Yemeni woman political and economic situation – 1962-2003,From pre-revolution stage to post-unity and currently [Archives:2003/672/Business & Economy]

September 29 2003

Prepared by: Mahyoub al-Kamali
Yemen Times Staff

The Yemeni woman before the September 1962 and October 1963 revolutions had suffered greatly from being marginalized and isolated from all life activities; socially, economically, culturally and politically. She had been deprived of many if not all rights. For instance the woman was deprived of education, except for daughters of the well-to-do families whether in Sana'a or Aden. Teaching girls at that time was confined to learning principles of reading and writing and the Koran while the girl in Aden managed to get a better amount of primary school stage education. This situation continued till the eruption of the revolution after which the woman began the road of struggle for getting her right to education, work and indiscriminating equality in order to remove the injustice imposed on her, although the two former constitutions of the two parts of Yemen had approved the principle of equality between man and woman. The permanent constitution in the former North Yemen of 1970 stipulated in its articles 22 and 34 that the women have equal rights and duties and those women rights are guaranteed according to the Islamic law. The constitution issued in 1978 in the former southern Yemen stipulated in its article 26 that the state guarantees equal rights for men and women in fields of political, economic, social and cultural life and provides the conditions and circumstances that enable the woman to practice her right.
Despite of those constitutional texts the woman role remained limited as a result of what the imamate and the colonization had left behind them of a heavy legacy of ignorance, backwardness and poverty that affected the life of the Yemeni people for a long time and their impact is still seen till today. The period of Yemen's division had squandered the country's wealth and exhausted them in areas far from and beyond the interests of the homeland and the citizen. But the May 22 of 1990 has represented a historic turning-point in the life of the Yemenis and the Arab nation as a whole when the Yemen got reunited again. Then began the new age of democracy, political pluralism and the freedom of expression. The united Yemen began to implement its development plan for improving conditions of the citizens, among which was the focusing on the woman as considered half of the society. In Yemen the woman does not practically represent half of the society but more than that in figure. The number of females in Yemen is 8.255.000 million, i.e., 50.1% while males are 8.229.000 million, i.e., 49.9%, according to the latest census.

Woman and education:
Since the united Yemen has considered development a major goal after realization of unity and democracy, woman has been given a special attention and interest because she is an essential partner in the development process and without her the country could not develop and advance. In order to be an active partner the woman should imperatively be qualified and trained and capable. And as education is the essence of qualification the education law was made compulsory and free of charge at the primary stage. Statistics demonstrate the rise in number of females joining primary education since the establishment of the unity. The figure jumped from 520640 in 1990 to 806286 in 1995 and the figure for both females and males joining primary education jumped in 2003 to around 4 million students. Regarding secondary stage education the number of female students rose from 17760 in 1990 to 56952 in 1995 and the number of students of both sexes joining both primary and secondary stages rose in 2002 to about 4.5 million. Concerning university education female students number was 7112 in 1990 to be 15714 in 1995 and to rise to 41164 in 2003.
Yemeni woman education was not confined to mere academic education but also technical and vocational education including industrial, agricultural, trade, health and administrative education. The number of girl students of higher studies also rose. Nevertheless and although the figures explain woman's progress in her pursuit for and keeping pace with sciences, the proportion of illiteracy among females is still higher than rates of her counterparts in the Arab world. Those concerned with this matter see that the causes can be attributed to certain factors:
– social habits and traditions and concepts hindering the movement of progress, including the prevention of woman fro education,
– economic, social and living circumstances that make families to dispense with females education to benefit from them in household work and agriculture,
– early marriages,
– the wrong concept harbored by some families especially in the countryside that would benefit more from educating males while the female would get married and serve benefit to others,
– scarcity in number female teachers in the countryside,
– very little or non-existence of schools for girls in the countryside.
The high percentage of illiteracy among females could not be considered the only problem but the other one is that many females quit education for economic circumstances of families, early marriages and the cultural level of families.

Woman & work:
The problem of the woman with regard to work goes back to old times but her work was usually restricted to traditional work like agriculture, raising livestock and handicraft such as spinning and weaving. The Yemeni woman did not take part in the present concept of work but during the fifties in Aden during the period of British colonization and in the north after the September 26 revolution. After the unity females' contributions to work increased and according to the 1988 census woman workers were 65156 in 1988, 680936 in 1994 and in 2003 the figure jumped to 790678 with the increase of job opportunities for women. Despite that we can see that the proportion is still unbalanced in number. The reasons are ascribed to the low number of educated women and consequently a drop in number of job opportunities open for them in addition to traditions that still believe that woman work indicates poverty of the family and that it cannot afford spending on her besides the responsibilities of woman at home and raising children that impede her work outside the house. A high proportion of women work in the countryside and the city at home and their work is deemed among unpaid jobs. And though women in the countryside work in agriculture and handicraft but their financial return goes to the man.
Among the negative remarks about woman work is that she is not allowed to assume employment statuses of the first and the second place that are considered as decision-making positions at any governmental institutions. A study by the National Committee for Woman held for discovering the woman status in eight ministries it has been ascertained that it was in rare cases to find women occupying the position of director general owing to the years spent in the job, though in practice she exercises duties of that employment degree. The worst is that it could found that some women work under responsibility of a man whose official degree is lower than hers and having less proficiency.

Woman & politics:
If the woman in previous eras was deprived of simplest rights guaranteed for her by religion and then the constitution and laws, her participation in politics would be then a kind of imagination, perhaps the woman herself did not imagine that time would come when she would go to the polling box that would take her to the parliament or there would be political pluralism and the woman would be part of that pluralism or becomes a member of the government. Despite of the coercive circumstances the woman, especially those who were under the circumstances of the British colonization, had taken part in resisting colonialism by taking part in demonstrations condemning the occupation and the demand for independence to taking arms and fighting.
Following the September and October revolutions the woman in the former south Yemen was appointed in 1978 at the people's council and the central committee of the Yemeni Socialist Party but her participation in the north was late until the foundation of the General People's Congress in 1982 that included one woman and then rose to 6 members in 1993. Till 1982 there was a dispute in the north about nomination of the woman to the Shoura Council and then the situation settled in that she would be allowed for voting but not candidacy. Among the changes effected after the unity is he political pluralism which led to the declaration of tens of political parties that used to work underground and began to have headquarters and press expressing the visions and orientations of each party.
Woman participation in began strongly in the political and partisan affiliation and requests offered for parties declaration included names of many women. The woman has ascended the scale of party positions or political organisation till they managed to attain central committees and general secretariat. As for her participation in the parliament and local councils as voter and candidate he following statistics explain that 41 party member and independent women have nominated themselves in elections of 1993, but only two of them had won for the YSP against 229 in order to be 301, the number of seats of the parliament. In the elections of 1997 woman voters were 501591 and 35 women nominated themselves but one candidate woman from the GPC won a seat in the parliament.
In the 2003 parliamentary elections the number of woman voters exceeded three millions and only 11 women have nominated themselves for the parliamentary seats and only one candidate from the ruling party has one a seat, in an apparent retreat of the woman position in the parliament and political parties abandoning of supporting her in the political process.
The low proportion of the woman nominees compared to the previous proportion in the two former parliaments ushers a retreat resulting from the civil society's incapacity in scoring progress in favour of women. Although the government has announced it would offer great concessions for woman nominees but it did not do that and presented a number of candidates much less than expected from the ruling party, was the support for one woman candidate in Aden. This low proportion in woman nomination for parliament reflects the state of irresolution by a group of political and intellectual and social elements that are still hindering the qualitative change in the political life and also could be attributed to failure of civil society organisations, despite the numerous workshops and symposiums for upgrading the woman's social status and facilitation of her attaining the parliamentary membership.
Woman circles blame the government in the first place and the political parties and civil society organizations in the second place that they have not reacted and interacted with the issue of the woman and her right to obtaining parliament membership.
Despite of that some circles at the GPC ruling party say the government has compensated the woman in the membership at the Shoura Council and the cabinet as it previously did. But woman circles say he proportion of her appointment at the two councils has been symbolic and for political propaganda. The government had, during the past period, appointed a state minister for human rights, three women as assistant undersecretary, six women as advisors at various ministries, one woman advisor at the premiership, promotion of 95 women to a director general degree and appointment of one woman as ambassador and then appointing her as minister of human rights. Nonetheless women circles believe that the increased number of women registered at elections records is a beginning of forming a new political awareness and that the woman is gaining some liberation and dependence on herself instead of relying on the political parties.
Dr Raufa Hassan, in charge of Planning and Cultural Development Establishment thinks that during the past 12 years all of the political parties have not established internal democratic behaviour and have overlooked women rights although their numbers in membership of those parties are large.
Political analysts and circles affirm that the Yemeni woman is the victim of prevalent social and cultural traditions that still deal with the woman as mainly a housewife even if she were member of political parties and organisations. They think it is too early for the woman to get support and assistance to reach a parliamentary seat. The issue of the woman and the minimal proportion of her participation in latest parliamentary elections as candidate has taken a large space of discussion that has drawn attention to the obstacles that are still blocking her nomination to the parliament and failure of civil society organisations in overcoming them despite that the constitutional and legal legislation fully grant the Yemeni woman her political rights.