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Women: Constant Disappointment and False Promises by Parties
  Written By: Moneer Al-Omari (YEMEN POST)
  Article Date:
September 15, 2008



As early as July, thousands of scholars held a grand gathering in Sana'a and aimed at promoting and establishing an authority for protecting virtue and combating vice in Yemen after they felt that virtue and morals were in danger. They authority was named Virtue Promotion and Vice Prohibition Authority.

Announcing the establishment of the authority was widely criticized by thinkers, journalists, intellectuals and women, especially when they considered this authority to be a watchdog on people. What is of concern here is the unhappiness of women.

Further, Parliament, on August 18, rejected a bill of controversial amendments to the election law, underscoring escalating tension between the ruling party the General People Congress and opposition parties represented in Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).

Women unsatisfied

This attitude by the Virtue Authority and the disagreement among political players aroused women's anger. Women's unhappiness on the virtue authority is prompted by the stance its supporters took against them particularly in a booklet published and entitled "Women Quota".

The leaflet did not recognize women's right to quota system and hinted that it is not part of Islam. It further pointed out the different rules and duties of women in Islamic societies.    

In reaction, leading women activists held recently a meeting in Sana'a themed "Quota is the Solution", as it aimed to support women's nomination for the upcoming parliamentary elections. They also called for adopting the proposal contained in President Saleh's electoral platform which supports 15 percent quota during local or parliamentary elections. 

Involving 30 participants from different civil society organizations, Woman National Committee (WNC) in collaboration with the Organization of People's Will (OPW) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) met and discussed the issue seriously. 

The meeting sought to establish an alliance from WNC and other civil society organizations involved in human rights and supporting women's rights in political participation.

The participants asked President Ali Abdullah Saleh to direct political players and parties headed by the ruling party General People Congress (GPC) and Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) to work for amending elections law upon which women are allowed into 15 percent of constituencies which will be devoted solely to women nationwide.

They further stressed the importance for applying quota system in the country as it is the only way for improving woman's participation in the political life and decision making process.

Moreover, the participants affirmed that women should be given the right to education at different levels, considering it to be the cornerstone for woman's development and progress.

Similarly, a symposium themed "The Yemeni Woman: A Partner for Building the Future" and organized in late August by the Organization of People's Will emphasized the importance of women's participation in all walks of life including political, cultural, social and educational fields, assuring that this participation is the key condition for achieving real development in the country.

A total of 18 working papers were presented, and they addressed the vital roles women play in societies and also focused on the current situation of women in the country and the means for upgrading their political participation.

Attended by political parties' representatives, pressmen and human rights activists, the two-day symposium pointed out the importance of quota system and the media for promoting women's political participation.

Participants called for re-assessment of the Yemeni laws and constitution, especially those texts which restrict women from participating in the different aspects of life, and stressed that these legislations should treat males and females equally.

Stressing the importance of women's political involvement, participants called on religious scholars and preachers to advocate women's rights and reflect their key roles in their sermons, especially in matters relating to society development.

Likewise, they also demanded that women should not be marginalized or discriminated against for political, economic or social reasons, urging political parties to avoid political overbidding which seeks to restrict or deprive women from participation in the upcoming elections. 

Parties' stances

According to observers, Islamic movements and parties allow women the right to participate in the political life but do not accept them as nominees for local or parliamentary elections. They demonstrate such a stance by texts from the Holy Book (Quran) and Prophetic Traditions (Sunnah); however, parties like Islah will accept them as voters as they feel that women can make them outweigh their enemies in elections. 

Accepting women as candidates has been also a debated issue among Islah Party leaders. Conservative Islah members are against women's running for any political posts, but moderate members do not object to such a right.

In his book "Woman's Tenure in Sharia", written by prominent Islah scholar Kaleb Al-Qurashi, he admits that the issue is widely debated among scholars and religious figures as well as among same party affiliates, referring to this in his party. 

He told the Yemen Post in an interview that Islahi women are not different from their fellow men, hinting that they are raised on principles of propagation and Islamic values and do not run after personal interests.

However, he never spoke about his party's stance of women participating in the political field and only noted that there are no differences, stressing they are not denied or deprived from any of their rights, so that they react against the party or run after their personal interests.

As evidenced by happenings, parties like GPC find no problem in nominating women during the different local or parliamentary elections; but such a step is tied with the selected woman's popularity. Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) is the only party in Yemen that gives equal opportunities for women and men during elections.

In this regard, several women activists believe that women themselves are responsible for failure and disappointment of their fellow women candidates, hinting that women need not to nominate themselves in parties' names and can run as independents especially when they make up 49 percent of voters.

They also criticize political parties for failing to reach an agreement over women's quota and percentage in local and parliamentary elections, maintaining that these parties give no more than lip service to women.