UNESCO Contributes to Peacebuilding in Yemen

The preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.” The role of UNESCO is a fundamental humanist mission to support people in understanding each other and working together to build lasting peace has become a center point in making a safer world for diversity and future generations. Be it through education, the sciences, culture, communication, and information, peace is promoted in all of the Organization’s fields of work. Specifically in Yemen, UNESCO is leading two projects in culture, communication, and information to promote peace, economic resilience, and social cohesion among young Yemenis.

Culture is a key component in peacebuilding. For this reason, donors funded frameworks able to preserve cultural heritage and stimulate creative industries not only as a way to protect and develop identity, but also to boost local economies through the creation of jobs, capacity building, and engaging local communities in the formulation of shared narratives and visions. Supporting creative industries is also a powerful tool to strengthen cultural entrepreneurship. This field is characterized by the involvement of youth, new technologies, and media. The development of narratives and art is a tool for providing a platform for open discussion, thus developing engaging and participatory mechanisms for the achievement of reconciliation, understanding, and dialogue.

Within this framework, UNESCO since 2018 has been implementing an EU-funded project, “Cash for Work: Promoting Livelihood Opportunities for Urban Youth in Yemen.” The project aims to support the rehabilitation of Yemen’s unique cultural heritage while promoting creative industries as a vital form of income generation for the youth and vital mean of dialogue. As of July 2021, the project rehabilitated over 150 historical buildings in Old Sana’a, Shibam, Zabid, and Aden. Despite the setbacks, the project employed more than 2700 young male and female Yemenis in heritage sites while funding 18 local civil society organizations, supporting artists, youth-led initiatives, and awareness-raising campaigns to boost cultural and creative industries. By combining social protection and urban rehabilitation, the project provides Yemenis access to livelihoods, strengthens their economic resilience, develops skills, and promotes social cohesion and, most importantly, peace.

Since December 2019, UNESCO is also implementing a UN Peace Building Funded project “Empowering Yemeni youth towards peace: ensuring access to information and participation”. This project aims at making the peace-building process more inclusive and participatory by strengthening youth engagement through the use of media, communication and technology.

This project is working at two levels. On one side, the project is improving access to information for youth on the peacebuilding process so they can increase their knowledge and make informed decisions. On the other side, it provides young Yemenis with safe spaces of dialogue, including social media, online surveys, youth debates and radio programmes to voice their needs and opinions with decision makers and duty bearers.

The project has proven the role of media and civil society organizations in changing the narrative, sentiment and perception of peacebuilding and unity across Yemen, leverage ideas, aspirations, and contributions to peace from the one left behind. By using innovative digital tools, smart online moderation, persuasive methods to create engagement, the project has contributed to create a new narrative related to peacebuilding dialogue in the country, more inclusive of young and women. It has also contributed to empower grassroots initiatives, youth and women, to tangibly contribute to peacebuilding actions in their communities.