Yemen through the lens of Women, Peace and Security: Employment

Yemeni women WPS
Photo: Dana Smillie / World Bank

Our Secure Future seeks to promote and raise the voices, thoughts and policy opinions of women around the globe-- particularly when it comes to security, conflict prevention and resolution, and peace. As a guest blog, the views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Our Secure Future or One Earth Future. This blog is the first of a three-part series which examines the crisis in Yemen through the lens of Women, Peace and Security. 

Background

During the 2011 Arab Spring, Yemeni women took to the streets and led the revolution, ousting authoritarian president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Vice President replaced Saleh through a one-party election in a bid to keep control of power. This failed political transition and rising tensions in the state led to the rise in power of the Houthi insurgent group.

The Houthis quickly consolidated power in the north of the country before moving southwards and taking control of the capital, Sana’a. A proxy war broke out, which brought in external actors into the crisis. Yemen became the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, in which 70% of its people are in need of medical assistance.

Women have not played the role that they should when it comes to peace talks in Yemen. Though Yemen is a signatory to the majority of international human and women rights conventions, it exhibits one of the lowest women representation rates in public and political life. In 2014, the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was passed, which mandated 30% of high office jobs, elected bodies and civil service positions to women. Seven years later, this target has not been achieved due to the escalation of the war. Yemen has been ranked last in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for 13 consecutive years. Gender inequality rooted from a patriarchal society along with a discriminatory legal system has marginalized women to the private sphere.

Barriers to Equality

Gender inequality and the specific barriers faced by Yemeni women and girls in achieving their full potential have long been recognized as both underlying and direct causes of food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty in Yemen. In a 2013 Survey, 75% of Yemeni respondents, including 88% of men and 62.9% of women, agreed that men should have “more rights to a job than women.” While, a majority including 91% of men and 75.5% of women, believed that if a mother works for pay, her children suffer. 

Families who are struggling economically will take their daughters out of school but not their sons; drop-out rates are high, with girls representing 63% of school drop-out children. Women are regarded as the primary caregivers and have the primary responsibility for cooking, cleaning, collecting water and childcare. Although women provide 60% of the labor in crop cultivation and more than 90% of the labor tending the livestock, they earn 30% less than men in this sector. The heavy care burden that falls on women limits their ability to engage in paid work. These barriers impact society at large, all of which benefit from the greater economic productivity and social stability that comes from enabling women to succeed.

Prior to the 2011 civil war outbreak, the political, economic and social outlook for Yemeni women did not seem promising. 70% of the population lived in rural areas and the country lacked adequate nation-wide infrastructure and basic necessities. This made it difficult, particularly for women, to travel to the main cities for work. Many women are scared to be seen out without a male guardian. Other women are only allowed to take on “feminine” jobs such as secretaries, teachers or nurses. When surveyed by the ILO, most women said they did not participate in the labor force for personal reasons like family responsibilities or resistance from families, rather than due to the lack of available jobs.

Looking Forward

At the end of 2011, the president handed over power to his Vice President, Abdrabbuh Hadi. He was sworn in for a two-year term as president in February 2012 after an election in which he stood unopposed. In 2013, the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was held; this was a transitional dialogue process that discussed certain reforms and changes that the government would implement. This was a step in the right direction for the WPS cause as 27% of the 565 members of the conference were women. 

Several resolutions were passed in favor of women including: a 30% quota for women in all state authorities, raising the legal age of marriage to 18, the guarantee of full and equal legal status for women in public service employment. However, the NDC failed to address the legitimate grievances of separatists in the country, which led to the outbreak of the civil war, and the suspension of policies created under the NDC. 

Although the NDC was seen as a progressive change for women in Yemen, its implementation has been difficult. Male elites in the established political parties did not view women’s participation as legitimate. Jamal Benomar, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen stated, “When the parties met for negotiations, the last thing on their mind was women’s rights”. The consequence of this attitude was the failure to comply with the gender quota in the smaller committees that covered controversial issues. 

Without the voice of women in peace and security issues, it is difficult to reach a successful, long-term consensus. Women have not been included substantially in any of the post-2014 peace negotiations. However, they have worked hard informally by creating different campaigns and delegating with different UN entities. They have also met with different mediations and negotiators from different sides of the conflicts. Without the recognition of these women at a formal level, and a significant increase in their representation, it will only make it more difficult for the civil war to come to an end.


About the Author:  Noor Khaled, B.Sc. Foreign Service (Georgetown University); Focusing on International Relations and issues in the MENA region