In the beginning of 2011, inspired by the protests in Tunisia and fed up by the corrupt political system, Yemeni people took to the streets to demand for change. The uprising led to the resignation of president Saleh. About one fifth of the protesters in Change Square in Sana’a were women. This fact is already revolutionary in itself. It was the first time ever women were in public in such huge numbers.
Despite scores of violence, a National Dialogue Conference (NDC) was successfully implemented and led to a comprehensive transitional justice plan. Women made up 30% of the NDC and major achievements for women were included in its recommendations. Amongst others a 30% quota in all transitional political bodies and ensuing legislative and executive institutions and a minimum age of 18 years for marriage. Ground-breaking progress for women’s rights in Yemen.
Sadly, in the current situation the implementation of the plan is further away than ever. The conflict in Yemen gradually descended into an all destructive civil war. Government forces - with support of an Arab military coalition led by Saudi Arabia - fight against Houthis and forces loyal to previous president Saleh. Attempts for peace talks have failed so far. By now the humanitarian crisis is immense and Yemen finds itself on the edge of famine.
Despite the active role women played in the revolution and the NDC, women are discriminated and marginalised by law and in society. The current constitution stipulates equality between men and women but also states that Sharia law forms the basis of all legislation. There is mixed use of statutory law, Sharia law, tribal practices and customary law which leaves women in complete legal uncertainty. The judicial system is corrupt and inefficient. Child and forced marriages continue to be practiced.
All hope rests with peace talks, a political solution and an end to the destruction of the country by the ongoing war. Despite the downwards spiral of violence, organisations continue unremittingly to raise the awareness of people on the importance of women’s rights and gender equality, lobby for gender sensitive laws and demand for inclusion of women in all peace efforts. The change that so many women went through cannot be undone, the revolution runs in their blood. Whatever the future might bring, they will continue their fight for justice, freedom and equality.
Read here more about the latest developments in Yemen