Youth Activism in the Yemeni Civil War

Internet Mitigates Effects of Violence as Local Factors Shape Activism Scene

Mareike Transfeld

YPC Policy Report   •   February 2, 2019


Main Findings

  • The conditions for political activism and advocacy have become extremely difficult in Yemen. Restrictions are most severe in areas under Houthi control, where there is pervasive surveillance and a crackdown on civil activism, academia, human rights organizations and the media. Security threats are not limited to Houthi-controlled territory, but arise from an array of actors, in line with the break-up of the Yemeni state. The lack of security, deteriorating economy and loss of donor funding have caused many youth groups to cease their work.
  • Opportunities for youth activism abounded in the transitional period after the 2011 uprising, although youth political participation did not significantly increase. Yemeni policy makers became receptive to the ideas of Yemen’s young generation. The international community supported youth activism with funding, training, networking events and travel opportunities. With the collapse of the political process in 2014, these opportunities began to dwindle.
  • Access to social media has blunted some of the restrictions on political activism and advocacy placed by the armed factions. A steady proportion of youth retain access to the Internet. The YPC survey found that one third of 15- to 25-year-olds have access to the Internet. Crackdowns across the country have not stifled the Internet as a significant political tool. Eighteen percent of 15-25-year-olds with Internet access use the Internet frequently to discuss politics. Those who describe themselves as using social media occasionally for political purposes number 28 percent.
  • In a survey of 300 influential figures (mainly tribal sheikhs, military officers and local council representatives), 90 percent said they believe it is important to consider the opinion of their communities. Almost all of the 300 rely on social media for information.
  • Eleven percent of young Yemenis between 15 and 25 years old say they are in contact with their community leaders and have relayed their needs to them. Forty-one percent of the decision makers find it important to consider the opinions of youth, but only few meet with youth.
  • The war reinforced gender gaps. Women continue to lag in access to the Internet and remain more sidelined within their communities when compared to their male peers.

Conclusions & Recommendations

Conditions for political activism and advocacy have become extremely difficult, especially in Houthi-controlled territories. Threats against the safety of activists emanate from an array of different armed actors. It is not recommended to conduct advocacy or campaigning, unless an organization is well-connected on the ground. International and national organizations must assess in detail the conditions at the location where activities are to take place. Organizations must factor in the risk of arrests and kidnapping of activists.


Due to the lack of experience and training, and the incoherence of youth groups, projects focusing on youth should be designed with a wider time-frame. The period of any project in which youth are to become active in groups must allow space for the participants to develop positive relations with each other. Given the current condition of Yemeni society, any group of people tends to have sharp political differences that may get in the way of project implementation. Developing a strong bond before the implementation of activities could help achieve project outcome.


Projects with a focus on knowledge transfer should get the lion’s share of support, rather than projects focusing on advocacy. Many youth in Yemen lack basic opportunities because they lack access to knowledge. Knowledge transfer may include training workshops on skills necessary for advocacy and campaigning, and could entail book clubs, self-organized knowledge transfer group or Internet resource training. Supporting research projects will not only enhance the awareness of youth, but of international observers as well. A focus on research often mitigates the risks, and is a way to build the capacities of young activists, by involving them in the research and writing process.


Funders should not assume that Yemeni youth can volunteer for projects for extended periods. Given the economic crisis and lack of salaries, youth are occupied with their own survival and support for their families. These abject financial conditions must be taken in consideration when crafting a project budget, with an eye toward minimal reliance on volunteers.

Channels of communication between youth networks must be reestablished. Communication between various youth organizations has collapsed over the last three years. Activists have been forced to spread out in different countries, making communication ever more difficult. A regional conference bringing youth activists together in an effort to re-establish communication and enhance networks is an entry point.

Funders should support online activism and training workshops on remote collaboration to help counter fragmentation. Many activists have had to leave Yemen and have been occupied with important issues regarding their legal status in host countries. Others have suffered traumas due to the war. Many activists have resettled or adjusted to their new living situations. Training now needs to cover the basics to help activists adjust their working mode to their new living situation: communication platforms, collaborative platforms (for example: Trello and Doodle), collaborative word processing (Google Docs) and digital security. Other activities that could be encouraged online include knowledge transfer through the Internet, training on human rights, citizen and peace journalism, campaigning, and other civic activism tools.