Yemeni Women: Frustrated Present and Uncertain Future [Archives:2000/02/Culture]

January 10 2000

Jalal Al-Sharaaby
Yemen Times
It is a pity that in this era of technology, and while entering the third millennium, Yemeni women are yet to be get their rights as human beings. In Yemen, women are faced with scads of troubles that make their conditions and stability a matter of uncertainty. Apart of being a victim of aggressive traditions and conventions, women have continuously been teased everywhere: in streets, at work and even at home.
Although demographic statistics show that women in Yemen form more than half of the population, they are still margined and ignored. Unfortunately, the outcome of the parliamentarian elections of 93 and 97 elections were disappointing when we take into consideration the percentage of women in society. In the 93 parliamentarian elections, only two women were elected to represent more than half of the population. History repeated itself in the following parliamentarian elections of 97 when again, only two women were elected. All political parties which promised to support women in the two elections, backed out in their promises and preferred to use them as winning cards for male candidates in their election campaigns.
The Yemeni Woman is a victim of aggression and deprivation because of various reasons. For example, she is still deprived of education in some areas. On the other hand, she is deptived of holding key political positions, despite the fact that laws guarantee her political rights. No woman has been so far appointed as a minister in any government. The best position a Yemeni women has ever got in a government was as an undersecretary of the ministry of information. the lady appointed for that position was the same woman who has juast been appointed an ambassador to Yemen in the Netherlands (Amat Al-Aleem Al-Soswa).
Lack of health care services for women, especially in the rural areas has caused the spread of diseases, which in some cases led to many deaths. One of the main factors of the spread of diseases among women is early marriage. In many rural areas, they are coerced into early marriage in order to be in charge of fields and houses, etc. Statistics show that women in such areas have become machine-like human beings, working days and nights in fields and at their houses. In spite of all their efforts, they are rarely rewarded or appreciated. To add insult to injury, they are also deprived of inheritance which has been guaranteed by all laws and the Holy Quran in Islam.
It is true that a fair number of girls join schools, but this does not mean that they have achieved the required level of education. Moreover, the gap between them and men is still wide.
Unquestionably, being illiterate reflects negatively on their conditions and their ability to grasp what is going on in their surroundings. According to statistics, illiterate women in Yemen form 76.2% of women population. This rate, of course varies from rural areas to urban areas. For example, it is higher than 85% in the rural areas while in urban areas it is around 50%. Among all the governorates of the republic, Saada and Hodeidah come first with a rate of 91%. The rate decreases in Aden to a minimum of %38 which is the lowest rate of illiteracy in the republic. Unfortunately, there has been an obvious deterioration in efforts made to eliminate illiteracy . For example, studies made by the National Committee for Women show that the number of women studying in classes for illiteracy elimination fell from 28,894 in 95 to 16,054 in 96. The high rate of illiteracy among women is attributed to many reasons. Among them are: early marriage, poverty, and traditions.
According to the same study, the number of girls between 6-15 attending schools in the rural areas is still very low in comparison with urban areas and there are still some areas in which girls are not allowed to go to school.
As far as female teachers are concerned, a good number of them is available in the southern and eastern areas, while the number decreases in the northern and western areas which depend mostly on foreign teachers. Lack of female teachers for secondary classes, in fact, is one of the main reasons behind forbidding girls from completing their studies to this stage, because many families do not allow their daughters to stay in the same class with men, even if those men are their teachers.
In fact, there are many problems women encounter with regard to education. In the rural areas the unavailability of separate schools or classes for girls, plays a role in depriving women from education. In addition to this reason, there are, of course, traditions, conventions and social circumstance that enforce the work of womein in fields, etc. For example, in many areas a woman has to work for more than 15 hours. In such areas, women have become no more than machines for working at the farm and for producing children.
Lack of health care services -as mentioned earlier- have caused a lot of misery to women in Yemen. For example, death cases among women due to diseases caused by malnutrition, pregnancy and early delivery are common in many regions in Yemen. The number of maternity deaths among women reaches its peak for women at the age of reproduction.
Unfortunately, analysts confirm that the health program of the Ministry of Public Health had many shortcomings in its documentation about death cases among women and children. For example, official reports reported 100 death cases in each 100,000 cases of live delivery while other reports -some from international organization such as UNICEF- show that there are 800-1000 death cases in each 100,000 of live delivery.
In the economic field, statistics available show that the share of women’s participation in economic activities is not as it should be. During the recent years, the average falls sharply by 15.58%.
As they affected their economic activities, the reasons mentioned above have also affected other activities causing women to confine and limit themselves to specific workplaces. As for participation in the government and the decision making, Yemeni women have been marginalized and ignored as if considered of second class after men. This despite the so many laws in the constitution that came out after reunification of the south and the north. In fact, the conditions of women’s political rights deteriorated after unification. Before unification, there used to be 9 women in the YAR parliament. Unfortunately, this number dropped to only 2 in 93 and 97 parliaments.
All promises made by political parties to support women in elections proved to be false. Women were nothing more than winning cards for them, for the virtual victory of male candidates.
Moreover, supreme committees for political parties embraced only a few female members in there lists for propaganda. For example, the PGC’s Permanent Committee included only 33 women from 700 members. This number increased to 40 in the PGC’s 9th conference held in March 99. The Central Committee for the Nasserite Unionist party included only 4 and the YSP only 2. Despite their participation in civil organizations, unions, syndicates, etc. this has not marked any changes to their level of participation in political activities.
Concerning Yemeni women’s participation in the government, only one women has been vice minister in the Ministry of Culture and Information in Aden. The same women was member of presidency council in 86-90. After unification only 2 women worked as undersecretaries of ministries and 6 worked as ministry advisors who actually have never been asked for advice any way!
According to the list of employees in the cabinet office there are 47 women, one of whom is a holder of a minister degree and the others are specialists and office chairwomen. 79 directors general out of more than 1079 directors general were women.
In the diplomatic corps in general, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in particular, there are 90 ambassadors among them there has so far been no women. The exception came in 1999, when Mrs. Amat Al-Aleem Al-Soswa was appointed as an ambassador but is currently still waiting for the implementation of the decision. There are also 2 women holding the (degree) of a minister versus more than 133 men holding the same degree, and there are 7 female advisors as vs. 108 men.
In the field of judiciary, female participation in comparison with male is very weak. According to a report made by the National Committee for Women, there are 32 female judges one of them works in the Appeal Court while the others are judges and judge assistant in primary courts. As far as male judges are concerned, there are more than 1,200 judges and it seems that their work is centered on administration in courts.
Whatever and however we write about women and their sufferings, we cannot justify their claims and the injustice they are going through. There is yet a more severe issue that will have an article of its own, and that is women conditions in prisons, which Yemen Times will bring to its readers as the most shocking, and unbelievable experiences are being told by women who underwent these conditions. Stay tuned to Yemen Times for that report next week.