By Asma Al-Mohattwari
Under the patronage of Prime Minister Mohammed Ba-Sindwa and the president of Supreme Council for Women, the Ministry of Human Rights and the Women National Committee concluded the Women’s National Conference on Tuesday, March 20.
The conference, sponsored by USAID’s Responsive Governance Project, Ministry of Human rights and National Women Committee successfully raised the participation of the Yemeni women in Yemen’s political affairs. To accomplish this, the conference discussed the priorities of women in the transitional period in Yemen’s political, legislative, economic, health and education fields.
The importance of the conference was underscored by the attendance of many prominent figures in Yemen society including Minister of Human Rights Houria Mashhoor, Chairman of the National Committee Ishraq Al-Godairi, as well as various ministers, ambassadors and other prominent Yemeni women.
The conference met the high anticipation built by the opening speeches as it brought together figures from different parties and governorates in Yemen to define the priorities of women.
Prime Minister Ba-Sindwa considered this conference as a new event in Yemeni women history by saying it “will enable women to reach a better future.” In his opening speech, the prime minister declared, “I truly believe that if women ruled the country, Yemen would be peaceful and prosperous. Yemeni women are integral factors in our development, and Yemen will only reach its potential if women are truly involved.”
Houria Mashhoor added in her opening speech that the importance of the conference was a prelude to the national dialogue conference. Women, she said, will become a needed social and national force that will shape the drafting of Yemen’s future politics, economics and culture.
“Discrimination has prevented women from achieving high posts in the government,” Mashoor said. “The purpose of this conference is to get women into high-ranking positions.” Women, she noted, only hold two posts in the Yemeni cabinet and just one of 301 seats in the elected national parliament.
Mashoor believes the conference will change this and she is like to be right: During the conference, the prime minister committed to a 30% female quota for political positions in Yemen.
The quota was one of the central priorities identified by women in the conference because women want to have a greater say in Yemen’s future – particularly during this transition phase.
Al-Godairi said a quota was necessary “because we are in a male society and we can’t be assured that the winner of an election will be a woman if the competitor is a man.”
Adel Al-Shargabi supported Al-Godairi’s argument saying that “women and men should be equal not only in actions but also in election results. Accordingly, electoral law legislation must be modified. In the past women were not allowed to take positions in government because men have been afraid that power would be seized by women for a long time.”
At the conference, National Yemen conducted many interviews with attendees to express their feelings towards the conference. Deputy Minister of Human Rights Ali Taissir said that the conference was a key step in the right direction so the demands of women can be met and in turn, give them more access to decision-making responsibility.
“I asked the Ministry of Human Rights and the Women Rights Committee to raise this issue to the government and commit to it so that the decision is made within a specific time frame,” Ali Taissir said.
Nadia Merae Human Right activist said that the conference was successful regardless of the tension that arose between supporters and opponents of Saleh. She spoke about this issue by saying, “it is natural because the conference included the whole political spectrum. Yemeni women should move in unity in order to achieve our rights regardless of party or sect.”
The conference concluded with a list of important recommendations that primarily focused on improving legislative structures and laws to ensure women representation in government is at least 30%.
Recommendations also included the right of female education to the university level, raising community awareness of women, increasing support for rural women, moving a great share of the government budget to health services, increasing employment of midwives and health workers, as well as supporting the approval of the Safe Motherhood Project.
To follow up the conference, a committee headed by the Ministry of Human Rights and the National Commission for Women was formed to pursue the conference’s recommendations.