If ever there was a group of women we should applaud and cheer for, the Women’s National Committee of Yemen (WNC) is one. Amnesty International, who is monitoring human rights in Yemen, explains the situation. The organization points out a combination of the law, which violates women’s right almost casually, plus tribal practices and customs make women de facto second-class citizens.
Simply being a member of the WNC is to show a level of bravery and courage few are called on to demonstrate.
Creation and mandate of the WNC
The committee is a government-affiliated body and was established back in 1999. Ultimately its members answer directly and only to the Prime Minister. The committee is essentially an advisory body and has little practical power in that its political capital is low and the country is facing massive problems which could be seen as much more pressing.
Regardless the committee has been active and strong in its recommendations with an eye on practicality and deliverable steps forward.
Bottom-up, not top down
The committee could legitimately have looked at making changes to the constitution which effectively keeps women in a position of subservience, and at some point, they are going to need to challenge that beast. But, in 2011 they created their first five-year plan which was inherently feasible and will create a climate where constitutional change will be possible.
They have targeted the basics. Female employment has been slowly growing, but they have set a target of 30% with female participation in the most prominent of economic fields. To achieve the employment goals Yemeni women will need education. In 2012, 60% of women were illiterate. They set a target of 95% of girls being enrolled in school.
They looked to get 32 laws amended to remove discriminatory language. Bear in mind this is in a country where there is an article in the constitution which prevents a woman from leaving home without her husband’s permission. Amending discriminatory language is a small step.
Lastly, they took real-world steps in attempting to deal with the endemic violence which is the norm against women. They recommend the creation of departments within the police stations to receive domestic violence reports. In first world countries there are issues with people believing women, how much more difficult where the justice system believes a man automatically and women less so.
Their final significant change was the proposal of homes for battered women. Like the police departments, the change was matter of fact and pragmatic, acknowledging that getting the law changed was a huge step.
Not the climate for change
Currently, Yemen is in the throes of a deadly civil war. The war has caused intensely harsh situations for all the civilian population whether they are directly involved or not. Food is scarce and the infrastructure has been severely damaged, causing one of the largest outbreaks of cholera ever.
The members of the WNC must be the most sensible reasonable women on the planet.