International Women’s DayYemeni women face breadth of issues [Archives:2005/824/Reportage]

March 14 2005
Photo from archived article: photos/824/report1_1
Photo from archived article: photos/824/report1_1
By Nadia al-Sakkaf
and Fahmia al-Futaih
Yemen Times Staff

Last week the Women's National Committee celebrated the International Women's Day by conducting a two-day conference in which many issues relating to women's status in Yemen were discussed.

The strategic and general directions of 2005 plan was assessed and discussed by the WNC through a working paper on this assessment in the education, economy, health, infrastructure, environment, national strategy for women from 2006-2015.

In addition legal amendments, where a proposal for amending 27 laws, were discussed. Working papers on early marriage and women sports were also discussed.

This year, WNC's celebration of Women's International Day paralleled the 49th session of the Commission on the Status of Women of the UN.

More than 700 attended the March 8 ceremony, and Prime Minister Abdulqadir Bajamal attended part of the two-day conference.

Mrs. Hooria Mashoor deputy chairperson of the WNC, commented on the great disparity in accessing opportunities, services and resources between men and women on the one side and between the rich and the poor on the other.

“In our country, we see this occasion as a valuable opportunity that must be used to review the updates in Yemeni women's progress. Today, this issue has gained many supporters who encourage integrating women in into the public sphere in accordance with the era's essence and necessity of change and development.

“This trend comes in line also with the political directions that call on creating political mobilization that would lead the socio-economic process and that would view women as a basic constituent of change.

“This national initiative carries in its fold deep reading and realization of the rapid transformations taken place in the world. This initiative is presented through positive dealing of political authorities with the women's movement project in implementing the Quota System adopted by the Women's National Committee.

“This quota system is seen as a breakthrough for women in order to overcome cultural and social barriers and to ensure adequate and fair representation of Yemeni women in all authority and decision making position in both elected and non-elected bodies.”

Themes at the conference, included:

Linking gender equality to the Millennium Development Goals

The MDGs commits member countries to promote gender equality and women's empowerment as a necessary condition to combat poverty. Persistent gender inequalities is seen as being one of the underlying causes of poverty both from the point of view of limiting women's capacities to contribute fully to growth as well as benefit from development.

Women's exclusion and persistent margenelisation from the social, economic and political spheres of the economy results in both their inability to participate fully in development but also limits the extent to which a country can emerge from the poverty trap. While all the eight MDGs endorse this view and recognize the fact that gender equality and women's empowerment is central to eradicate poverty, Goal 3 specifically focuses on achievement of gender equality and women's empowerment.

Development planning

Yemen was one of eight pilot countries selected by the UN Millennium Project to ensure achievement of MDGs by 2015. Pursuant to this the Ministry of Planning and International Co-operation (MoPIC) took a lead in carrying out the MDG Needs Assessment and Costing. The outcomes of the needs assessment and costing will form the basis for development of the forthcoming Third Five Years Plan for Development and Poverty Reduction (2006-2010). The MoPIC set up five Thematic Working Groups (TWGs) on Macro-Economic Growth & Employment, Health, Education, Infrastructure and Environment along with three groups on Gender, Decentralization and Civil Society to address cross-cutting issues.

The economic environment for gender equality

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 legislative environment for gender equality

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 gender strategy

This 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 emphasizes building partnerships with CSOs and donors to promote the strategy's direction and realization.

Health sector reform

This 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. Reorganization of the health system through greater decentralization of management and service delivery from central to district forms the core agenda.

National strategy for HIV/AIDS

Endorsed by the Cabinet in 2002, this recognizes 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.

This 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 Organization

It 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

This 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 labor strategy

It was formulated for the period between 2001-2011. The main objective of this strategy was to enhance women's participation in the labor market given prevailing economic changes. Emphasis was on increasing women's skill to compete effectively in the labor market through capacity building and training programs. Focus was also on improving the conditions of work through institutional changes, as well as economic and social protection for women.

National strategy for agriculture advancement and development

This 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 programs and projects related to agrarian policies.

Population Policy (2001-2025)

It 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 recognizes 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, labor 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.

Gender equality

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, segregration 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.

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 Labor 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.

Women and health

In the last decade, Yemen has achieved progress in improving health with significant improvement in health indicators especially that of infant and under 5 mortality rates. Programs such as dehydration and diarrhea eradication programs, regular vaccination against deadly diseases campaigns (chicken pox, Diftiria, TB, Children Paralysis) contributed to this success. Despite these gains the overall health status of women and children in Yemen leaves much to be desired.

Women and education

The Yemen government has made a considerable effort to enhance primary education in the past decade. Both national and donor funds have been invested towards improving access and quality of education through various interventions. In the period between 2000-2005, gender equity in education was actively pursued through the Second Five years plan 2000-2005, the National Strategy for Improving primary education (part of the Education for All initiative) and through the National Strategy for Poverty Reduction.

The National Strategy of Girls Education, 1998 focuses on increasing primary education opportunities for girls and aimed to increase the rate of enrolment upto 80% in 2025. Despite these initiatives education of girl children in Yemen lags far behind that of boys both in primary as well as secondary education. In the following section we focus on the specific challenges in achieving gender parity in education as per the MDG commitments.

Women and political participation

Despite considerable progress in the democratic system since Yemen's Unification in 1990, women's political participation continues to remain low. Of the total 7251 representatives in the Parliament and local councils only 38 are women. Women's representation overall comprises only 0.5% in the elected institutions. Gender disparities in women's representation also persist in the government with only 16,200 women and legal institutions with female judges numbering 32.

Political participation is fundamental to the process of change and transformation. However, both political parties and civil society organizations instrumental in enhancing women's participation in public spaces and decision-making are governed by traditional political structures and attitudes towards women's participation in political process. We look at some of the issues related to women's participation and underlying causes leading to poor performance in the following section.

Women and law

The Constitution of the Republic of Yemen promulgated in 1994 recognizes equality between men and women before the law and is enshrined in Article 40 which states 'All citizens are equal in general rights and obligations' before the law. In addition to the equality provision Yemen is also a signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) and signed the Optional Protocol last year. Despite these commitments women in Yemen still experience inequalities both in terms of access to law as well as inconsistencies in the interpretation of the equality principle.

Conference recommendations

The participants came up with a number of recommendations that all aim at activating the woman role in the political and developmental participation in the society.

All the recommendation stressed on the necessity of cooperation between the official institutions and civic societies to implement the strategy of developing the woman status and set a mechanism to monitor and follow up the levels of implementation of the strategy.

The recommendations also pointed out to the importance of having a woman cadre in drawing, starting out and implementing the policies, programs and the different developmental projects to ensure the woman needs especially what concerns the rural woman. All the recommendations focus on the improving the infrastructure services to serve the issues and needs of the woman development programs in a short and a long term.

The participants called for increasing the participation of woman in structures of the high authorities decision-making and apply the equality standard between men and women in posting the leading positions.

The recommendations also stressed on the importance of media role in raising woman issues and needs and paying attention in raise awareness among the women in rural and remote areas in all educational and healthy issues as well as paying attention to carry out studies and surveys to genuinely know the problems and reasons that lead to increase diseases infection among women including breast cancer and the fatal diseases like AIDS and the ways of its transmission.

The recommendations demanded for hastily implement the articles and local laws that parallel with level of labor laws in Arab and foreign countries and other laws that Yemen has ratified. Moreover, they called for healing all the shapes of discrimination in all labor sectors and guarantee the legal protection for woman workers and support their issues.

The recommendations called all the committees that support woman in the government, parties, and civic society organizations to stand together in attempt to apply quota system for women to pave the way for woman to the decision-making positions through which she can monitor the women situations and improve their roles in all life aspects.