the mediator for the exchange of prisoners and the return of bodies of the dead to the families. 

She speaks to the warring parties in their own language and dialect and uses traditional mediation strategies. She also makes sure to maintain her neutrality as she is well aware of how easily her efforts can fail if she is suspected of taking sides. 

Al-Obaidi has said that even though it can take weeks of negotiations to open a road, she knows that it will most likely be closed again. Still, she persists in her mission and does her best to persuade both parties to reopen it so that people can safely cross between the two parts of the besieged Taiz party.

She has said that while it’s often not possible to return men to their families alive, she tries at the very least to arrange for the return of the bodies that are left in the streets.

8) She handles a number of human rights initiatives 

Al-Obaidi has volunteered for the Yemen Women Union where she has defended women who have been imprisoned. She is also an advocate for battered women. 

Also, in addition to being the first woman to reach the Bar Council as supervisor of the Human Rights and Freedoms Committee, Al-Obaidi was also the first woman promoted to the Lawyers Syndicate Council, where she oversees the human rights and freedoms committee. 

It’s this sense of giving a voice to the victims and reminding the world of what is happening in Yemen that drives many human rights monitors. 

9) She was on the BBC 100 Women List for 2022

Al-Obaidi was recognized for her work and made it on the 10th season of BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2022. 

Others on the list included Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska and record-breaking triple jump athlete Yulimar Rojas. 

In addition to women who excelled in the respective field, the list also reflected the role of women at the heart of conflict around the world in 2022.

Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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