More Progress for Yemeni Women [Archives:1998/11/Culture]

March 16 1998

A study was conducted by three university professors and more than 30 field surveyors covering social values. It covered five regions: Sanaa-Hajja, Dhamar-Ibb, Taiz-Lahaj, Abyan, and Tihama. In every area, 70 women and 30 men were taken as a research sample base.
The following article is based on a lecture by Dr. Hamood Al-Oudi, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Sanaa.
Social Upbringing
This stage includes the period immediately after birth up to the age of maturity, when learning, education, gender recognition, other basic social skills are acquired.
a- As far as girls’ education is concerned, it was found there is almost a split in the middle between those in favor and those who do not regard it as important. The latter case is especially pronounced in rural areas where there is a marked lack of schools for girls and female teachers willing to go to remote villages. Many people do not reject women’s education in principle, but the hindering factors are many.
– Lack of public transportation and other facilities hinder girls from going to school in remote villages, while, boys are allowed to travel long distance without any social obstacles.
– Due to social restrictions and lack of finance, boys are sent to school and girls’ education is sacrificed. So this discrimination is not based on sex so much as on surrendering to life’s hardships.
In the southern parts of Yemen, the state used to offer public and army means of transport to take boys and girls living in remote villages to their schools every morning, and bring them back home. All this has changed now. Young girls are now sitting at home, and boys do not go to school until they are eight years old. So it all boils down to financial resources.
b- Interaction between children and adults within the Yemeni family is found to be based more on creating a stable family than on violence and being tough. The principle adopted by the majority of parents is to strike a balance between firmness and leniency in bringing up the children. A degree of freedom reaching about 81.9% of the family has made resorting to violence retreat considerably. It does not now even have any statistical significance. For the 74.3% of the parents who support the principle of leniency-firmness balance, 14.1% support giving more freedom to their children.
c- Equality within the family can be gauged by several factors:
– If the family does not have enough financial resources, who has the priority in getting new clothes in Eid, for instance? Boys or girls?
– If there is a trip planned, who has privilege of going, males or females?
These are very important factors to ascertain qualitative attitudes within the family.
As far as food, clothing are concerned, it was found that there is an almost complete equality within the family. In some cases, in fact, some fathers indicated that if they do not have enough money at Eid time to buy clothes for all of their children, girls are given priority over boys. Playing, going out, and companionship, however, are a different matter. A father can take his son with him to work, visit friends, etc, while there are more restrictions on girls. So 75% of the parents said that they sometimes discriminate against girls in recreational activities. And 89.3% indicated that they treat their children with equality when it comes to feeding and clothing them.
There is less inclination on part of the male siblings to dominate their sisters. Only 32% of the boys tried, sometimes encouraged by their elders, to dominate the female members of the family.
Role Formation
Upon reaching maturity, a person starts to make choices for the future – marriage, career, etc. The formation of a man’s or woman’s role in life is the result of all the previous stages of up-bringing.
a- A good 63.2% of the sample are in favor of women going out to work, while, 36.8% are against. About 60% support a woman’s right to choose the job that suits her, while 40% indicated that women should only be involved in domestic or agricultural work. Those who stressed equality between men and women in wages represented 62% of the sample. Women are very assertive in going out to work, in response to a generally opposing trend on the part of men.
b- A rather strong trend was found regarding women’s choice of a marriage partner – 73.7% of the sample asserted a woman’s right to choose her future husband. However, 85.3% of the sample also emphasized the right of the father to have a say in choosing his daughter’s future husband. About 70% of the sample no longer insist on marriage to a relative – the traditional norm for preserving property through inheritance and strengthening tribal cohesion.
c- A positive trend was found to be developing, concerning men’s participation in doing the household chores and women’s assertiveness in taking family decisions. About 73% of the sample ruled out the concept that doing some of the household chores would denigrate the man or lower his public or private status. Around 66% of the interviewed married couples emphasized that both partners participate in taking decisions concerning the family. This trend, however, has not yet developed into a general social attitude. A few years ago it was shameful for a woman to ask her husband to help her do the house work. This is changing now.
Women’s Role in Public Life
Quantitative and qualitative indicators vis-a-vis women’s participation in the 1993 general elections were rather negative not because 61.4% of the sample agreed that the majority of women did not take part, but also because women’s participation in rural areas was neither statistically nor socially significant. The modest participation was mainly in response to the men’s public requests.
Women did not take part in the 1993 and 1997 general elections as a social force. They went out to vote upon the instigation and will of the various political parties. Women’s going out to vote in itself, however, is a big step forward.
Khairiya Al-Shabeebi