Plight of Rural Women in Yemen [Archives:2000/20/Culture]

May 15 2000

Jalal Al-Sharabi,
Yemen Times
Yemeni women entered the 3rd millennium with a lot of problems and worries regarding how to keep pace with the information revolution and explosion in technology.
In addition to challenges before the Yemeni women in general, the bulk of rural women are much more intrigued due to the shackles of tradition, customs, and deceptive promises of political parties for their empowerment.
Furthermore, rural women are beguiled by the so-called women’s associations which receive substantial financial aid from different countries. Those associations pose that they want to develop rural women’s life. There are more than fifty women associations, but they have hardly achieved anything spectacular in respect of rural women.
It is worth mentioning that rural women form a major chunk of women’s population in Yemen, but unfortunately they are denied the essential service facilities like health care centers and educational training centers.
Rural women are treated more or less as slaves. They are subservient to men folk and lack the liberty to voice their opinion regarding what is right and what is wrong. They live a miserable life, and are victims of fruitless customs.
If once casts a cursory glance at the pathetic condition women in Yemen, one can easily realize the serious magnitude of danger that threatens them. There is a sinister conspiracy to deport qualified and conscious women occupying high positions in the state. For example, a campaign was recently launched against Dr. Rawfa Hassan, who was the Chairman of Women’s Studies and Applied Researches Center, Sana’a University. Eventually she was deported to a foreign country. Another example is Ms. Amat Al-Aleem Assoswa, who was the Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Information. She was removed from her position to be the Chairman of National Women’s Committee, and then shunted out as an ambassador in the Netherlands.
The contemporary political trend seems to get rid of enlightened women lest they should be the nuclei to spread women’s education and work for liberation of women. Widespread illiteracy in Yemen is the breeding ground for many social evils. There are two reasons that prevent women to be educated. The first one is that there are no private schools and qualified teachers. The second one is the shackles of traditions and customs that bind them. The father refuses to allow his daughter to study in boys’ schools due to the prevalent social customs.
Furthermore, rural women are prevented from getting their legal rights. They spend their time in farms, mountains, and houses. They are treated like beasts of burden used for bringing water from wells to houses or farms.
They are deprived of their legitimate say in such sensitive matters as marriage, which are settled in markets or ‘Maqhyal’, where people gather to chew qat. Fathers never consult their daughters in their marriage. They just choose whoever they want, regardless of their daughters’ choice. If we look to rural men-folk, we find that they get married to three or four wives, so as to make them work at farms. They can change their wives at any time at their whim or caprice. There are instances where some women have deliver ed babies in valleys while they are gathering grass for animals!!
Political Participation of Rural Women:
In spite of the narrow democratic right given to women in Yemen and the repeated calls of the political parties and opposition to grant more liberty to women, the position of women is still in the abyss. There are a lot of obstacles that stand in the way of women being liberated from their bondage.
Before the unification in 1988, only nine women were elected to the council of the state. In parliamentary elections in 1993 and 1997, two women were elected. A rural woman was a candidate one of the elections, but the popular mandate went in favor of an elitist women. Yemeni women have so fare failed to achieve their objective in reaching any high political position.
Despite the success of two candidates in the parliamentary elections in 1993 and 1997, because they were Socialist Party and General People’s Congress nominees, they had hardly any forceful impact. There are a number of women in the ruling party, but they are interested to further their individual interests rather than work towards betterment of women’s liberty. They are a victim to political parties and women’s associations making the possibility of their improvement a myth in search of a reality.
National Women’s Societies:
These societies work under the umbrella of democracy. They call women to join through legal means the civil society institutions. The aim of those societies is an empty verbiage. They can not really push the wheel of women’s rights, but are just running after financial gains.
They have miserably failed to provide any support to women in urban or rural areas. They are just collating tales about women’s suffering and presenting them to the international women’s associations. Regardless of the practical politics followed by national women’s associations in Yemen, their role becomes crisp when they are affiliated to the ruling party. They dance to the tune of the party that provides funding to them.
Some women who are working in the public institutions were arbitrated by managers and employees. Since those associations played no meaningful role, they failed to achieve anything concrete in favor of those women. For example, when Women’s Studies and Applied Researches Center was closed, they could not reverse this decision. So ultimately what is the role of these associations? They are virtually ineffectual organs which cannot achieve anything concrete.
Even the Yemeni Women’s Union which is supposed to be the syndicate playing a crucial role in supporting women, is presently gone with the wind.
It is difficult to speak about improving rural women’s situation in the 3rd millennium, unless the leaders in the political parties drastically revise their attitude towards these associations. Obviously, all national women’s associations and committees are in the rat race to gain more advantage for themselves and buttress their individual interests, rather than bring a transformation in women’s position in society.