Physicists define “black” that it is not a color but rather the absence of colors, and despite the different connotations of “black” that carries larger than one meaning and more than one significance that usually wins the attention of experts of colors from scientists and artists. However, black in Yemen formed a unique case from colors emerging with disappearing in a way that made it necessary for those searching for the presence of women in this country to have sufficient and deep understanding to differentiate between the color and its absence in that blackness.
Like any agronomic country that has most of its population working in the agricultural profession, the roles of women and their relationship to what’s around them were defined by their agricultural environment; and thus coffee, almond, grapes, and Qat plantations reflected the details of the identity of Yemeni women, which identified their identities apparent on the colors of their clothes and specifying their roles in the production.
As for the cities; through Yemen’s modern history, Yemeni women always reflect the political changes that the country is going through, and of course, the identity of Yemeni women is one of the most important aspects of these changes, which have long influenced the development of Yemeni women in both private and public spaces.
We stand now in the year of 2012 on the threshold of a milestone stage... Talking about the national dialogue conference is all that occupies the Yemeni street that is cautiously watching the political scene with all its political, religious and tribal components; and in the midst of all this, there’s a voice rising up and decreasing according to several factors, and that voice is the voice of women... Therefore, and before talking about the opportunities for that voice to rise up and continue in the national dialogue conference. It is very important to know where Yemeni women stand today at the end of 2012 and what is hidden behind the black color, which became a symbol of the women in the fields of demonstration on Yemeni satellite TV throughout 2011, which is the year where the name: “The Arab Spring” was found, which today has become questionable to the Arab feminist movements that are surprised by the possibility of it being a winter that froze the movement of Arab women toward a better tomorrow.
The Reality of Yemeni women today:
Despite the obligations of the Yemeni successive governments and civil society to work together in order for Yemen to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and despite the slight improvement in the country in facing some challenges, however on women issues, Yemeni women still face many challenges.
The situation of reproductive health in Yemen is considered the least fortunate in the Arab world. Maternal mortality in Yemen has reached (365) deaths per 100,000 live births according to a household survey in 2003, and 42% of deaths among women during childbearing age is due to pregnancy, delivery and postpartum. And UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) estimates of the maternal mortality in Yemen for the year 2008 has reached (210) deaths per 100,000 live births, and these figures show that the gap is still large to achieve one of the main goals of the millennium, which is to reduce maternal mortality to 75% by the year 2015, where the number of maternal deaths is supposed to be reduced to 135 deaths per 100,000 live births by 2005.
As for education, its indicators show that Yemeni women still dominate the largest share of the overall illiteracy rate estimated by 45.3% of the total population according to statistics by UNFPA in 2004. As for women, 61.6% of Yemeni women are still illiterate compared to 29.6% of illiterate men. And, of course, with the continuation of marrying girls younger than 17 years old and the obstruction of radical forces to pass a law setting the age of marriage, therefore the ratios of girls’ education and enrollment of both primary and higher education will continue to be threatened.
On the other hand, Yemeni women still make up the strength of employment in rural areas, but without payment and without any economic independence in a way that allows the patriarchal authority in families to exploit women’s employment in the field and in the house without payment, or health and social insurance, which make their own decisions on health and education subjected often to the order of the non-working parent, who derives his authority socially and which through he controls also the income that women come within the traditional rural communities.
On the security level, the deteriorating security situation in the past 6 years cast a shadow on Yemeni women whether during the period of the six wars and displacement in Sa’ada or in the armed conflict that still exists between the Yemeni army and supporters of Sharia – Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula – and on the other hand, U.S. drone strikes in the south in general between Hadhramout, Abyan and the rest of the country sporadically. Yemeni women have suffered the concern of supporting the family after men went to the war; in addition to that, enduring the harsh living conditions and the lack of health care during pregnancy and delivering in displacement camps.
Yemeni women today.. The public space between incomplete citizenship and political marginalization:
From here we can say that the situation of Yemeni women in the modern history of Yemen changes with the changes of the political forces that ruled the country, but there are certain milestones to monitor that change. And the first of those signs is the feminist movement in the south of Yemen, which arose early in the first half of the last century in the course of Arab liberation movements from colonization. And then it was followed by a similar feminist movement in the eighties of the last century in the north of Yemen.
Reading the feminist movement in the south of Yemen and the status of women after independence cannot happen in any way in isolation from the political system, for that the political system back then was the adoptive force to women’s key issues related to full citizenship, political participation, and economic empowerment in addition to issues on personal status.
It is worth mentioning that the regime in the Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen back then had several theoretical and practical steps that paved the way for women to take steps forward at the level of Yemen and Arab countries in the fields of politics, judiciary, military, media and education on one hand and the private space and with regard to personal status on the other.
Although the feminist movement in Yemen, which was formed early in the south was primarily an appeal and rights movement that was characterized by focusing on the inclusion of women in the context of public citizenship. But this has been quite different during the last two decades and especially after 2001, when a local associations and NGOs law (No. 1) was passed, funding agencies moved towards the associations and organizations that are employing women to fund them heavily and mostly in service projects to fill the gaps left by the failure of the state in regards to health and rehabilitation services, which reduced the absence of the state in the areas previously mentioned temporarily and on the short-term, and so there has been a very large number of women-led organizations and associations, however they cannot in any way have the feminist status, but only few exceptions. And thus, the feminist movements as an entity and performance fell back and strayed away completely from its rights function as a pressing force to change policies and laws in the direction of ensuring women’s full citizenship; and so the constitution and laws have been manipulated over and over again which led Yemeni women to lose many of their achievements related to the complete citizenship in both public and private frameworks.
The most prominent step carried out by the Yemeni legislature under the regime of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and which had demolished the foundations of women’s full citizenship was the repeal of Article (27) of the constitution of 1991 and which provided that: “All citizens are equal before the law and equal in public rights and duties without discrimination among them based on sex, color, ethnic origin, language, profession, social status or belief”, which was replaced in 1994 with Article (31): “Women are the sisters halves of men and their rights and duties are guaranteed and assigned by Sharia’ah and stated by the law”, and Article (41): “All citizens are equal in rights and duties”.
The danger of replacing Article (27) of the constitution of 1991 with Articles (31) and (41) of the current constitution lays in two matters; the first is the clear discrimination between the two sexes – in the most important document that includes the civil rights of the people – in the origination of dependency of a sex to another so that women can’t have an entity but only by being sisters of men and not for their mere humanity, which makes the equality mentioned in Article (41) incomplete. The second point is the use of an extracted text from a prophetical Hadith (Prophetical saying) in a way that puts it out of the context in which it was said, and which its context was in response to a question regarding a jurisprudence issue related to washing not civil rights and duties; and this is a serious manipulation of the Yemeni society’s emotions through cropping a prophetical text out of its complete context to justify the incomplete citizenship of women that was implicit on their dependency on men, and then appending it with “women have rights and duties which are guaranteed and assigned by Al-Sharia’ah”, although the Al- Sharia’ah (Islamic laws) is the source of all legislations as stated in Article (3) of the constitution and it was unnecessary to specify this point for women in this particular article.
The Yemeni legislature have committed a grave mistake in the constitution of 1994 when forgetting that the Islamic law did not make women subordinated to men in terms of citizenship, and the most important example of this is that Islam approved the capacity to act for women in the verse: “Men have a share of what they have acquired and women have a share of what they have acquired”, and this is a complete division of capacity to both sexes to act without subordination to one over the other and also regarding women entering as partners in treaties in the era of the prophet in testimonies, faith, inheritance and other things where Islam addressed women as full-fledged independent individuals; and therefore going back to Article (27) of the constitution of 1991 instead of Articles (31) and (41) is the first step for the Yemeni legislature to recognize the full citizenship of human beings without discrimination between the sexes.
Regarding women’s political participation, Yemen has witnessed in the past two decade and under the former regime a rapidly deteriorating economy and security and which had been reflected on the social life; and so Yemen have witnessed rising unemployment rates, decreasing income per capita, increasing poverty, and in addition to that the involvement in armed conflicts. These matters affect the social life of Yemeni people in general and Yemeni women in particular. Each of the points above led to the growing gap between the privileged class and laboring class and under-laboring class resulting in dwindling the middle class and of course with that, the opportunities for an equal citizenship have diminished. Therefore illiteracy, maternal mortality, gender-based violence are inevitable consequences that had an impact on Yemeni women’s political participation. The total number of parliamentarians in the elected People’s Supreme Council in 1986 in the former Democratic People’s Republic of Yemen was 11 out of 110 members, and after that 11 women out of 301 members in the parliament formed in 1990 which included parliament member and member of the Shura Council in the republic of Yemen after the unification, while in the parliamentary elections in 1993 and same for the elections in 1997 only two women won in the parliamentary elections out of 300 members, and since the parliamentary elections in 2003 till now there is only one female parliamentarian out of 301 members.
Absence of justice in the public space generates the absence of justice in the private space:
The constitution of 1994 casted its shadow on the Yemeni laws and on the status of women and which deteriorated rapidly. The most prominent imbalance in the constitution was discrediting women of eligibility and citizenship, and the right to decide. And this is only a natural consequence of the constitution which paved for all of that through the erosion of women’s citizenship.
It is possible to divide the laws that have been manipulated in a way that discriminates against women into two categories:
First, penal law:
1- Article (42) states that the wergild for a woman’s life is half the man’s wergild, and women’s Arsh (subsidize for any injury or loss of body parts) is equal to the man’s unless the women’s subsidize reaches one-third of the man’s wergild, and if it’s more than that, it should be half. The Yemeni legislature inferred giving half the man’s wergild to women by what Imran’s woman said in the verse: “O Lord, I have given birth to a woman, and God knows what I have given birth to, and male is not like a female”. And from the prophetical Hadiths, they inferred from the Moa’ath Bin Jabal’s Hadith: “Women’s wergild is on half of a man’s wergild” and the Hadith of Omar Bin Shuaib: “Woman’s mind is like the man’s mind until reached the third of her wergild”. The third Hadith is of Omar Bin Hazm which says woman’s wergild is half the man’s. And “Scholars of Yemen” had held a seminar in January, 2009 under the title (Woman’s wergild.. its judgment in the Islamic law.. backgrounds and motives to demand equality, and the rightful duty about it). The highlight of the seminar was the words of the Islamic MP Arif Al-Sabri: “The Islamic system obliges men to take care of the financial burdens and duties which women are not obliged with, including dowry, alimony, and payment of money on her behalf if she commits a felony. Laws that call for equality of women and men in wergild and such have obliged women with burdens and financial duties just like men’s and even more, where they have imposed on her to work in order to live and to compete with men in the workplace despite her weakness, considering that a sort of injustice done to women and that is incompatible with her physical and moral functions..” Al-Sabri has also denied that wergild is originally a criminal punishment of the offender, because wergild is only applicable in cases of accidents unless the offender meant to assault the human soul, then the wergild is merely compensation to the injured and to their injury.
As for the MP Al-Sabri’s interpretation, we find it simply and purely a male understanding of the role of women in society and her work, and projecting this understanding to use and misinterpret Hadiths. While we find that mentioning the wergild came only in accidental killings without specifications (A believer is not to kill believer but mistakenly; and who killed a believer mistakenly, they should emancipate a slave believer and deliver wergild payment to their family). Supporters of this view confirm that this bisection conflicts with the meaning of the words of Allah in: (We wrote to them that a soul for a soul, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear to an ear, a tooth for a tooth and wounds are to be retaliated), and conflicts with the words of the prophet, peace be upon him: (Muslims commensurate in blood). According to scholars in favor of the equality of men and women in wergilds and subsidize that the Hadiths mobilized by those who are against do not include a single proper, correct and explicit Hadith that supports their calls, and all their Hadiths are weakly scripted.
As for the verse, which they relied on bisection for the murder of a freeman for a freeman, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female; Al-Tabari has recounted that this verse was revealed on two tribes fighting each other. And according to Sayed Qottb that the verse’s scope is on collective assaults which you can’t know who the killer is and if the balance of retribution was held then a freeman for a freeman, a slave for a slave, and a female for a female; and this has nothing to do with the verse (A soul for a soul) that focuses only on individual assaults. And those inferring to Imran’s woman saying (And a male is not like a female) is a weak evidence. And Imam Al-Shawkani considered it lifting of women’s value and he interpreted this verse through saying: (And the male that she asked for is not like the female she gave birth to, the female she gave birth to is greater, and more prestigious of that male, and all Imran’s woman wanted to is a male who is a servant of the church; but for this female, there’s a huge difference since she has a great importance and prestigious significance).
And the Mufti of Egypt Ali Juma’ah says: “The majority of scholars see that the wergild of women is half the man’s, and most of their views are based on some of the disparities and differences between them in the inheritance, testimonies and stewardship, and this is a measure with a difference and is not the same, and therefore it contains injustice to women. And they also rely to what has been attributed to the prophet (pbuh): (Women’s wergild is half the man’s wergild). And there are some who said that this Hadith is weak.
On the other side, Al-‘Asam and Ibn A’layah think that women’s wergild is equal to man’s wergild, and as long as the topic is controversial, it’s no problem to take any of the both views. Some scholars justify making the men’s wergild double as the women’s because the man works and responsible for the family and therefore he should be compensated enough, women are responsible than others, whether the husband, the brother or the father and so her family did not get affected as much as the men.
Perhaps this situation existed in the past when women did not work and her guardian spent money on her. But the situation now is different, women are working, and many of them are supporting families and also spend money on males. Therefore the jurisprudence of reality forces us to see equal wergilds and this is closer to the justice pursued by the Islamic law.
And Mufti of Egypt continues: (I ask various Islamic countries to change their laws to take blood money [or wergilds] if not taken and make women’s wergilds equal to men’s if they take wergilds instead of giving women half the men’s. Because the continuation of this situation is a sort of inequity for women with our respect given to those who insist on an opposing opinion to ours, because their opinion is based on evidence from the Islamic Shari’ah since this issue is controversial.)
But I invite those who insist that women’s wergilds should be half the man’s to read what Dr. Al-Qaradhawi wrote and the diligence of Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltout, the former Sheikh of Al-Azhar, in his book (Islam, theology and law) , especially what he wrote under the title “Men’s wergild and women’s are the same”, and that the term blood money [or wergild] in Quran is general and absolute, and did not give the man anything that did not give to the women.
“Treat women kindly”, as a confirmation on the rights Islam has given to women, which was not expectable to women during the days of Al-Jaahiliyyah (Ignorance), and lift away the abusing women used to receive until a full Surah (verse in Quran) came and descended in Quran named Surat Al-Nesa’a (The women), and there’s no Sura with the name of men. And Islam made women ahead of men in the section of custody for children, and make mother’s right to good companionship ahead of the father’s, also that the paradise is under her feet. This ideal honorary cannot commensurate or be appropriate with making her blood money half the man’s, especially that there are many Hadiths that the majority of Islamic scholars built their opinion upon on the subject of wergilds are weak in some of them or the history of its narration is challenged.
2- Article (267) which states on rebuking adulterer and adulteress with imprisonment for a period that does not exceed 3 years if the necessary conditions are not met to apply death penalty. And this punishment is an unnecessary punishment; and if the conditions mentioned in Article (266) are not met, then the defendant cannot be considered guilty in anyway. In addition, this article has left the door open to bodies of seizure to arrest women”women with no partners in most of the cases” with adultery charges, knowingly that in a study conducted in 2009-2010 in the central prison in Sana’a, it was clear that more than 95% of the women accused of adultery do not meet the conditions in Article (266), and despite that the punishment of whipping and rebuke are applied at the same time. Therefore Article (267) should be repealed, being contrary to the conditions that should be met to apply charges of adultery on men or women, and particularly women in this situation because women are more present in prisons for this particular charge without the completion of the conditions and sometimes without even knowing the partner.
3- Article (273), which is the most injustice article in its application for being broad and loose, and its interpretation, depends on the mood of the bodies of seizure, social upbringing and the group of understandings held by workers with the body of seizure. Article (273) says: “Indecent and obscene act is all acts that contradict morals and modesty, including nudity, deliberately revealing private parts, saying or referring anything disrupting modesty and indecency”. And as we see here, the legislature used the terms morals and decency, and both terms are very relative and their concepts vary from a person to another. And of course, in the Yemeni society which has a rich socialization and folklore that is full of popular proverbs and patterns that allow men to do things that are not allowed to women, therefore women are the victim of this article. And indeed, case studies mentioned above have shown disparities in arrest conditions on cases related to “indecent acts” and that they depend entirely on the understanding of the members of the patrols on duty of the act of indecency, and it’s very rare and almost impossible to find men in prison serving sentence because of the charge “act of indecency”. And although this law does not exclude men but its incomplete and unclear context makes its application as a sword that does not target anyone but women according to the mood of the bodies of seizure. Therefore this law should be canceled because it’s unnecessary and there are other articles in the penal law that criminalizes such feasible acts.
4- The establishment of an article in the penal law that criminalizes honor crimes and consider them crimes of first-degree murder and the abolition of Article (232) that states: “If the husband killed his wife and who was committing adultery with her while committing adultery or if the husband assaulted them with an assault that led to their death or disability; no retaliation for that, the husband should be punished by imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or by paying a fine. This judgment applies to those caught in surprise one of their ascendants, descendants, or sisters during the act of adultery”. This article is considered as the green light given by the Yemeni legislature for the killer and that can be explained in two points:
· Al-Mula’anah (eligible accusation) is a rule in the Islamic law, and it happens when the husband accuses his wife of adultery but without bringing four witnesses from the occurrence of adultery. In this case, the judge asks him to take four oaths (instead of the four witnesses) (to help himself not getting any punishment of fake accusation “Qathf”) that he is truthful in his lawsuit and accusation against his wife, and then in his fifth oath he says: (The curse of Allah will be upon me if I was one of the liars), as in with the adultery he accused his wife with. And for the wife who wants to prevent herself off the same adultery punishment, she has to take four oaths (instead of the four witnesses) also that he is one of the liars for accusing her, and in the fifth she has to confirm by saying that Allah’s wrath and indignation will be upon her if her husband was truthful in his accusations. When this process (Al-Mula’anah) happens between spouses, the punishment of fake accusations (Qathf) against the man is dropped off and the punishment of adultery against the woman is dropped off as well, and an irrevocable divorce happens and they can’t get married again and the woman should get her full dowry. This provision is taken from the words of Allah in: “And those who accuse their wives [of adultery] and have no witnesses except themselves - then the witness of one of them [shall be] four testimonies [swearing] by Allah that indeed, he is of the truthful. And the fifth [oath will be] that the curse of Allah be upon him if he should be among the liars.” (Al-Nour, verse 6). It has happened in the time of the prophet of Allah when Hilah Bin Omayah accused his wife of adultery with Shareek Bin Sahama’a, and so they did the whole process of (Al-Mula’anah). And thus, justifying a man killing his wife in this way that the Yemeni legislature have justified rudely under the name of honor killing should not happen in any way from one hand. And on the other hand, this article has made marital cheating only exclusive to women, which makes us wonder about the stand of the Yemeni legislature and judiciary on what if the women killed her husband if she caught him red-handed betraying her.
· You cannot in anyway justify the killing of a female because of an allegation by one of her relatives (ascendants/branches or descendants/assets) that he caught her in the event of an adultery, especially that the conditions mentioned in Article (266) are due completion and even after completion, no one is entitled to take a decision or an action regarding the woman but the judiciary which serves under Article (263), and killing the woman may not happen in any way since the punishment of adultery is clear in the holy Quran. This article also opens the door to honor crimes for the male to kill whoever they want with the name of honor and so they can use this to take revenge and start bloodshed unlawfully. In addition to that, the consolidation of the patriarchal thought that criminalizes adultery only if done by women, where we can ask the question: Can the mom kill her son if caught committing adultery just like this article permit male relatives to kill female relatives if caught committing adultery?
5- Replacing Articles (270), (271) and (270) specific on rape cases with articles defining and criminalizing sexual harassment in all levels; emotional, verbal, physical and sexual.
6- Developing an article criminalizing domestic violence in all levels; emotional, verbal, physical and sexual. A survey conducted by the Yemeni government on domestic violence in Yemen showed that 17.3% of female respondents are subjected to sexual violence, and 54% had experienced physical abuse and 50% had been subjected to oral threats. And the article also should guarantee the role of rehabilitation, treatment and legal protection centers.
Second, the Personal Status Law:
1. Amendment of article 15 of the Personal Status Law which places the minimum age of marriage for both sexes at 17 years. This age was decided to allow the Yemeni legislation to comply with the standards set by the international child rights. According to a multiple indicator cluster survey (MICS 2006) conducted by UNICEF and the government of Yemen, 14% of girls in Yemen marry before the age of 15, 52% marry before the age of 18, and 19% of girls between 15 and 19 are currently married. Other studies suggest that in some rural areas girls as young as 8 are being married.
UNICEF considers child marriage a key contributor to malnutrition, which is widespread in Yemen. Recent surveys show that about one million children under the age of 5 are currently suffering from acute malnutrition (wasting). It is estimated that about 300,000 of these children will die as a result of disease/common infections if they do not get urgent nutritional rehabilitation. Similarly, maternal undernourishment is a major issue because one fifth of maternal deaths are linked to malnutrition, especially anemia caused by iron deficiency. At the moment, the percentage of anemia prevalence among pregnant mothers is 58%. Considering the prevalence of child marriage, it is unlikely that many mothers who were undernourished teenagers will complete their growth before their first pregnancy. Child marriage is extremely dangerous to women's health because of the risk of early pregnancy. Pregnancy takes the nutrients needed by the mother’s body to grow properly, which leads to low birth weight and a high probability of death for both the mother and child. Maternal mortality has reached 8 deaths a day.
In 2005 WHO conducted a study on sexual violence in multiple countries. The results show that women who marry at an early age are the most vulnerable to sexual violence, including rape. This is added to high illiteracy rates among girls due to their forced removal from schools; therefore, there are high illiteracy rates among women. This will consequently lead to women’s health and economic deterioration.
In 2010, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform (Islah) - the Muslim Brotherhood in Yemen – apposed setting a minimum age for marriage under the pretext that it will be a violation of Sharia law. Since then, the draft amendment has been pending in the Yemeni parliament. It is worth noting that a member of the House of Representatives Mr Shawki Al-Qadi who is also a mosque preacher and a leading member of Islah, cited the views of the Uthaymeen, Qaradawi's, and Salman Aodah to support setting a minimum age for marriage. Mr Al-Qadi said that the strongest evidence for a minimum age is the story of Abu Bakr and Omar. It is confirmed that both men asked for Fatima’s hand in marriage but were rejected by Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) on basis of her young age. The Prophet then married her to Ali when she was 18 years old.
Two things can be derived from this story:
First, if the marriage of adolescents has benefits, then the Prophet (pbuh) would not have missed the chance for his daughter.
Second, a pillar of Islamic jurisprudence says: ‘If the Prophet’s words differ from his actions, follow his words not actions because his actions could reflect his personal preferences but his words are meant for us all.’ This is because the Prophet (pbuh) said “If I commanded you with an order obey it to the best of your efforts, and if forbid you from something leave it.” Therefore, the words of the Prophet that Fatima was too young to marry should reign over his actions of marrying a minor. Moreover, there are many historians that question Aisha’s age when she got married to Mohammed (pbuh), and it is proven that she was not married as young as it is claimed.
2. Amend article (23) which states: "A woman's consent is required. The consent of a maiden is her silence and the consent of a divorced or widowed is verbal" To "A woman’s verbal and written consent is required and this is ensured by her presence during the signing of the marriage contract.” This should be the case because failing to ask for a woman’s presence during the signing of the contract does not protect her from a forced marriage imposed by her family.
3. Modify the following points in article (40):
· Replace “The right of obedience” with “Duties of a wife towards her husband” to reciprocate article (41) which states “Duties of a husband towards his wife.”
· Cancel the phrase “suitable for intercourse” because of the humiliating objectification it subjects women to through the use of the word "suitable.” Additionally, article (41) does not address the wife's sexual rights at all; only the husband’s rights are mentioned.
· Replace the text which orders the compliance of a wife to her husband in the spirits of companionship and costumes without the neglect of marital and family duties by any partner. And do not legally oblige women to do the housework because this has no basis in Islam and should be agreed upon by both spouses.
· In addition to a wife’s obligations to fulfill familial duties, guarantees that ensure her right to work and carry out activities outside the household should be added.
Yemeni Women and the National Dialogue
The National Dialogue Conference is a bridge for Yemeni men and women towards a country undistracted with fights and ways to avoid them. Such conflicts drained the country’s economic and human resources for many decades, and according to the UN 1325 resolution focusing on women, peace and security, women should play a role in peacekeeping and maintaining stability. However, there are many obstacles facing the National Dialogue Conference generally and women’s active participation in it specifically.
When talking with the women leading the feminist front in Yemen, we find a consensus that the greatest obstacle facing women’s political participation during the transitional period is the ghost of a civil war. They perceive the threat as risk to civil and social peace resulting from sectarianism on one side, and lack of social justice and a centralized government on the other.
Dr. Amat Al-Alym Al-Sosowa, a diplomat and a previous Yemeni minister, believes in the impossibility of discussing any improvement to women’s involvment during the transitional period without the presence of concrete steps towards ending armed conflict in the country. She stated that "the lack of communication between the core and periphery parties hinders the transitional period progress.” From her point of view, working on accelerating the National Dialogue without addressing public problems based on the streets (whether in the south or in the north of the Northern region or in Tahama) could possibly lead to an armed conflict that would later transform into a larger scale civil war. This is the biggest obstacle impeding the struggled of the Yemeni public and women alike.
On the other hand, Ms Maha Awad, a female activist who worked with displaced women in a refugee camp in Aden (resulting from the conflict between Sharia supporters and the Yemeni military in Abyan governorate) believes that enforcing UN resolution 1325 and protecting displaced women by providing them with supplies and healthcare is a top priority to women during the transitional period. Ms Awad said: "Yemeni women’s role in maintaining peace is vital. This was evident in Mareb during the resolution of tribal conflicts in which women played a leading role as the main negotiators for reconciliation. And the state must support this role to end armed conflicts.”
There is little doubt the notion of ‘peaceful struggle’ is new to the Yemeni society. This conclusion can be reached from the absences of such a concept from school curriculums in both its abstract and concrete historical examples forms. The same can be said about real life, exceptions being the peaceful struggles carried out by the Southern movement in its beginnings and the weekly Tuesday protests in front of the Yemeni Board of Ministers. Still, these examples were limited to a politically and civically active group; hence, the concept of a peaceful struggle remained unknown to a majority of Yemeni youth. The same goes for union, legal, and civil work which was unclear and outside the sphere of interest of most Yemeni youth.
After the beginning of the daily protests conducted by the educated bourgeoisie later joined by various youth types as part of a gradually expanding public movement, the Arab media along with the opposition Yemeni media began the mention of a peaceful struggle. This contributed to the circulation of peaceful terms/diction of a peaceful struggle among Yemeni youth. One of the most interesting matters was the debates discussed in protest camps before and after each marsh regarding the peacefulness of the demonstrations. An example debate was on the peacefulness of responding to riot-control cars spraying hot water with rocks and glass. This is a method to understand the shift in Yemeni youth’s awareness and their attempt to fathom the peaceful struggle culture newly introduced to them.
In light of a relatively new experience for the Yemeni public, the role of women stood out to such an extent that it raised questions worldwide. Yemeni women’s behavior and roles in 2011 contradicted their portrayal in media during the previous ten years. Indeed, Yemeni women overcome many barriers, but as soon as they felt threatened by the looming armed conflict, they retreated.
Armed conflicts occurred simultaneously with peaceful protests contradicting the very concept. A clear and firm approach to a peaceful struggle was lacking because Yemeni youth were not familiar enough with such a notion. This was a main source of concern for women, whom in accordance to the tribal nature of society, are forced to remain in the house as soon as armed conflict starts. This is a concern shared by many feminist activists for the transitional period.
As a result of what was mentioned previously, Yemeni women see a gateway in civil peace that enables them to fight for their concerns. As for the National Dialogue Conference, the main issue for women at this stage is the formation of a Yemeni constitution that takes both men and women’s perspectives into consideration, only in this case will the injustice in the 1994 constitution be removed
Women’s Issues in the National Dialogue Conference for the Constitutionalization of Women’s Rights:
Various political powers have not yet declared their stance on the women’s issues that should be addressed in the national dialogue. When asked, leaders of the Joint Meeting Parties reply that they are yet to discuss the topic, adding that they intend to reach a consensual reply representing the Joint Meeting Parties as a whole. The majority of women belonging to these parties are still waiting for the official stance of their party to come out. The same can be said about the women under the Houthi movement who seldom state or demand anything differing from the party leader.
With the approach of the national dialogue, we find that politically independent women constitute the majority of women interested in women's issues in the dialogue. They seem to be focused on the percentage representation of women in the national dialogue and on the constitutional clauses related to the situation of women in the country. Ms Bilqis Al-Lahabi, a politically independent feminist and civic activist, said: “The most important women's issue in the national dialogue conference is the full citizenship of women in the constitution. This is to ensure the next constitution limits the forms of violence against women justified in laws based on the current constitution.” On the other hand, Ms Amal Al-Basha, a feminist activist and the official spokesperson of the technical committee of the national dialogue, said: “The most important thing we hope to achieve is a strong representation of women in both the numerical and qualitative sense.”
The technical committee of the dialogue announced that there will be 565 participants in the national dialogue, 30% of which should be women. On Saturday the 5th of January 2013, a committee emanating from the technical committee and specialized in three independent components (Youth, women, civil society organizations) identified general and specific standards that must be met by those applying for candidacy to represent one of the three independent components. The technical committee then prepared and organized for a comprehensive national dialogue to set the standards of representation of sides independent of the three independent components. These meetings were headed by chairman of the committee Dr. Abdul Karim Al-Eryani. The committee came to a final consensus that the procedures for women’s candidacy will be as follows:
First, general criteria: these are the standards required of all male and female members of the national dialogue conference. Examples include citizenship, full legal capacity, and a high degree of responsibility and commitment to human rights and international human rights laws. Additionally, they must have no record of violations of human rights, crimes against humanity, or violations of international law and international human rights law. Moreover, they must not be subject to any sanction imposed by the UN Security Council.
Second, specific criteria: the female candidate should not belong to any political party or force, she should be actively engaged in women and community issues, and she should be a member of an active organization or an established participant in public events.
Any woman able to meet the previous standards, has a right to run for candidacy by filling the forms prepared for this purpose, signing them, providing two 6 x 4 pictures and a proof of identity such as an identity card, family card or passport. In addition, she must provide a card proving her active participation in the defense of women’s issues.
An organized feminist movement with clearly focused demands does not exist in Yemen, but most feminist activists believe that key issues should be discussed in the national dialogue. This, they believe, will limit digressions from the demands of equality, citizenship, and a community in which women are not excluded or marginalized. Therefore, all efforts must pour towards constitutionalizing women's rights to ensure their partnership in leadership, political processes, and the future struggle towards laws that do not discriminate against women in theory or practice.
First: Full Citizenship:
In the next stage, women’s primary issue is to ensure full citizenship void of tutelage or diminution. This can only be achieved by replacing articles (31) and (41) of the 1994 constitution with article (27) of the 1991 constitution and adding article (36) from the constitution of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen amended in 1978. Article (36) reads as follows: "The state shall guarantee equal rights for men and women in all areas of political, economic and social life providing the conditions necessary to achieve such equality. The state will work to create conditions that enable women to participate in productive and social work without compromising fulfillment of their role in family life. The state will give working women special vocational training and provide for them and their children special protection. The state will establish nurseries and kindergartens and other means of care dictated by the law." If these amendments are introduced, the constitution will not differentiate between the citizenship of men and women and it will not put either under the custody of the other. Furthermore, it will encourage women to integrate into public life.
Second: Political Empowerment of Women:
The limited and ineffective participation of women in political spheres cannot be looked at in isolation from the economic and social conditions integral to the cultural foundation of Yemeni society. Despite constant governmental talks on the political empowerment of women, women are limited to ministerial posts fitting traditional roles imposed on them by society in private and public. Women are only assigned to ministries secondary in decision-making, and the same can be said about parliamentary and local elections. Therefore, resorting to affirmative action through a quota system is the best way to effectively involve women in political spheres.
Affirmative action is the only way to ensure a fixed percentage representation of women in decision making positions. Therefore, it allows the patriarchal society to first accept the idea then test the effectiveness and performance of women in such positions. This should change the stereotype which constantly anticipates the failure of women in decision-making. The most prominent Arab models using affirmative action in the form of a quota system are:
1. Morocco: Allocated 30 out of 325 seats in parliament for women.
2. Jordan: Allocated 6 seats for women under the election law of 2003. The number was then increased to 12 under the last law amendment.
3. Iraq: Set a minimum of a fourth of members to be women. This ratio is twice that of the U.S. Congress.
4. Palestinian Authority: Commanded that there should be a woman among the three names in a candidate list, and among the four names that follow, and the five names that follow, and so on.
The Arab Republic of Egypt is a case in which the adoption of a quota system increased women's political participation, but as the quota was rescinded women’s participation declined. Under Law No. 21 of 1979 a quota system mandated a minimum of 30 seats for women in the Egyptian parliament stating that each province should have at least one of these seats. This resulted in women getting 35 seats, which then increased to 36 seats in 1984. However, the quota system for women was abolished upon the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling out of law No. 21 due to claims of its unconstitutionality. This is clear discrimination against women because the Supreme Constitutional Court did not rule out the quota system for unions in Parliament. These quotas mandate 50% of seats in parliament for workers and peasants. A marked decline in women’s representation in parliament resulted from the cancelation of the quota system which led to a return to the quota system in 2009 under law 149. This law allocated constituencies contested by women 64 seats on a temporary basis for a period of two legislatives. Yet again, Egypt returned to another setback, considered the worst in the history of women in parliament, when the quota system was rescinded after the revolution of January 25, 2011. The result was a low representation not exceeding 9 women in Egypt's latest elections of the parliament. This number does not exceed 1.7% of the seats in Parliament.
Thus, signing of the Gulf initiative and its operational mechanism on the 23rd of November 2011 made all political parties in Yemen obliged to represent women adequately in all the institutions referred to in the mechanism. This is in accordance with point No. 26 - Part VI on the final provisions - from the chronic operational mechanism. Despite the vagueness and lack of clarity in that text in terms of specifying the minimum percentage, it can be understood by answering two questions. First: what are the institutions referred to in the mechanism that should have women represented? Second: what is the appropriate percentage for women's representation in these institutions?
First: institutions specified in the chronic operational mechanism:
1. First transitional period committees: Formed by the vice president (now president) and the Government of National Reconciliation:
· Military Affairs Committee: (created exclusively of men)
· National Dialogue Conference.
· Liaison and communication committee along with youth movements from various parties (created with 2 women and 6 men)
2. Second Intermediate Period committees (transfer of authority):
· Committees for the organization and preparation for the National Dialogue Conference (created with 6 women and 19 men)
· Interpretation committee.
· Constitutional Reform Committee for the re-structuring of the state and the political system.
· Committee for the drafting of the constitution (Constitutional Commission)
· High Elections Commission, which will be formed three months after the adoption of the new Constitution.
3. Legislative, executive and judicial state authorities.
Released in 1990, decision No. 15 of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations called for a 30% participation of women in structures of power and decision-making positions. It encouraged community mobilization of men and women and the increase of awareness to change negative societal attitudes biased against women and their role in decision-making. Furthermore, it urged the adoption of mechanisms and procedures that would enable this to happen; the first and foremost being a quota system for women. It also demanded implementation of the Beijing platform agenda issued by the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995.Paragraph ‘190' mentions that governments of the world should be working towards making women's participation in decision-making reach a minimum of 30%.
Thus, the most important constitutional amendments with respect to the representation of women are summarized as follows:
· Amendment of Article (4) of the Constitution by adding the phrase: "So that women in these bodies have at least a 30% representation as a minimum.”
· Replacing the individual election system adopted in article (63) of the current constitution with a proportional list system or a mixed system that protects women’s representation by considering women a marginalized group.
· Addition of the female subject to the conditions of presidency. For example, clause (e) of article (107) in the current constitution should be changed from "He should not be married to a foreign woman, nor should he marry a foreign woman during his tenure” to "He/She should not be married to a foreign woman/man, nor should he/she marry a foreign woman/man during his/her tenure.”
Based on earlier constitutional proposals, a minimum of 30% participation of women is being considered in the new election law. It is supposed to be drafted after drafting the new constitution determining the form of government in Yemen. In accordance to the new constitution, the nature of the new election law will be decided and so will the strategy for the selection of incentive circles that support women in local and parliamentary elections.
The biggest mistake that can be committed during the setup of the national dialogue is to focus on women's issues which result in a constitution that does not respect Yemeni women, one which politically marginalizes them and causes them to withdrawal from effective citizenship. Therefore, the effort made by Yemeni women during the popular movement in 2011 - which often exceeded the efforts of men in spite of consecutive barriers they had to overcome - are at risk of being lost if efforts to establish the presence of women as political leaders and citizens of animate full capacity in the public space are not intensified. Women must have better opportunities in public spheres to enable them to fight for fairer private spheres.
At the same time various political forces must realize that the essence of civil peace in any society lies in its women... Wherever they are empowered: disasters, armed conflicts, extremism, terrorism, poverty and hunger diminish... And the marginalization of women in the next stage will do nothing but push Yemen towards more conflict as a result of increasing rates of hunger, disease, illiteracy and the collapse of the dream of achieving social justice.
Finally, the nullification of Yemeni women’s identity during the past two decades was imminent when the colors of their rural costumes, their rhymes and songs were subjected to immense pressure by tribal authorities supported by political Islam. The unified manner in which the process took place points at aims to reduce the participation of women in public life and the desire to overwhelm them in private life. But 2011 came and gave Yemeni women workers, scholars, feminists, and party members a golden opportunity to abandon that paradigm and move to another. Yemeni women’s fight for liberation and equality amazed the world who watched their battle and witnessed the absence of color receding to give hope for the return of colors.
List of Sources
1. National Women's Conference documents, Ministry of Human Rights, National Commission for Women, Sana’a, 2012
2. The Republic of Yemen page on the United Nations Development Funds website: www.undp.org
3. 1991 constitution of the Republic of Yemen
4. Amended 1994 constitution of the Republic of Yemen
5. Yemeni Penal Code issued in 1994
6. Yemeni personal status law issued in 1990
7. UN Resolution 1325 issued on October 31, 2000
8. Decision made by the Technical Committee for National Dialogue, Sana’a, January 5, 2013
9. 1978 constitution of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen
10. Dr. Moaafa Al-Mahdali, Women's Quota System – An Attempt to Understand, Mareb Press, Sana'a, 20 November 2007
11. Gulf initiative and its operational mechanism, Riyadh, 32 November 2011
12. The decision made by the United Nations Economic and Social Council Organization, No. 15 of 1990
13. Beijing platform, Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995