Yemeni Activists Prioritize Women’s Participation and Protection in Geneva

Posted on: February 4, 2014, by :

Side Event Geneva - yemen DelegationGeneva, Switzerland – (January 31, 2014) A delegation of three Yemeni activist leaders, in partnership with Karama, shared recommendations on women’s rights and ending violence against women at Yemen’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva from January 27th – 30th. These recommendations come at a crucial time for Yemen, following the conclusion of the ten-month-long National Dialogue Conference on January 28th, which resulted in over 1,400 recommendations issued by 565 delegates representing established political parties, newly emergent political movements, women leaders, youth activists,  and civil society organizations.

Prior to their arrival in Geneva, Karama’s Yemeni NGO delegation issued a stakeholder report to the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) detailing violations or non-compliance by Yemen’s government, and making recommendations to address priority concerns for women and to mitigate challenges that lie ahead in the transition, including women’s rights in the constitution, prejudicial cultural mindsets, and discriminatory laws. The report suggests strategies to ensure women’s inclusion, including a quota, and also advocates for better monitoring of violence cases as one major part of reducing incidence of violence against women and making the case for its punishment. The OHCHR cited Karama’s joint report twenty times in its summary of information from the stakeholder reports on Yemen.

In follow up to their written recommendations, the Yemeni NGO delegation held a side event on January 28th in Geneva, convening diplomats and representatives from Mexico, Norway, Netherlands, Brazil, and Sweden, among other countries, in order to illuminate questions to be answered by the Yemeni government in the Universal Periodic Review and steps to move forward.

At the event, Amal Basha, Chairwoman for Sisters Arab Forum For Human Rights (SAF), shared the startling statistics on violence against women committed since just December. Her organization alone has documented fifty-nine incidents of political violence, including five deaths, resulting from the political upheaval that has riddled Yemen and its people since 2011. She shared that women have been targeted by fundamentalists who believe they should not have a public role and that the first incidents of violence committed following the revolution was committed by the very security forces charged with protecting the Yemeni people

As in other parts of the region, the initial uprisings brought an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity and community. But post-revolution, a new narrative of tension and violence grew from political infighting and new tensions created by the rise of conservative political influences including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Despite all this, a quota designating thirty percent participation for women was established for the National Dialogue Conference. Ultimately, 28 percent women held seats, three of nine committees were led by women, women’s rights were included on the formal agenda of several committees, and a recommendation for a parliamentary quota of 30 percent for women was adopted at its close.

“This is a huge opportunity for women,” shared Emad Al Garash, Executive Director of the Yemen Organization for Defending Democratic Rights and Freedoms. He emphasized the need to use the quota as a jumping off point to ensure women are not left behind in any concrete next steps. “We are going to have constitution-drafting soon, so we want to exert serious pressure to make sure women are represented in this committee and that the new constitution protects their rights, including laws to end early marriage and protect women from domestic violence.”

At the official UN review of Yemen, held January 29th in Geneva, the Minister of Human Rights for Yemen, H.E. Ms. Hooria Mashhoyr Ahmed, announced significant progress since the last report made in February 2009, citing the drafting of a bill to establish a national human rights institution based on the Paris principles which will soon be sent to parliament, as well as the decision to adopt legislation designating a minimum marriage age of eighteen to combat early marriage. She pointed to areas that still need improvement, namely gaps in education, economics, and politics, and agreed that international stakeholders need to continue pressuring the national government to follow through on key decisions and reforms in these areas.

“I am optimistic about the future because before the revolution, we did not have very many women’s rights NGOs and we all focused on different things, but during the NDC we were able to see different women’s groups united behind promoting the quota. After working on this quota for the last ten years through my organization, this dream has now come true, so this is a time of hope. “ said Amal Basha.

During her remarks, H.E. Hooria Ahmed also emphasized the importance of a growing role for women and the role for human rights organizations in Yemen. This will be a crucial aspect of growth, given the restrictive conditions for activists currently in Yemen. During the prior day’s side event, Ali Al-Dailami—Head of Yemen’s Organization for Defending Democratic Rights and Freedoms—emphasized the undue violence faced by human rights defenders and called for the need to protect, defend, and support them. In a separate stakeholder report issued jointly by Front Line Defenders and the Yemen Organization for Defending Rights and Democratic Freedoms, violations against human rights’ defenders freedom of movement, freedom of association, and physical safety were cited, along with urgent recommendations to prioritize their protection, including ensuring any new NGO law is compliant with international standards.

The report of the official UPR review and its list of recommendations will be prepared by a troika of three UN Member States and is scheduled to be distributed on Friday the 31st at 3 pm.

To see the full stakeholder report issued to the Universal Periodic Review, please click here.