Deputy Chair of the Women’s National Committee on Women’s Status in Yemen:”The Yemeni government is criticized for its weak support for women, and the WNC can’t do much with its current resources” [Archives:2008/1175/Reportage]

July 24 2008

Hooria Mashhour, Deputy Chair of Yemen's Women's National Committee expressed her concern for Yemen's implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which the country ratified in 1984. She led a five-member governmental delegation to a committee responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention 41 session in Washington DC earlier this month. During the session, the Committee questioned the Yemeni Government's political will to implement the treaty, especially with issues regarding the personal status law. Nadia Al-Sakkaf interviewed Mashhour to discuss the Yemen's CEDAW progress report and the results from her trip to the USA.

Could you first tell us about the preparation phase of the CEDAW report before the session in Washington?

The Yemen's Women's National Committee is the governmental body concerned with women's affairs in Yemen. It does not have legislative or judicial power. What we do is conduct research, create national strategies and policies and advocate for them to be adopted by the government. The Women's National Committee has made the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women one of the most important goals of the 2003-2005 National Strategy for Women and Gender Development, and the updated 2006-2015 strategy. The Committee is working to mainstream the strategy into the 2006-2010 General Development and Poverty Eradication Plan through specific programs and gender-responsive budgeting.

We created programs to politically empower women and end violence against them, while continuing to reform the legal system to ensure women's full rights and to campaign for women's participation in the public and private spheres.

We also organize trainings to educate and sensitize Yemenis in decision-making positions on women's rights. We work closely with other government bodies concerned with women's affairs such as the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the Ministry of Health s well as with non-government organizations interested in women's issues.

This being said, we represent the Yemeni government in the international assemblies taking place once every four years and report the progress of Yemen's implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Therefore, because it is an ongoing process, the preparation of the next report goes in effect immediately after the previous session concludes.

This is our sixth periodic report. The fourth and fifth were produced at the United Nations meeting in New York in 2002.

We study each of the 23 articles in the convention and identify to what extent it has been achieved through monitoring government legislation, local media reports, our own staff in women's departments in all the ministries and we take input from more than 200 civil society organizations.

I would like to mention here that our country's team's performance was quite good both with government and NGOs. We have received appreciation letters from various bodies and received a letter from Yemen's permanent commissioner at the UN, Mr. Abdullah Mohammed Al-Saidi, who reported to the Minister of Foreign Affairs describing our participation and commending the WNC team headed by myself. I personally tried my best to answer the many questions ad even accusations regarding Yemen's performance. It is good to be appreciated and feel that people recognize our efforts and what we do for women' issues and the welfare of the country in general.

What kind of difficulties do you face in the process of gathering the information for your progress report? And do you fear that you might be accused of showing only the good side of things since you are a government body after all?

Let me answer the second part of the question first. It would be expected that since we are a government body, we try to portray a positive image of the country's strategies towards women. But the truth is that we have been working very neutrally and in fact, we have been given this space by the Supreme Council for Women which is our supervising body chaired by the Prime Minister himself. So the answer is that we work independently and report on the status of women in Yemen without bias. It was also noticed at the CEDAW assemblies internationally that Yemen's government report and the Shadow report created by the civil society are quite similar and coherent, which proves my point. After all, if we keep saying that everything is ok, then how will we be able to really help Yemeni women improve their lives and gain their rights?

As to what kind of problems we face, they are numerous. To start with, there is the problem of documentation. About 70 percent of Yemenis live in rural areas where illiteracy is prevalent and the concept of documentation is almost nonexistent. Take for example the issue of early marriage; how can we know how many girls have been married off at an age younger than 15 years old when most of the girls born in rural areas don't have birth certificates?

Another problem is resources, as we are only a committee. Although we have many projects and a lot of responsibilities, we have not yet been given adequate resources by the government. This is why one of our continuous demands is to be upgraded to a Ministry for Women with a full budget.

What were the highlights of your progress report on Yemeni women for this session?

Overall the report acknowledges obstacles to women's empowerment while highlighting the government's efforts to reverse discriminatory patterns. We focused on the problem of underage marriage which is a very complex issue and a matter of great concern. We described our efforts to change the age to 18 and how we face strong opposition in Parliament, including among female representatives of conservative political parties.

We reported on the issue of “tourist marriages”” mostly between wealthy Saudi men and poor Yemeni girls