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Empowering women in Yemen: High hopes and a disappointing reality

Empowering women in Yemen: High hopes and a disappointing reality

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Politics Women’s Rights Marginalized Groups

Thursday 14 March 202401:10 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

ما الذي يمنع "حكام" اليمن من منح النساء حقوقهن؟


“The exclusion of women from political participation in Yemen is a crime against the entire society. A crime that hinders progress, limits development opportunities, and deprives Yemen of enormous potential.” — Bahia Al-Saqqaf, Yemeni feminist leader and chairwomen of the PASS Foundation


Given the number of important international agreements and UN resolutions ratified by Yemen pertaining to women’s rights, the large number of studies, reports and articles produced over more than three decades, and other detailed publications that explain the situation of women and oppose the intention of marginalizing them and limiting their roles in all aspects of life, the actors are still a long way from actually responding to the rights of Yemeni women. Time is wasted in a vicious circle of discussing axioms, searching for options that do not create an impact and do not comply with the spirit of gender justice, and there is no foreseeable future for their results, other than continuing to exclude women from public life.

Here comes the most important question: What is missing in Yemen to give women their rights? What is the missing link to complete the process of recognizing women and empowering them with their rights? Are we satisfied with workshops and table discussions, or are we pushing towards designing implementation plans to issue decisions and measures granting women their inherent right to representation, and contributing to managing this most difficult stage for Yemen and its female population?

Looking at the role of successive Yemeni governments towards women and their right to equality and fair political representation, we see a complete bias towards the male mentality and a reconciliation with the discriminatory logic against women. Since the Yemeni reunification in 1990 until 2020, 14 governments were appointed, with a total of 444 ministerial portfolios, of which women’s share was only 18 portfolios, approximately 4.1%.

All actors in Yemen are a long way from actually responding to women's rights. Time is wasted in a vicious circle of discussing options that don't comply with gender justice, with no foreseeable future other than continuing to exclude women from public life. Why?

This indicator is doubly disastrous if we compare it to the population census, in which women represent nearly half of society. What is also disturbing in these statistics is not only the exclusion of women, which constitutes a consistent governmental pattern and approach, but the consequences of isolating a fabric, which is half of society, from representing itself and its country.

This almost paralyzes the process of revitalizing life in Yemen, and lacks in inclusion, even excluding a broad segment of women in their earnest desire for national representation in decision-making.

At different stages in time, women tried to activate their role and overcome discrimination, and some of them resulted in outcomes in state bodies, such as the right to a women’s quota, one of the most prominent outcomes of the National Dialogue in 2014. These outcomes tried to guarantee women their right in the necessity of amending the Yemeni constitution. The participation rate of women starts at 30%, but the conflict that followed in 2015 brought with it a lot of disappointment and aborted all attempts and struggles that would help Yemeni women exercise their rights.

As the armed conflict in Yemen enters its tenth year, the country’s infrastructure collapses and the layers of protection recede, women are experiencing a more severe period of exclusion than before.

The gender gap index confirms that women in Yemen are the most unfortunate in the world in terms of equality of rights between the sexes. For five years in a row (2013-2017), Yemen occupied last place in the index reports issued by the World Economic Forum, and in 2021, Yemen was also at the bottom of the index with its ranking of 155 out of 156.

The current, internationally recognized Yemeni government chooses its policies towards women in violation of the outcomes of the national dialogue and without justification. Rather, it opts for a policy of non-representation of women in most government positions and decision-making tools. But the question remains: If the one who practices the policy of exclusion is the government, who could support the inclusion of women? And, who will ensure the implementation of international resolutions and conventions? What is the obstacle to imposing equality and accepting the role of women, who represent 49.5% of society?

“Women's exclusion from political participation in Yemen is a crime against all society. A crime that hinders progress, limits development opportunities, and deprives Yemen of enormous potential” – Bahia Al-Saqqaf, Yemeni feminist leader at PASS Foundation

A state of schizophrenia dominates the mindset of the post-National Dialogue governments. They deliberately emptied the quota-right of its content, and in parallel, adopted excessive and flexible language to talk about the importance of active female representation in comprehensive development, as in the following statement issued on the March 18, 2022 “Women are an active partner in comprehensive development at the political, economic, and social levels, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, Yemeni laws, and international agreements and treaties, despite the conditions of war.” This called for the government to review its behavior, instead of preaching sermons that fell on deaf ears.

The contributions of the international community and United Nations agencies and offices are not far from those of the authorities in Yemen, where many negotiations and key discussions have taken place since the beginning of the conflict regarding a ceasefire and peacebuilding, many of which women were not invited to participate in, with attendance often limited to males.

In discussions where women were included, women’s participation was very small, with the best representation of women at the peace negotiations that took place in Kuwait in 2016. Here, women represented 12% of the participants in the two rounds.

How could gender representation not be a criterion in any of the discussions? How could the list of male attendees repeatedly not provoke any of the parties, mediators, representatives of countries, missions, or... Even the Office of the UN Special Envoy to Yemen. It is a shameful and bleak record.

From time to time, the special envoy's office announces side meetings, designed for women and to hear their views on the conflict resolution process. This is an important and good gesture, but difficult to view absolutely positively. Firstly, these meetings take place in isolation from actual negotiations, and secondly, because, of course, to ensure the quality and effectiveness of the meetings, all parties who can make such decisions must be involved, including men, as representatives of authority.

“Yemen is deprived of enormous energy, creativity, and conscious minds capable of making positive change. How can a country prosper when half its people are marginalized and excluded?” – Bahia Al-Saqqaf, Yemeni feminist leader and chairwomen of PASS Foundation

Bringing women and men together in all future visions for Yemen is the best way to build a road map towards integrated peace. There have been many events and workshops carried out by civil society organizations inviting women to discuss their rights in complete isolation from the most important partner in this equation: men.

It is also not easy to guarantee that this approach will be fruitful. Perhaps it is important to rethink how to deal with men’s willingness to contribute to the advocacy of women’s rights and add an element that describes this situation as a new challenge to be added. On the process of gender equality.

“Yemen is deprived of enormous energy, countless creativity, and conscious minds capable of making positive change. How can a country prosper when half of its people are marginalized and excluded?” Bahia Al-Saqqaf, a Yemeni feminist leader and president of the PASS Foundation

Paying attention to women’s rights at times and neglecting them at others, treating women as an active partner temporarily or intermittently, is disgraceful and unacceptable. In doing so, women are let down and their inherent right to exist and participate in public life is disrespected. Planning for a comprehensive peace process will be impossible if it is a process that fails Yemeni women.

Recognizing the necessity of gender representation in decision-making in Yemen must remain at the forefront. This challenge also requires the international community and the Yemeni authorities to possess a spirit of credibility and courage to empower women in their rights and create policies and procedures that contribute to facilitating their access to decision-making positions and designing mechanisms to protect these roles. Refusing to exclude women is no longer a spur-of-the-moment demand.

On International Women's Day, which falls on March 8, women in Yemen are not looking for praise on social media platforms, nor for a reminder that once upon a time, a bold and courageous woman ruled Yemen, but rather to see recognition from their country within an executive plan with a specific time and goal. The aim must be to urgently give real positions to female leaders in accordance with policies and regulations that protect them and their rights.

Yemen has never been a friend of women's rights in its full form. However, in the ten years since the start of the conflict in Yemen, combined with the efforts of outdated traditions and customs, women have increasingly suffered in order to live in dignity.

The Yemeni Constitution refers to women’s rights in a timid manner and the system often does not help protect them. Although Yemen is considered one of the member states of the United Nations and ratified in 1994 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first article of which states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” it has also ratified many international instruments that oppose discrimination based on gender. However, there is still a systematic and inhumane classification of women as second-class citizens, and that they naturally represent a branch or subordinate and are not a complete, independent entity. This increases the burden on governments, and places greater responsibilities on them in averting this harm on their behalf.

On International Women's Day, which falls on March 8, women in Yemen are not looking for praise on social media platforms, nor for a reminder that once upon a time, a bold and courageous woman ruled Yemen, but rather to see recognition from their country within an executive plan with a specific time and goal. The aim must be to urgently give real positions to female leaders in accordance with policies and regulations that protect them and their rights.

On February 16, 2024, the Feminist Solidarity Network shared a proposal with the Presidential Leadership Council (the internationally recognized government) asking it to review previous decisions in which women were excluded in forming the 2020 government, and asking them to benefit from the presence of current political changes.

The Network took the initiative to include certain detailed ideas into their proposal. Of course, the internationally recognized government can make and adopt such proposals, and it can also heed the proposals presented by civil society, but what is no longer possible is the government violating the right of women again to form the current government.

The Yemeni government must respond to this request and not shirk its obligations represented by international laws and treaties and the outcomes of the national dialogue. This is something that also applies to other involved and relevant parties and actors as well.



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