Half the WorldGender equality in Yemen [Archives:2005/857/Culture]

July 7 2005

By Women's National Committee
Gender inequality is a way of life in the context of Yemen with variations depending on the diverse religious, cultural, social and political tradition that influence it. Under the circumstances a one size fits all approach would be erroneous. Extent of mobility, segregation and educational opportunities are dependent on a number of factors including social and economic. Gender inequalities in access and control over resources persist in all aspects of women's life influencing economic opportunities, access to basic services and decision-making.

In the following section we will examine women's status in different sectors ranging from economy, health, education, political participation and institutional mechanisms in place to promote gender equality. Analysis of these issues will help inform future policy directions that need to be pursued if transformation in real condition of women in Yemen is to be achieved by 2015, so the next generation of Yemeni women have a chance of a better to-morrow.

Women and the Economy

Although right to work is recognized as a basic entitlement of all citizens immaterial of gender, in reality gender disparities in employment prevail. Article 5 of the Labour Code prescribes equality between the sexes in matters of employment, promotion, pay, training, qualifications and social security. Yemen is also signatory to key international conventions on women's rights such as Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Declaration for Human Rights, the International Convention for Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the ILO Convention on Equal Remuneration.

Moreover, the National Women's Employment Strategy 2001-2011 advocates four strategic objectives designed to promote women's employment, namely:

– Strategic Objective I: Increase women's employment opportunities in the labour market in line with economic changes in the country

– Strategic Objective II: Enhance women's competitiveness in the labour market through rehabilitation and training

– Strategic Objective III: Improve terms and conditions of women's employment through legal coverage that secures economic and social protection to women

– Strategic Objective IV: Raise awareness on women's work in Yemen.

The Directorate General for Working Women (DGWW) established in 1998 in the Ministry of Labour, was entrusted with the responsibility of enhancing gender equality, preventing discrimination in the world of work and improving women's employability through appropriate policies, legislation, and interventions. Despite all these measures, Yemen faces a major challenge in overcoming gender inequalities in labour participation and employment.

The female labour force participation rate is low at 21.8% compared to that of men 69.9%. Two-thirds of female employment comprises of unpaid family labour in agriculture. On the other hand male employment is paid and found in public administration, public enterprise or self-employed. Gender disparities in paid employment exist clearly. According to the ILO study on employment trends in Yemen, 62% of female employment is in the unpaid sector compared to 14% in paid employment and 24% self-employed. The small percentage of women in the formal sector are likely to hold public sector jobs in keeping with gender roles such as teachers and nurses. The remainder work in the informal sector or are self-employed.

Agriculture comprises the largest component of female labour with 72% working as unpaid family workers in rural areas. Despite this women's involvement in agriculture work is often unpaid and unrecognized. In the few cases that they engage in wage employment in the agriculture sector they are paid much less than men for the same job. The gender wage gap, women's wages as a percent of men's wages, is 62% across all occupations in Yemen according to LFS (1999). The gap is lowest in administration (84%), whilst in agriculture it is 75%, and is highest in services and sales (36%). Notions of men as heads of household influence women's access to productive resources and thus in turn her ability to engage in productive enterprise. Ownership of land, capital and other assets is with male members of the households. As discussed earlier on, social and cultural norms limit women's mobility and impact on her access to formal institutions such as banks and markets.

Moreover women's work is often viewed as low skilled, poorly paid and given low status. Discrimination in recruitment of women is not uncommon in the private sector with employers preferring men for the same job. Also gender stereotypes in job categories limit women's opportunities for employment with some sectors perceived as more in keeping with their gender roles and responsibilities such as education and healthcare, while preferring men for technical and often higher paying work.

According to the Second Industrial Survey of 1999, majority is small or medium industry with large being only 1%. 95% of industry is small and concentrated in traditional industries such as the food processing manufacture of textiles, clothing and leather products. The manufacturing sector employs 23,036 women and makes up 17% of female employment in paid work. Women's lack of relevant skills poses a major challenge in employment opportunities in the manufacturing sector. Women lack the resources and capital to venture out on their own and set up small enterprise. In the absence of targeted and easily accessible credit, women are unable to capitalize on the opportunity to set up their own enterprise. A few Non-Governmental organizations such as the Women Economic Empowerment Association (WEEA) have studied the possibility of building a saving scheme and collecting donations to be used for lending purposes. However, these have remained on paper to date pointing to the need for skilled micro-finance advisors and organisations in setting up these arrangements.

In recent years there has been considerable growth in the service sector. Despite this women's participation in the service sector remains low and falls far short of expectations. In terms of gender distribution in employment in service sector, approximately 42% of total service sector employees are owner-workers (and hence micro firms) or unpaid family workers with females constituting 5.9%. Prevalent services are male lead enterprise such as repairs, workshops and restaurants favoring male employment. Support services inclined to recruiting women such as secretarial services, data management and foreign languages are much fewer in comparison.

Prevailing gender division of labour results in women spending much of their time in household activities such as collection of water and fuel, especially in rural areas. Poor infrastructure facilities and absence of basic services further exacerbate the problem. These have far ranging implications both on women's health status and opportunity to engage in productive employment (income generation activities). Yemen's high fertility rate of 5.8 and early marriage further reduce women's opportunities in acquiring skills and training so they can compete in the labour market.

This is compounded by high illiteracy rates of 55% of female population and low skills.

Even when women surmount these challenges and manage to get educated, there is no guarantee that they will get gainful employment. Lack of employment opportunities is particularly noticeable among educated women, a third of whom are involuntarily unemployed. Female enrollment in vocational training is extremely low and plans to increase intake of females to 25,000 by 2025 unrealistic under the circumstance.

Although the law recognizes women's right to work discriminatory practices both within the household and the labour market persist. One such practice is women who wish to work in the public sector require their husband's permission to work. Access to employment opportunities is also hindered by poor infrastructure, notably low access to public transportation.

To be continued next week