"Women are always the compromised card in political struggle"

on Thursday, 26 February 2015. Posted in Jemen

The Taliban of Yemen - Coup d'état in Yemen

Nadia Al-Sakkaf, former Minister of Information in Yemen, writes about the situation of women in the new ruling Houthi council.  And the situation is alarming: "The Houthis brush the political achievement of Yemeni women aside as if it was a mistake", she says.  In times of conflict and war women's rights are among the first to be cut. They are the "low hanging fruit". But it's high time to acknowledge that without the active participation of women in society and politics, there will never be peace and stability.


Nadia Al-Sakkaf

A new violent religious movement known as Houthis which has taken over Yemen’s capital and many of its northern governorates across five months, announced a constitutional declaration on February 6, 2015. The early signs of the Houthi rule are alarming when it comes to human rights but especially for women.

It’s ironic that Houthis of Yemen claim that they are an extension of the Iranian Shiite regarding their mandate when Iran is doing much better than Yemen in women’s rights and standing in the society. It seems that the Shiite of Yemen are quite selective in what they take from their “big brother” and women’s advancement was not on their list of favorite practices to copy.

When Houthis, coming from the mountain area of Sa’ada in the north of Yemen, took over Amran city bordering the Yemeni capital Sana’a, they installed a number of rules on the locals there. Many of those rules related to women’s freedom in public spheres and music.

Now as they have taken over the capital itself since last month, elements of the anti-women’s-liberty attitude have started to manifest gradually. For one, there are no visible women leaders in their movement; all their leaders are aggressive men with guns. Another indication was when Houthi followers who took over state media. In Yemen TV they harassed female presenters demanding they fully cover their hair, wear no makeup and stop driving cars. “There is a new system now,” commanded the smug leader who could not be older than 20 to the journalists, “women are not welcomed to work in TV, you better go home” he said as he lazily adjusted the Kalashnikov hanging carelessly on his shoulder.

The most amazing achievement Yemeni women had in recent history was the 30% quota for women in both elected and non-elected decision making positions as an outcome of the National Dialogue Conference, an event that lasted ten months and which was supposed to be the basis of the new constitution as an answer to Yemen’s version of the Arab Spring in 2011.

When talking about this achievement with Houthis, they brush it aside and as if it was a mistake. They say there are more important issues to deal with now, such as establishing their rule.

To allow this armed militia to take from us as Yemeni women our rights that we enjoy currently and our dreams for more rights in the future scares me. They are the ones in charge now and women are always the compromised card in political struggle. Nobody is talking about women now that the entire country is jeopardized and a coup d’etat is the fact. I worry that while trying to make sense of the political situation and either get rid of the Houthis or come to term with them, other political players will conveniently push the women's agenda back in the drawers.

I worry that while women around the world are gaining more rights, I will be losing the few that I already have because the world is busy with bad politics, aggression and power struggle, all of which are usually the doing of men.

I want my country to be safe, democratic and developed. But I equally want to feel free as a woman and enjoy all my rights as a citizen in every aspect of life. I get the feeling that both cannot happen in Yemen and that for women’s rights, we are going to lose a big deal with the new lords in town and the old ones timidly tagging behind.

Nadia Al-Sakkaf is member of the board of directors of the Yemen Times  and director of the civil society organisation  Yemen 21 Forum.

This article was first published by the organisation Women without borders. According to their mission statement, Women without Borders bring together courageous and determined women to create a new female security paradigm. It advocates for a future without fear, suppression and violence. It encourages women to become active participants in their communities, to co-shape their present and their future.