To understand a bit about feminism in a country like Yemen, you must first understand what the situation is like for women there. It is a country that has consistently ranked the lowest on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index since 2002 (yes, that is 17 years in a row). Women’s rights and empowerment have never been a priority.
The discrimination against women in Yemen is very complex.
Women in Yemen are often discriminated against and looked at as inferior to men. It is a conservative and deeply patriarchal society. Inequality doesn’t only come from the culture, but also from the government. With laws that allow women to be married against their will and under the age of 18, laws that allow “honor killings”, and even laws that obligate women to ask for permission from their husbands to go out, violence and discrimination are inevitable.
Signs of hope are destroyed too soon.
It wasn’t until the Arab spring of 2011, when thousands took to the streets in peaceful protest, that we had a sign of hope for Yemen. Women participated in the protests and demanded equal opportunities and representation. Finally, Yemeni women were shining and breaking stereotypes. The protests resulted in the National Dialogue Conference in 2013, and 30% of its members were women. The conference proposed a new constitution that recognized women as equal citizens, set a 30% quota for them in decision making positions, and tackled some of the most discriminatory laws. This victory, however, was too good to be true.
Everything went downhill when the Houthi Rebels took power in late 2014. Hope was destroyed and there has been ongoing conflict ever since. The intervention of a western-backed military coalition led by Saudi Arabia turned this conflict into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And so, women had to survive not only the struggles of being female in Yemen, but also a deadly war that caused thousands of deaths, forced many to flee their homes, and deprived many others of basic needs, healthcare, and access to safe water.
Women’s representation and rights are considered luxuries.
5 years later, and after a number of attempted peace negotiations, there is always one answer whenever the representation and rights of women are brought up: “Now is not the time for women.” As if women’s participation in these negotiations is a luxury and not a necessity. It is the same comment I get on the feminist online platform I founded, The Yemeni Feminist Movement.
The Yemeni Feminist Movement is the first Yemeni feminist online platform. It raises awareness on feminism and discriminatory laws and practices against women in Yemen. When we post about gender equality and the discrimination against women in the Yemeni legistlation, people will often say, “Now is not the time for women’s rights.” They say to me, “We are at war and all you care about is women’s rights?” or “We don’t even have human rights, so now is not the time for women’s rights.”
It is astonishing to me that a lot of people think of human rights as different from women’s rights. As if women aren’t humans! “Let’s focus on human (men’s) rights first and then we will focus on women’s rights later!” It is even more bewildering when people don’t understand the correlation between conflict resolution and equality for women. How can we achieve peace if women aren’t part of peace negotiations? If there is no justice and equality for women? How can we ever be a peaceful country when women aren’t given the same freedom and opportunities as men?
We almost had victory in 2013 because of strong Yemeni women who vocalized their demands and did not take no for an answer. If now is not the time for us Yemeni women to do the same again, when will be?