Integrating Women into National Development [Archives:2000/14/Reportage]

April 3 2000

Jalal Al-Shara’abi
Tawfeek M. Saeed
Yemen Times

Under the motto of “Integrating women into development and planning”, Post-Beijing Follow-up operations, Phase II organized a special training course for gender focal points and those concerned with women’s issues in ministries and different governmental institutions. The workshop was organized during 27-29 March 2000 in Haddah Hotel and was attended by a good number of women participants from different ministries and governmental institutions so as to prepare them to be active and dynamic where they work. This workshop is the third one organized by the project sponsors since it started its activities in April 1999. Yemen Times met with the national manager, Unifem, and some of the participants to know their ambitions and concerns and they had the following to say:

Samira Ali Bin Daair, National Manager, Post-Beijing Operations II, UNIFEM, said “The main objectives behind this training workshop is to increase awareness and to discuss all the issues surrounding women and development in terms of the concept of gender. It is so because there is a lot of misunderstanding about gender and what it really means. We are going to train these participants to practically understand the process of gender mainstreaming so that they can later on train others.
The PB II country office works both with the National Women’s Committee and NGOs to develop awareness amongst the public. To be specific, they will have to create an awareness in the ministries and to create an impact on policies and decision makers.
Mrs. Daair raised the difficulties that they face as follows: gender is an alien sort of concept. It is not a part of the Islamic culture or the Arabic language and there lies the problem. So first of all we have to make the people understand by simplifying and demystifying this concept. In other words, if we have a strategy for integrating women into the labor market, what it boils down to is to give them access to economic means to livelihood. This will, in a sense, improve the family’s income and help alleviate the poverty we are suffering from.
When we talk about gender mainstreaming into education, we mean greater awareness and higher rate of literacy. Women literacy rates are shamefully low in this country although, women are the very basis of the family. When you educate a woman, you educate a family, consequently educate the society. So women have to be integrated into the development plans. However, the question that pops up is “How can they be integrated into development without being educated?!”. 

Therefore, education is very important. We are talking about giving women access to the basic facilities of health, for example. A case in point is the high maternal mortality rates at childbirth in Sabeen Hospital alone within the capital, let alone the rural areas. Gender is not a mysterious concept and woman is not a strange human being who is hanging there in the air. She has a distinct social status. She has relations within the family, with her employers and so forth. We are talking about a host of complex relationships that women have within the community. We want to improve upon this because improving upon women is improving the society and ensuring the basic prerequisite for national development.

Thus, first of all, we have to put the whole concept of gender, in proper perspective. Secondly we want these ladies who work as focal points in different ministries to properly understand the processes of gender mainstreaming; How can they mainstream these issues and lead to formulate the mandates within the different ministries for women’s departments. The other aspect is to thrash out difficult issues pertaining to women in Yemen. Therefore, it is going to be a general brain-storming on the different issues so that we all can come out with more clarity on what we need to do and how we need to address the different complex issues on women.
To integrate women in development means to give them chances to be decision makers. If we have a woman who has a decision making role, even within her own family, this could be quite good. If she has an extra income, for example, it’s most likely that she will spend it on the family, on children, which sometimes men may not do. So if women are allowed to take important decisions, I think they will create a better world. They are more sensitive to social problems, they can create a more congenial environment for children to be better educated and brought up. As an educated middle class Yemeni woman I sometimes feel that I do not have the decision making power regarding how my children should be educated. That is very wrong. If we have a focal point within the Ministry of Education, we can have a say in the kind of curriculum we want for our kids, we can have a say in how many girls should be educated and how many girls’ schools we must have in this country.
Talking about economics, women unfortunately do not have all the decision making powers about how the national economy should be run. If there are a vast majority of women uneducated and unaware, how can we talk about democracy!!
There are many other different barriers impeding the integration of women into development. For example, there are a certain amount of social barriers and misunderstanding relating to women’s roles. Though our religion asserts women’s rights in education as well as other rights, we find that they are deprived of many of their rights. There is nothing to tell me that a woman or a girl should not be educated for education is encumbent upon the male and female in the Holy Qura’an. We have to differentiate between the true teachings of Islam and tradition. The second point is regarding the lack of the provision of facilities for girls. I think we have to be sensitive to the local culture when talking about integrating women in development. I do not think that when talking about gender, we should talk about how it is done in the west, mainly because each country has its own value system which has to be respected. If I want to increase girls enrollment in schools, I should have a school near girls’ houses. I can not expect my daughter to walk twenty miles from the village to reach school. I should have the necessary facilities. And we should have separate girls’ schools as co-education is not accepted culturally. So we should understand this within our cultural context.
The participants are dynamic and enthusiastic. If they are given opportunities by their ministries they will do great work.
The basic problem I really face as a Yemeni Muslim woman is that of being in-between the two forces, the western ideas and development on account of my association with international organizations and second, my Yemeni country men and country fellow women. Sometimes I feel that the role that people like us can play is that of bridging the gap between the two because sometimes the western world can not quite understand us. There are different problems in Yemen emerging from the value system which should be respected. The positive thing we can do is to define the real needs of Yemeni women and try to address them within the context of Yemen although there may be certain universal issues pertaining to women. I would not like to sit on my chair and talk about all these issues theoretically and forget the grass root level people who form the majority in this country. We must not forget this “silent majority” whose needs should be expressed in development plans.
Noor Husain Al-Bakri, chairperson of Training in the Civil Service Ministry said “The workshop was held to integrate women in development and planning. It is of prime importance because it will train women from different administrative departments in many ministries to be more aware of and assertive about their rights. Though there is a law that stipulates the establishment of general directorates for women in all the ministries, the law has not been applied in all the ministries, especially in the Ministry of Civil Service. The point of integrating women in development is an active issue in so far as women are more in number than men. On the other hand, the number of those working in the governmental posts is very small say about 37 %. So it is essential that we establish the women’s department in the Ministry of Civil Service so that it takes care of women’s issues and looks after their employment, and their qualifications. At the same time it can make efforts to make their incomes equal to those of men and give them the opportunity to attend training courses abroad just like men.
So I believe that this workshop will lay the foundation for training the focal points in ministries so that there will be an organized structure in each ministry according to its scope.
Mrs. Swa’ad Anwar Khan, general director for women development in the Ministry of Fisheries and a national as well as an international expert for WID Fisheries Sector, said “The main point of our workshop is that it deals with all the problems facing Yemeni women. We have recently prepared the new strategies for work for the Yemeni women. Now we are discussing the idea how to promote women in development and planning. As a matter of fact, the international strategies are planned in a way to cover the decade from 2000 to 2010, and are made in a way to focus on two main objectives: first, involving women in social development; second, environment and sustainable use of resources.
According to the statistics in Yemen, women are numerically more than men. When they work they work more. However, their work is not recognized. By integrating women into development we intend to recognize their contribution to development, and thus, respond to their special needs. So they should be given chances for decision making.
I believe that the Yemeni society has started accepting new concepts and I believe that women are moving slowly along the process of integration. However, there are a lot of problems that are impeding women from enjoying their rights. Though our religion has actually accorded them a high place and assured them of their rights, they are deprived of many of them. Women have been mentioned so many times in the Holy Qura’an and their importance is best suggested by having a special Soorah “Al-Nissaa” meaning women in the Holy Qura’an which talks about them. Now what we are doing is that we are trying to find ourselves a foothold in the current international scenario so as to assert some of women’s rights. I am sure we will succeed.