Four ways to build youth activism for peace: insights from one UK student’s campaigning on Yemen

Yasmin Turner Active citizenship, Humanitarian, Influencing

Oxfam campaigner Yasmin Turner on how she is working to draw attention to the crisis in Yemen and pressure the UK government to stop the British arms sales fuelling the conflict – from hosting a photographic exhibition to writing to her local MP.

Oxfam campaigner Yasmin Turner at the photo exhibition she organised: “Yemen: A Story of Hope & Resilience” (picture: Oxfam)

More than eight years since the start of the war in Yemen and, with millions of Yemenis forced to the brink of famine, there is a desperate need for all parties to commit to lasting peace. Several months after a formal truce expired, there is a fragile ceasefire but the situation remains volatile.

Here in the UK, activists and campaigners have been shining a spotlight on how UK arms sales are fuelling the conflict and the hunger, poverty and devastation that war brings. A legal challenge led by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, supported by Oxfam, won a pause in arms sales in 2019, though this has not been renewed, despite widespread past evidence of innocent lives devastated over the years by the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign

For young people like me who want to see permanent peace in Yemen, the big question is what can we do to make a difference? How can we mobilise our peers on campuses and schools to work for peace and pressure our political leaders to act?

1. Raise awareness

Possibly the most important first step as a campaigner is to raise awareness of the issue. Yemen remains one of the most food-insecure countries in the world, only made worse by the ever-soaring food prices as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Do people know about this and about how conflict is fuelling hunger? Usually, it is not that people do not care, but they are simply unaware of what is going on and how to help. Therefore, we have found opening that conversation is a great start.

Hosting Oxfam’s photographic exhibition, “Yemen: A Story of Hope & Resilience” at Nottingham Trent University allowed me to open dialogues with people of all ages and backgrounds about the situation in Yemen and how the UK can play a part in its recovery.

The exhibition catalogued the stories of seven Yemeni women who are altering their way of life as they continue living in the shadow of the conflict. It offered a powerful way to amplify their voices and reject stereotypes. It was clear from my discussions that many people were simply not aware of how the UK is involved in the conflict – and most wanted to know what they could do to help.

We suggest that a great place for potential campaigners to start is through events in their own networks. For instance campaigners can point people to or host a screening of the short film Yemen: The Silent War  or organise a group reading and discussion around the book Yemen: Dancing on the Heads of Snakes by Victoria Clark.

2. Fundraise or donate

Fundraising for Oxfam through a sponsored event is an incredible way to raise money for rehabilitating water systems, providing food and empowering women in Yemen. If people have less time but still want to give some money, we suggest they can easily send a donation to the Yemen appeal on the Oxfam website.

I am training for a half marathon in Cyprus next March and will be raising money for Oxfam in the process. But there are also plenty of other ways to fundraise whether that’s a bake sale (or festive bake sale in the run-up to Christmas), a pub quiz, a ticketed movie night, dinner, karaoke, or a raffle.

3. Lobby decision makers

A large part of campaigning is influencing important decision-makers. Campaign Against Arms Trade’s (CAAT) has been focusing on the legality of continued arms sales – and  asking the government to reconsider its approach, though its most recent legal case had a disappointing verdict. (Yemeni parties to the case have applied for permission to appeal the judgement)

So as a prominent co-intervenor in the CAAT case, one of Oxfam’s current key tasks is to put renewed pressure on the UK government to suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia. As student campaigners, we sent postcards with messages from the public who were at the Yemen photographic exhibition to Nadia Whittome, our local Member of Parliament for Nottingham East to show our support for ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

MPs need to act to support the people of Yemen, so we have been urging other students and others in our networks to arrange a meeting, call, or write a letter to their local MP, and run a petition campaign.

4. Use the right channels to connect and spread the message

Many young campaigners have a broad network of our peers on social media. That offers us a great opportunity to use it to get our messages on Yemen heard. There are plenty of organisations, anecdotes, and posts we can share to get our messages heard, and Oxfam’s Instagram always has plenty of posts for to share. For those involved in a student newspaper or magazine, we say why not use this platform too and write an article?

An example of one of Oxfam’s Instagram posts that young campaigners can share to help spread the message.

With so many other crises in the world, it is all too easy for the plight of Yemen’s people to fall off the radar of people in rich countries like the UK. But my experience with organising Oxfam’s photo exhibition has shown there is real potential to engage young people in Yemeni stories.

NGOs and other organisations campaigning for justice and peace for the people of Yemen will find it’s really worth it to build partnerships with young campaigners, as Oxfam has. They can draw on the untapped potential and energy of young campaigners like me to spread the message of the importance of urgent international action to end this “forgotten war” and bring lasting peace.


Yasmin Turner

Yasmin Turner is an Oxfam campaigner and has recently graduated.