Half the WorldBy Women’s National Committee [Archives:2005/855/Culture]

June 30 2005

The economic, policy and legal environment for gender equality in Yemen
Economic and social development programmes aimed at improving living condition of the population have been in existence in Yemen since the 1970s. These programmes were successful to a limited extent through development of basic infrastructure, expansion of social services and support to agriculture and industry. The subsequent economic downturn beginning in the 1980s and the shock to the economy in the early 1990s resulted in decline in Gross National Product (GNP) per capita from US$ 701 to US$ 318 during the period 1990-1995 (Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper PRSP, pg. 1). The Unification of Yemen in 1990 was a step forward in providing political stability despite the challenges met in the form of failed attempts at secession.

The outbreak of the Gulf War was a setback to Yemen's economy with loss of foreign assistance and the repatriation of over million Yemeni workers abroad. A two-year drought in a water scarce agricultural economy, collapse of the USSR a significant aid donor to the South and drop in oil prices further aggravated the situation. Confronted with the macro-economic imbalance the Government of Yemen was left with little choice but enter into an Economic, Financial and Administrative Reform Programme (EFARP) in 1995 aimed at revitalizing the economy, increasing employment and incomes.

Seven years after the adoption of the stabilization package the performance has been chequered. Visible reduction in inflation, greater control over fiscal and current account imbalances and stabilization of exchange rate are no mean achievements and can be attributed to the reform. Despite this the Household Budget Survey of 1998 indicates that 17.6% of the population suffer from acute poverty or food poverty, while 41.8% are under the upper poverty line (PRS, pg.xi). Yemen exhibits all the characteristics of a developing country with extremely poor communities and ranks 133 out of 162 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI) for 2001. Indebtedness is high amongst the poor, lack of access to schools and health facilities, agriculture extention work and government public services, high birth rates and high unemployment are some of the challenges ahead. Although there are no gender-disaggregated data on the incidence of poverty, if the poor Gender Development Index is any indication, women in Yemen are far worse off than men. These issues will be explored in depth in Section 3 of this paper.

Policy and Legislative Environment for Gender Equality and Women Empowerment

The government of Yemen in the past decade, especially post-Beijing has attempted to create a policy environment to enhance women's participation in different spheres of the economy. Some of the key government policies and strategies aimed at addressing women's specific condition and enhancing her participation are mentioned here.

The National Strategy of Women's Development (Gender Strategy) , endorsed in May 2003, provides a policy framework to promote gender equality and women's rights. It provides the strategic directions for the WNC to improve women's status in Yemen. The Strategy focuses on: (1) Promoting and endorsing the basic principles of CEDAW and BPFA, with a particular emphasis on reviewing and amending gender discriminatory laws; (2) Gender mainstreaming in all sectors of the PRSP; (3) Increasing women's representation and political participation; and (4) Institutional capacity building for the WNC's staff, focal persons and Head Officers at governorate levels in order to plan, implement and monitor activities in line with the strategy. The strategy also emphasises building partnerships with CSOs and donors to promote the strategy's direction and realization.

Health Sector Reform was launched in 1998 by the Ministry of Health. The HSR provides the framework for primary health care with emphasis on equity, quality, efficiency, effectiveness and accessibility. Reorganisation of the health system through greater decentralization of management and service delivery from central to district forms the core agenda.

National Strategic Framework for the Control and Prevention of HIV/AIDS endorsed by the Cabinet in 2002 recognises equality in allocation of resources between education and health services for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Emphasis is on awareness raising on the issue especially amongst the youth. Mention is made specifically to women's particular needs and their rights to be taken into account fully in drawing up appropriate responses.

Basic Education Strategy Until 1998 the Yemen government had a specific Girls Education Strategy, which was then included in the National Strategy for Development of Basic Education 2003 -2015. The girl's education is an important component and looks at changing attitudes towards girls education through curriculum development, recruitment of female teachers and campaigns to promote girl children's educational opportunities.

Illiteracy and Adult education programme (1998-2020) specifically aimed at overcoming illiteracy among rural women comprising 74% of total illiteracy. A department was created affiliated to the Ministry of Education and until recently was headed by a woman. It targets women in the age group of 10-45 years and girls who drop out of school. Specific focus is on reducing increasing illiteracy in future generations through special programmes for adult education. However, absence of budget allocation and low payment of teachers are major constraint in the effective implementation of this policy.

Central Statistical Organisation started focusing on gender disaggregated statistical data in 1997 and produced its first report in 1999. This report was translated in English and workshops were organized to disseminate information on education, health, laws, employment, women political participation and violence against women. The updated report of 2001 included two other issues namely women and poverty and women and environment.

Justice Sector Reform Project is ongoing and looks at women's access to justices and legal redress. It seeks to examine gender sensitivity in terms of women's ability to use the court systems, access to law, information, legal assistance, support; facilitate attitudinal change in legal officers including judges, lawyers, clerks and other functionaries towards women petitioners.

Women Labour Strategy was formulated for the period between 2001-2011. The main objective of this strategy was to enhance women's participation in the labour market given prevailing economic changes. Emphasis was on increasing women's skill to compete effectively in the labour market through capacity building and training programmes. Focus was also on improving the conditions of work through institutional changes, as well as economic and social protection for women. In addition, raising awareness on resistance to women's labour force participation in recruitment and retention. Key objectives:

– Increase the number of women employees in the private sector

– Provide services to encourage women to engage in micro enterprise and be self-employed

– Support women in both agriculture and fisheries sector

– Remove barriers faced by women with disability in access to employment through appropriate skill training

– Establish a database on women's labour force and link it with the demands of the labour market

– Effective co-ordination to overcome gaps and in data and statistics

National Strategy for Agriculture Advancement and development was formulated in 1999. The main purpose was mobilization of human resources and employment in the rural areas, and included both men and women. In terms of gender perspective it intended to bridge the gender gap in employment through affirmative action for women. It also aimed at building rural women's capacities as socio-economic productive actors in the development process through integrating gender concern in planning and implementation of programmes and projects related to agrarian policies.

Population Policy (2001-2025) has three comprehensive strategies none of which make any explicit mention of gender inequalities. In terms of principles and objectives the policy focuses on the International Conference on Population and Development and the BPFA. Discussions are on the basis of equity, equality and women's empowerment. It points to the lacunae in community involvement and civil society organization in protecting entitlements of marginalized groups particularly women. It recognises discrimination within household and family resulting in subordinate position of women. Acknowledges resistance from some political and religious groups on women's political participation as well as legislative challenges in ensuring the same. The final document of the Population Council talks about bridging the gender gap in education, labour and access to social services and reviewing laws and legislations from women's perspectives.

Major critic is that there is a wide gap between legislative provisions and actual practice in the context of population policies. Policy recommendations do not look at women's specific needs and constraints towards elimination of discrimination against women but make generic recommendations.

International Conventions Yemen is signatory to approximately 60 International

Conventions eleven of which relate to gender equality and women's rights. The Government of Yemen was one of the first Arab countries to ratify the CEDAW in May 1984 without reservation, but post unification it has reserved on Article 29 due to political pressure from conservative groups. It has also signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention which is no small achievement.