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Call to improve women's status

Three married young girls (aged eight, 12 and 10) during a public discussion by civil society organisations on child marriage. Muhammad al-Jabri/IRIN

Much more needs to be done to improve the status of women in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, in line with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), officials said.

[Read this report in Arabic]

The call came during a roundtable in Sanaa, the capital, on 21 September. CEDAW presented 60 recommendations in July after reviewing Yemen's sixth periodic report for 2006 on the extent of implementation, which was prepared by the National Women's Committee (NWC), a government body.

Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator in Yemen, said the 2007 World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index, which measures women's economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment vis-à-vis men, ranked Yemen last out of 128 countries.

"Women constitute only 30 percent of the workforce and 70 percent of women in Yemen are illiterate," Mehta said.

She said the gap between men and women was very wide in terms of political empowerment and economic participation, but narrow in terms of primary education enrolment, with 63 percent of school age girls enrolled compared with 87 percent of boys.

Photo: Mohammed al-Jabri/IRIN
There are 63 girls to every 100 boys in primary schools in Yemen, according to UNICEF
"Yemen is on track to achieving only one of the eight Millennium Development Goals and that is MDG 2 on universal primary education by 2015," Mehta said.

Mehta added that a greater effort was needed to inculcate the values of gender equity among the society that too often viewed the women's rights agenda as "a western import".

Yemen signed CEDAW in May 1984 and presented two national reports on the level of implementation at an exceptional UN assembly in August 2002.

CEDAW recommendations

CEDAW said Yemen's constitution did not enshrine the principle of equality between women and men in all spheres and its legislation did not contain an explicit definition of the principle of equality between the two sexes.

It urged Yemen to implement a comprehensive law on gender equality binding on both public and private sectors and inform women of their rights under such legislation. It recommended Yemen address stereotypical attitudes about the roles and responsibilities of women and men that perpetuate direct and indirect discrimination against women and girls in all areas.

It further said several provisions of the Penal Code discriminated against women and urged Yemen to repeal any such discriminatory provisions in the Code.

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
For most women in Yemen, receiving an education is proving a immense challenge. The country has one of the lowest literacy and enrollment rates for females in the world
Discriminatory legislature

Participants said there were various social, religious and political factors responsible for women's low status. Discriminatory legislature was seen as a major hindrance to the improvement of women's status.

Horiah Mash-hor, deputy head of the NWC, said her committee had amended many discriminatory laws and referred them to the parliament, which had ratified nine amended items of various laws between 2003 and 2008. "But there are still 61 amended items that need to be agreed by the parliament," she said.

Jamila al-Raebi, deputy health minister in charge of population, said her ministry had asked to withdraw the Safe Motherhood Law from the Parliament's Islamic Sharia Codification Committee as it refused to agree on the law, which included provisions prohibiting female genital mutation, early marriage and included pre-marriage consultation.

"Early pregnancy is responsible for 30 percent of maternal deaths," she said.

She said it was necessary to highlight health implications when talking about issues such as early marriage or FGM. "People can be convinced if the health risks are brought out instead of highlighting the cultural and religious side," she said.

"Extremist preachers"

On the issue of women's empowerment, Amal al-Basha, chairwoman of the Sisters Arab Forum, a local NGO, said some mosques had become platforms against the rights of women, although they could play a greater role in advocating women's issues. "There are extremist preachers who stand against women's issues ... They accuse the civil society organisations that advocate for women's issues of being agents of the West and standing against Islam and Islamic Sharia," she said.

She further noted that religion must not be used to "silence us on speaking about our rights".

Huda al-Yafyei, an official at the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance, said the problem did not lie in Islam, mosques or laws, but rather in illiteracy, which is very high. "Women are unaware of their rights," she said.

She has said there were 75,000 mosques in the country that could be centres of enlightenment.

"We are also about to hold a series of workshops to promote women's rights guaranteed in Islam," she added.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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