Political Analysis

CSOs Did Not Provide a Real Support for Women

Asma al-Mohattwari

There is no doubt that Yemeni women have played a prominent role in public life in recent years and have an important and distinctive role in the process of construction, development and evolution.

They are a key partner for men in all areas; currently Yemeni women have reached high positions and have been placed in some of the highest leadership positions in political and economic fields.  Now, Yemeni women practice their political, cultural, economic rights with an awareness that they have been given some of their rights and freedoms after their struggle over the years.

Although Yemeni women  are still fighting for their rights , they have the force that will lead them to participate in all areas despite all the traditional, cultural and subordination obstacles which are still dragging women behind.

In 1990, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) appeared for development and especially to raise the status of women. In Yemen, there are about 8000 CSOs, which is about one per 1500 Yemenis. However, the CSOs have not achieve a great change in Yemeni development. Most of these organizations have partisan mandates, or work to promote certain parties without paying attention to the whole of society.

There are various opinions on the CSOs. Some see them as essential, and contributing to female participation, as well as general improvement and community awareness. Others believe that their success is negligible.

Shatha al-Harazi, activist, said that the CSOs have facilitated the gains and roles that women in take society and the CSOs enable women to reach a better political, social, economic and cultural reality. However, she admits they have their limitations.

“The CSOs haven’t done everything for Yemeni women and a great example is the girls’ marriage issues.”

However, Al-Harazi added that the CSOs discuss some difficult ideas and an entrenched tradition in the community that is difficult to change. Still though, she was disappointed.

“Yemeni society still believes in early marriage, but with such an issue, and based on research, scientific facts and clear opinions, it was not supposed to take all this time in parliament. If there were strong CSOs, it would have been prevented earlier.”

Amira al-Arasi, a CSO worker, said that she is so sad for the CSOs work because every organization works in its own direction.

“Sometimes all the organizations work on one issue related to women, but individually so they achieve nothing. But if they joined their efforts they will serve women issue more effectively.”

According to al-Arassi one of the mistakes of the CSOs is that they care mainly about the urban women and neglected rural women who most need help and support.

“Most of the workshop and awareness courses are held in Sana’a and recently in Aden and Taiz. Most of the event talks about politics more than social issues. CSOs still need to enable women’s issues in the right way.”

Al-Arassi said that in the cases when the government doesn’t respond to CSOs, they have to start working to rally grassroots support and advocate for the issue to put the government under pressure.

“I do not see any achievement for the CSOs. Maybe they have achieved simple things, but I cannot call it an accomplishment. All the activist women that have made a great work in women issues are by their own work and efforts, not because of the CSOs. I am so sorry for they have been used badly by politicians.”

Contrastingly, Entlaq al-Motwakl, said that CSOs are the space that is left for a woman to play a leading role and that the most successful CSOs are those led by women.

“For me, CSOs are the only place women do not need a political will to be appointed, the women themselves work hard in these organizations and reach the leadership positions by their struggle and efforts.”

Al-Motwakl said that CSOs are the chance for women to be free in pursuing their concerns. For example, there are only three women ministers in Yemen but the women leaders in the CSOs are numerous.

The most difficulty the CSOs have is on the governmental side, where every party puts its own red lines according to their special interests. CSOs started to devote their efforts just to satisfy individuals, not society. Nadia al-Saqaf, journalist, said that CSOs are concentrated in the cities and that their owners have a pushy political program that seeks authority and power.

Al-Saqaf added that Yemenis want organizations that work for the community and not for the parties or persons. Yemen needs independent CSOs, based on the requirements of citizens. They must serve them economically, culturally, in humanitarian ways, and even when it comes to their artistic and recreational needs. These organizations and initiatives should expand their work to outside the cities in order to reach rural and remote areas which do not receive adequate attention.

“This era is the era of civil society, including in the private sector. We should not and cannot rely on the state and the government to improve the quality of life in Yemen, because first the state cannot when it is so weak, and secondly because this is the responsibility of participatory democracy, civil society, and the private sector.”