Reaching out to the public [Archives:2007/1021/Front Page]

February 1 2007

Nadia Al-Sakkaf
The Gender Equality project at the Ministry of Human Rights has produced a simplified version of articles relating to women in Yemeni laws in an attempt to reach out to the public and enhance general awareness about women's law in Yemen.

SANA'A, Jan. 31 – In a promising initiative, articles related to women were gathered from laws on labor, family and women's human rights and simplified so as to be accessible to the general public.

The initiative was conducted by the gender equality component of the Strengthening National Capacity in Human Rights Project implemented by the Ministry of Human Rights and supported by the United Nations Development Program.

“The point is to enhance community awareness – especially among women – about women's rights. The final material will be posted on the Human Rights Ministry's web site, printed in leaflets and posters and distributed in the form of audio cassettes in rural areas where there's a high illiteracy rate,” explains women's rights advocate Hooria Mashoor, who's in charge of the gender equality component.

In order to validate the material created, the team presented the outcomes of their research at a workshop involving various stakeholders for discussion and feedback Monday. Inaugurated by the Minister of Human Rights, the workshop brought together numerous senior government officials, non-governmental organizations and members of Parliament's Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee, as well as some Shoura Council members.

The workshop's main focus was to discuss the legal materials collected, classified and simplified (including frequently asked questions) by a team of national legal experts headed by Ahmed Al-Wadee. Participants will get back to the team with their comments and feedback within coming weeks in order to finalize the material for printing and distribution.

Commenting on the practicality of their mission, Al-Wadee said it was impossible to gather every human rights article because many stated legal rights apply to both men and women. “What we did is identify and gather the laws which clearly applied to women and then we simplified them,” he explained.

“One concern for us during simplification was how to reach out to the three types of Yemeni women: illiterate, partially educated and intellectuals. By using the cassettes, we hope to overcome the problem of illiterate women, as well as provide the laws in a mixture of local dialects and classical Arabic in order to ensure maximum outreach,” Al-Wadee added.

The collected articles cover all legal issues relating to women, such as pensions, nationality, marriage, divorce, etc. The effort is seen as the first stage of an overall awareness project to help Yemeni women claim their rights.

UNFPA gender program officer Sawsen Al-Refai praised the initiative as a first step that must be taken, adding, “It's important to start somewhere and that's what this project is achieving. However, without sincere government commitment, implementing such laws in real life will remain unaccomplished.”

The UNFPA's Elobaid Ahmed Elobaid, manager of the overall UNDP project, re-emphasized the fact that the project was designed to bridge the gap between laws and regulations and the common man. “Rights are useless unless you know about them. Our work here increases the chance of having more effective laws because only when you know what exists, can you identify what needs to be changed,” he added.

Member of Parliament and head of Parliament's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Ali Abdullah Abu Hulaiqa commented, “The work was impressive and I feel the team behind this has done a good job. I believe civil societies and human rights NGOs working in Yemen are a positive turning point toward the nation's future.

“Now it's our turn to advocate human and women's rights, especially as members of parliament, and advise the government on the best procedures to enhance women's status because they're half of society and considered partners to men by the Yemeni Constitution,” he noted.

Elobaid agrees with Abu Hulaiqa on the work's significance, attributing the workshop's high-quality participation to the quality of quiet leadership possessed by Mashoor, as well as the professional work done by the team of national legal experts.

As a follow-up, several NGOs will be contracted through UNDP's competitive process to disseminate the information. The material will be advocated via eight centers affiliated with those NGOs in four governorates: Sana'a, Taiz, Aden and Hadramout.

Monday's discussion workshop was organized as part of activities related to promoting women's rights by using ICT (information and telecommunication technology), one component of UNDP-Yemen's Strengthening National Capacity in Human Rights Project. The component aims to promote women's rights under existing Yemeni laws by using ICT.

The overall project is a part of a UNDP regional project in three other Arab nations: Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon. The two North African countries already have completed this phase, with similar material already available on relevant authorities' web sites.