First female zone chief describes her experience [Archives:2007/1017/Reportage]

January 18 2007

By: Aden Bureau
Selecting an eligible zone chief is of great importance because these societal personalities contribute to settling disputes between locals in various parts of Yemen. In Al-Khassaf, where the zone chief post was male-dominated, locals appreciate the way their female chief treats them. An Aden woman, Fikria Khalid Abdu Mohammed, changed the norm to become appointed zone chief in Al-Khassaf area in Sirah district.

To learn more about her experience, the Yemen Times asked Mohammed the following questions:

How did area locals accept your appointment as their leader?

I'm one of the prominent societal personalities in Al-Khassaf area and I work in the Aden Social Affairs Office. I was shocked at the appointment decision, which was issued in January 2003 by former Aden governor, Dr. Yahya Al-Shu'aibi.

Locals were surprised by the decision because it was the first time a woman became a zone chief in Yemen. However, over time, I worked to serve the locals of my area, despite harsh criticism to which I was subjected. Residents later began to understand the importance of the zone chief's work because this individual works hard to serve the locals and settle any social disputes one by one.

How do you manage the two tasks, your work in Aden's Social Affairs Office and your work as head of Al-Khassaf zone?

Of course, I manage to do both, as the two are concerned with social issues. However, the zone chief has other social tasks, such as following up issues concerned with water and electricity projects and health care, in addition to other charitable work that helps those of limited income gain a livelihood for their families.

A zone chief must be patient and tolerant, as well as understand how to address locals from different classes and families. Al-Khassaf is a large area whose residents suffer extreme poverty. For this reason, my duty is to help locals overcome poverty and lead a good life.

As zone chief, what about your relationship with district and governorate leaders?

I always contact these leaders to tackle issues involving locals. Sirah district officials help me settle disputes between locals, as well as extend charitable aid to them.

Following your appointment to head Al-Khassaf zone, do you think Yemeni women are granted all of their rights and have become equal to men in various political and social spheres?

Women in Aden and in Yemen remain oppressed and they aren't granted all of their rights. Many courses held in Aden so far have discussed numerous social issues, but one realizes that women's participation as zone chiefs is marginalized.

Additionally, the role of women was edged out during the most recent local elections, wherein women were used as voters, not as candidates. We demand the Yemeni government enable women to exercise all of their constitutional and legal rights, as well as participate in political life.

We urge Aden governorate leaders to pay closer attention to zone chiefs, encourage them to do their best and not edge out their role. Zone chiefs work day and night and their homes always are open to hear issues and complaints by locals.

Does the government pay you for your social work as head of Al-Khassaf zone?

We only receive YR 2,500-3,000 per month, which isn't enough because many zone chiefs are retired and receive very low pensions. We don't know why the government only gives YR 2,500 monthly when these individuals have long experience in their work. Such paltry payment doesn't motivate them to work harder; thus, we demand concerned parties reconsider the incentives owed to zone chiefs. Many youths are jobless, yet they work as zone chiefs for very low incentives.

Can you tell us about your relationship with Sirah district's security apparatuses?

I have good relations with security authorities. The zone chief is one of those tasked with improving the area's level of security, which is why we intervene in some social issues, solving them via peaceful methods at Sirah district police stations.

Do you face difficulties doing your work as head of Al-Khassaf zone and your domestic duties?

Every type of work has its own barriers. For example, we faced several difficulties while following up the water and sanitation project. Al-Khassaf is a popular zone whose residents have no access to water or electricity and most youth are idle, have no jobs and live in a state of extreme poverty.

Born in 1966 in Aden's Crater area, Fikria Khalid Abdu Mohammed is a married mother of three.