Feminism in Yemen: “Now is not the time for women.”
Updated: Dec 26, 2019
Before we talk about feminism in a country like Yemen, we must first understand what the women’s situation in Yemen is like. In a country that has consistently ranked the lowest on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index since 2002 (yes that is 17 years in a row), women’s rights and women’s empowerment have never been a priority. Women in Yemen are often discriminated against and looked at as inferior to men in this conservative and deeply patriarchal society.
The discrimination against women in Yemen is very complex
Inequality for women in Yemen doesn’t only come from the culture and society, but also from the government itself. With laws that allow women to be married against their will and under the age of 18, laws that allow “honor killings”, and even laws that obligate women to ask for permission from their husbands to go out, violence and discrimination are inevitable.
Signs of hope destroyed too soon
It wasn’t until the Arab spring of 2011 when thousands took to the streets in peaceful protests, that we all had signs of hope for Yemen. Lots of women participated in the protests and demanded equal opportunities and representation. Yemeni women were finally shining and breaking stereotypes. The political transition after the protests resulted in the National Dialogue Conference in 2013, where 30% of its members were women. The new proposed constitution under this conference recognized women as equal citizens, granted them at least 30% quota in decision making positions (which should have been 50%), and tackled some of the most discriminatory laws against women. This victory, however, was too good to be true and got destroyed before it even went into effect.
Everything went downhill when the Houthi Rebels took power in late 2014 which resulted in an ongoing conflict ever since. The intervention of a western-backed military coalition led by Saudi Arabia turned this conflict into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And so, women had to survive not only the struggles of being female in Yemen, but also this deadly war that caused thousands of deaths, forced so many people to flee their homes, and deprived many others from basic needs, healthcare, and access to safe water.
Women’s representation and women’s rights are considered a luxury
5 years later, and with a number of attempts for peace negotiations, there is always one answer whenever the representation and involvement of women in these negotiations are brought up: “Now is not the time for women”. As if women’s participation is a luxury and not a necessity. It is the same comment we always receive here on the Yemeni Feminist Movement. When we post about gender equality and the discrimination against women in the Yemeni legistlation, people will often say “now is not the time for women’s rights” or “We are at war! And all you care about is women’s rights?” or “We don’t even have human rights, so now is not the time for women’s rights.”
It is astonishing to me that a lot of people think of human rights as different from women’s rights. As if women aren’t humans! “Let’s focus on human (men’s) rights first and then we will focus on women’s (second-class citizens) rights later!” It is even more bewildering to me when people don’t understand the correlation between conflict resolution and representation and equality for women. How can we achieve peace if women aren’t part of the peace negotiations? How can we achieve peace if there is no justice and equality for Yemeni women? How can we ever be a peaceful country when women aren’t given the same freedom and opportunities as men?
All I know is that we almost had victory in 2013 because of strong Yemeni women who vocalized their demands and did not take no for an answer. And if now is not the time for us Yemeni women to do the same, then when will the time come?
By Alaa Al-Eryani
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