Yemen, a country riven by civil war for the last four years and lacking a functional government or legal system, where poverty is legion and tens of thousands of people have died of starvation and disease – received an award last week. Namely, the United Nations decided to give this country the vice presidency of the executive board of the UN gender equality and women’s empowerment agency, UN Women, for 2019. Part of the agency's mission is to narrow gender gaps.
It’s hard to find even a grain of sense in the UN’s decision unless you believe that rehabilitating a rapist is best done by hiring them to run shelters for battered women.
Yemen is outstanding at trampling on women’s rights. Among the 146 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum in this category, Yemen came in last.
A Yemenite woman can’t get medical care without her husband’s permission. About 66 percent of the women marry before age 18. Female circumcision continues. A woman’s testimony in court is worth half that of a man’s and the laws of inheritance, and compensation for murder, discriminate against women, too. There are no women in parliament, although they’re supposed to get 30 percent of the seats under the law. Women hold fewer than 20 percent of executive positions in the country.
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When the Arab Spring broke out in Yemen in 2011, there had been hope that women could slightly improve their situation; they participated in demonstrations against the government of tyrant Ali Abdullah Saleh, they participated in writing a constitution and even won some constitutional victories, including raising the minimum age of marriage to 18.
When the war between the rebel Houthis and the government erupted, these few achievements vanished. Parliament stopped functioning and the state was divided between the north, controlled by the rebels, and the south, controlled by the official government. Women’s rights tumbled to the bottom rung of the public agenda, though 76 percent of the displaced people are women and children.
In November, women again demonstrated en masse, demanding involvement in peace talks. They disseminated reports about their tragic condition, the absence of ob-gyn services and the prevalence of violence which threatens about 3 million women. In any event the peace talks went nowhere and the participation of women in them never came up.
World aid organizations are preoccupied with supplying food and drugs, and with the aid convoys blocked by Houthi or coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia, it’s impossible to promote plans to handle educational programs for women, among whom 70 percent are uneducated.
The vice ambassador of Yemen tweeted their delight at being chosen for the UN post. The men in Yemen, insofar as they give a toss about the subject, also seem pleased. Tradition and the violence towards women proved their merit and brought Yemen the international respect it deserves. It will be interesting to see how the UN will act, through Yemen, to better women’s status around the world, with Yemen providing the example that it does.