Friday, October 28, 2011

What does the future hold for Yemeni women? An Interview with Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief of Yemen Times

Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief at Yemen Times
Dr. Edit Schlaffer recently conducted an interview with Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief of Yemen Times, who is closely following the turbulent developments in Sana'a. On the 26th of October, Yemeni women defiantly burned their veils and headscarves in protest of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s brutal crackdown on protesters that has lasted almost 8 whole months. Nadia expressed her concern over the current situation in her country, and stressed on the fact that Yemeni women continue to be excluded from the current transitional talks, despite their active involvement in the uprising.

1. How does the Yemeni regime officially deal with the ongoing unrest? And how do people deal with the socioeconomic challenges?

Women protesting in the streets of Sanaa-Reuters
Until now, and despite UN resolution 2024, the Yemeni regime does not seem to get it. On Tuesday, a truce was announced between the regime and armed opposition but we are not sure how long it will last. There are huge trust issues at the moment, and so unless the regime decides it is over, we are bound for a civil war of which we are already witnessing signs here and there.

As for the economy, it is the last thing on the minds both the regime and the opposition, and it is a time bomb that will explode soon. There is however a group of respected Yemeni economists who have come up with an economic proposal for the priorities of the country during and after the transition stage. They are in direct communication with the donor community and helping them support Yemen's economic recovery.

2. What is the role of women in the current crisis in Yemen? Will they eventually (or have they already) change the fate of Yemen´s patriarchal society?

So far, unfortunately, women are only seen as lobbyists and campaigners. Despite the fact that Tawakul Karaman won the Nobel Peace Prize, the issue of involving women in the new regime, or instituting a quota for women, remains to be discussed. During a discussion with UN Envoy Jamal Benomar, he personally told me that none of the official delegations from both sides had included a woman, and that the issue of women was not brought up when as they were discussing politics.

During my interview with the Islah leader, I asked him about women and the possibility of a quota, he said: ‘we will think about that later!’ The only positive response I ever got was from the head of the opposition's national coalition who mentioned the possibility of a 20% quota, but there was no concrete action plan so I simply took it as lip service.

The tragedy is not there, it is rather that none of the women's movements or leaders on the ground are campaigning or demanding their share. Eventually, this is going to blow up in our face after the regime falls.

Yemeni women burning their veils in protest-Reuters
3. In Egypt there are no reservations for women. Islamists are supported widely in Tunisia. What are Yemen´s prospects? Are you worried of a possible intervention like what happened in Bahrain?

Yemeni women will not allow to be taken back centuries and they will not let go of the rights they acquired over years of struggle (I know I won't). I think the same goes for Tunisia and Egypt and Bahrain. The good news is that the Islamists are playing it political not ideological. And to ensure the rebuilding of Yemen, we need the support of the international community who will ensure that women are represented and free.

But the point is that the drive for women's equality is not coming from within, it is coming from outside pressures, which is neither healthy nor sustainable. My fear is that the Yemeni women's place in the new system will only be for show and not for real.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS