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Drafting a New Story: Women's Rights in the Middle East

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By Nadia Al-Sakkaf
Originally posted by the Yemen Times

October 18, 2010

The Global Gender Gap Report for 2010 ranked Yemen at the bottom of the list with a score of 134 out of 134 countries. The index assesses the difference between women and men in political, economic, education and health conditions.

Yemeni women are suffering by far the worst conditions. Yemen was declared as the worst place to be a woman for the third year in a row, according to the World Economic Forum’s annual report.

The Nordic countries were shown to be the best countries with Iceland coming out on top.

Why is the gender gap in Yemen so huge? I think it is simply because there is no genuine political will to improve the situation of women. Some say the situation of Yemeni people in general is bad and hence women are by default doing worse.

But, this is not a good justification considering that women from other developing countries are also going through difficult times. Countries such as Mozambique and Cuba are doing much better than us.

Perhaps it is communism that helped women enjoy their rights? I tend to believe this explanation especially since women in the former socialist south Yemen had accomplished much more compared to their peers in the north.

Moreover, communism is a top-down approach, which means the leaders at the highest level enforce it. They decide how the citizens, men and women, should interact and what they should expect. This also means that empowering women comes through a national policy whether it is a socialist one or not.

I feel that our government is not really interested in improving the situation of women for real. Otherwise how do we explain the millions of Yemeni riyals spent on training officials on issues faced by women when in reality there is hardly any improvement?

I was shocked to hear that the ILO spent more than six million dollars on the gender component in Yemen yet nothing has changed and now the ministry of social affairs, who is the main partner for ILO, says gender is not a priority anymore.

Considering that the minister of social affairs is a woman, it is shocking to hear this. We are talking of a labor force that could double productivity and instead of being dependents with adequate training women can become income generators.

Health wise it is also disturbing to see that women’s access to healthcare is getting worse. Similarly education for women will help a nation’s progress or without it see it stagnate.

We keep bragging about political participation and that Yemeni women were given the right to vote and become candidates before many other nations in the region. But what has it done for them so far? In fact, testimonies from women working in political life repeatedly say that they are being used to show that Yemen is a modern democratic country without really empowering women in the decision making positions, without giving them real authority.

It has become embarrassing to be a woman from Yemen, but more so it is very sad.


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