Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Voice for People with Special Needs: Samah Al Shaghdari

Samah Al Shaghdari is an activist, poet and journalist. What sets her apart, is her drive to achieve more when odds are against her. Samah heads a foundation known as Voice (Sout) that focuses on people with special needs (the mentally ill or the physically handicapped) and other minorities in society. 

Samah Al Shaghdari - Right
Just a few years ago, she participated in a workshop with the Youth Leadership Center to learn how to construct an organization. While Voice is now a small organization educating society on the subject, Samah has a plan to expand it into a radio that caters to the needs of minorities in Yemeni society. Her dream is to have the first Arab channel dedicated to people with special needs within 10 years. She aims to create programs and documentaries that raise awareness of the conditions that minorities are living in. While Samah's dreams are ambitious, she is realistic and knows that only hard work and dedication will make her plans fruitful. Before creating a channel, she aims to negotiate a weekly (or even monthly) show with a local television channel on people with special needs. 

In 2011, Samah participated in the protests and is feeling heavy hearted about the progress that Yemen made in the past year. 
I think politics kills the mind and the heart. Yemen is suffering from a poverty of politicians, because many of them do not know their trade but found their way to it somehow. Therefore, I refuse to join any group because many of them are reactions to delirium (infi'alat), after all, the revolution was just that. 
As an activist, she let me know that ever since 2004, Yemen made it part of the law to dedicate 5% of all jobs in the private and public sector to disabled individuals. However, there are no recent statistics on whether that is the case. Studies reveal that 2 million people in Yemen are people with special needs, which is roughly 10% of the population. Part of Voice's work aims to hire lawyers in order to defend the rights of disabled individuals at work. Overall, she feels that international and domestic efforts are weak in supporting people with special needs. 
There are about 6000 organizations that are financed by the Social Fund from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (Al sondouq Al ijtima'ey), and 258 of these organizations are for people with special needs but only two stand out: 1) Markiz Al Noor managed Abdul Rabou Humaid and 2) Jam'iat Al Aman by Fatima Al 'Aqil (but she passed away). The other organizations isolate the disabled from themselves. They teach women to sew, and draw, etc but they all do it in isolation. There are only very few buildings that care about disabled people... As if this group of people is nonexistent. No one considers how people with special needs will get to the top floors anywhere even in public universities and governmental buildings. 
Samah's uniqueness as an activists is that she herself represents the community that she is fighting for. 
When I was 3 months old, I got sick with fever. My family took me to the doctor and she gave me a shot. While the doctor may have cured my fever, she gave me Nerve Atrophy. I am disabled now. Growing up, I lived my life like a normal person and I don't suffer from any complexities. This is because my father made me love life and learn how to follow my goals.
I began facing problems when my father died. Most of the women in my family got married at 15 and 16, and I couldn't study what I want, I had to fight for things. I was a little late in my career but that is because I had to practice diplomacy with my family as not to lose them. To be an example for others, you have to suffer. 
Samah studied philosophy as an undergrad in Sana'a and went to earn an MBA. She worked with a television channel. She states: 
I always wanted to be a television presenter. In 2008, I presented a documentary called Countenance (Malamih) on Saba'a channel; it focused on young artists, singers, actors, and artistic disabled people. I remember a man called Samih who was an extremely talented disabled artist that no one knew about although he won several art awards. Another amazing character is Liza, a blind journalism graduate, who was struggling in finding a job in the Media due to her disability. The show was ranked as one of the most watched shows on Saba and could have been nominated to participate in the Cairo Film Festival, however it was eventually canceled because of the lack of interest of some senior administrators within the channel.
Samah was one of the main faces in the revolution and made a short film focusing on the feminist movement during the Yemeni revolution that will be discussed in a future post. 

As a poet, Samah published a few collections. Her first collection came out in 2004 and the second in 2010.
My first collection was an experience of creative adolescence (Morahaqa ibda'iyah). It was a daring collection and I faced  many problems in society due to the subject matter it discussed.  I was a woman and I talked about praise (Ghazal), so it was hard... many people tried to use it against me by bringing it to the males in my family...
I am stubborn and I was scared to write some more, but I decided to go to prose (Nathr), which is typically shorter and more abstract, in order to make it harder for everyone to understand. In prose, however, I found myself. 
Samah's 2010 book, The Fabric of Darkness (Naseej Al-'Atma), her poetry is concise and witty. It reminded me of some of the famous quotes of American poet Dorothy Parker. Samah's poem, "A Vision" (رؤيا) is simple: 
To be able to see things,                          لأتمكن من رؤية الاشياء
I will shut my mouth                                           سأغمض فمي

As for her next book she says, 
It is not like fashion, it is not about producing every year, but rather about producing quality. I want it to have philosophical depth so when I am ready, I will produce more.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Recommendations to Improve Yemeni Education for Women


All of the previously mentioned challenges (see previous post) are exacerbated by the current revolution. The country is now witnessing a period of transition while struggling to prevent complete chaos. In the coming few months, the country will refocus its attention on pressing issues. The government will address the issues of the southern separatists who since 2007 have organized demonstrations against the North’s central government and the corrupt system in place. They will also try to extend influence over the governorate of Sa’ada where a war has been raging between the government and Al-Huthi rebels (named after Husain Al-Huthi) since 2004 (Khalife 8). Furthermore, with the international media directing its attention on the “war on terror”, the interest in the issue of female education dwindles to the background. These factors may dishearten many individuals, however, like Gene Sharp, in From Dictatorship to Democracy, recommends that oppressed populations develop a “grand strategy” that is unique to their circumstances in order to “muster sufficient self-confidence and strength” (51). A well-organized women’s movement can achieve a lot especially because the country is preparing for a new political era. Most importantly, women in Yemen (on a grassroots level) need to advance their agenda in the near future if there are any hopes for real change:

Women should not trust men to liberate them after the revolution, in part, because there is no reason to think they would know how; in part because there is no necessity for them to do so. In fact, their immediate self-interest lies in our continued oppression. Instead we must have our own organizations and our own power base. (Hartmann 188)
Constitutional Amendments: 

Yemeni Parliament, Image via FANACK

The Yemeni government is drafting a new constitution. Now is the ideal time to stand up against child marriages and fight for female education. Previous efforts to combat child marriages have failed. In 2009, the majority of the parliament agreed to set the minimum age of marriage to 17; however due to powerful opposition from some conservatives, the law has yet to pass. In 2010, the Shari’a Legislative Committee issued a document listing all the reasons why an age limit should not be set. Furthermore, a fatwa or legal pronouncement was issued stating that setting a marriage age would contradict the will of God (khalife 21). Now, in 2012, with a new government in charge, it is the time to continue these legal struggles in hopes that the political process will be more transparent. The religious leaders need to use ijtihad to reach a new conclusion about child marriages after acknowledging the health consequences that are facing these young women. It is important in Islam that the leaders take accountability for the well-being of their people. It is essential that the population understands the benefits of delaying marriage and to not equate a delay in marriage to an abolishment of the institution. Also, through the use of qiyas or analogical reasoning, the Islamic clerics can deduct that the times have changed like Sheikh Abdullah Al-Manie of Saudi Arabia. He believes that the prophet’s marriage to young ‘Aisha “cannot be equated with child marriages today because the conditions and circumstances are not the same” (“No religious Reason for Child Brides”).

It is important to make a point of following in the footsteps of successful Muslim nations where a legal age for marriage is determined. Delaying the age of marriage and promoting female education will lead to the well being of the new country as a whole. Although education was obligatory in 2001, the law was not applied. The laws obliging students to attend schools need to be part of the new constitution with penalties for families that prevent their children from going to school at least until the age of 13. It is important that Yemen commits to improving the learning conditions of its people and by adding it to the constitution, the people can then demand it from the government. According to the Youth’s Human Rights Group (YHRG), the laws of Yemen “guarantee the right of women to equality” so women should take position of these rights. 

Promoting Female Education in the Community

Image via UNICEF

Parents and women need to know about their rights and all the benefits of girls acquiring an education over an early marriage. Informative statistics can be broadcasted through the radios and televisions (songs or plays). In addition, due to the increasing religious nature of the country in the past 20 years, it is important that religious clerics emphasize the importance of education in Islam. After all, the first words that the prophet Muhammed uttered, ‘iqra’ or read, highlight the significance of education in Islam. Also, the popular saying “al ilm Noor” or knowledge is enlightenment can be applied. Mothers can play a significant role in the community by urging husbands to permit their daughters to seek education. The community also needs to be connected to the schools around them, the community can maintain a school and in turn the students can provide community service in return.
Development of Rural Areas

The research findings reveal that most of the schools are located in urban areas and that girls living in rural areas are the most illiterate. The new government should invest in the development of the underdeveloped regions by paving roads and providing important facilities such as school and hospitals. These improvements would create job opportunities for the villagers; therefore improving their economic condition. For example, Al-Mekhlafy reports living in a village which was underdeveloped (water had to be fetched and fire had to be generated from wood), now this village is a town with electricity and piped drinking water. Along with these improvements, the gross enrollment ratio (GER) is 100% (270). When a region is more developed, it also facilitates transportation to and from schools.

Educational Reforms

In the future, there is a possibility that Yemen will embrace federalism. If this occurs, I believe that education should be the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that the less developed and more conservative governorates do not ignore education. If the future government decides that education should be left for each governorate to decide then the federal government should provide monetary funds and incentives for governorates that achieve progress.

1. Redesigning the Education Curriculum: 

According Al-Mekhlafey, the Ministry of Education “has realized that basic education reform will not be effective without secondary education reform” (276). The current curriculum of grades 1-9 has been the same since 1994 and is written primarily by Islah educational experts. It lacks relevant instruction and is outdated in the topics it addresses. If the creation of an authentic program proves to be difficult, then the Ministry of Education can model its books after an Arabic or Muslim country with high educational standards. These refinements can lead the students to a better educational experience and better character growth. It is recommended that the Ministry of Education implements Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is as follows:
Benjamin Bloom classified the cognitive process into six major levels arrange in a hierarchical order. Beginning with the simplest level and increasing in complexity, the cognitive levels are: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation...Our Studies showed that students report more effective learning when they are engaged in higher order cognitive activities. Even in the opinion of professional engineers, faculty should engage students in higher level cognitive activities like analyse, design, develop, implement, and so on. (Goel)
All in all, the programs of study should be relevant, engaging and competing with the world’s level of education. On the whole, female students (and males) should be encouraged to participate in STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and math) in order to help improve the conditions of their own country in the 21st century. 
Image via JICA
2. Building More Girl Schools and Adding Female Teachers:
The Ministry of Education needs to provide more for the needs of girls because it is the Achilles heel of the nation’s development. If building girl schools proves too difficult, then girl dorms can be built next to schools. For instance, in Morocco, Dar Taliba de Qualité, was a boarding school for girls from rural areas. It was a successful program that helped increase female education. The Moroccan government invested in building a safe housing system for these girls and was run entirely by women. This dorm was financed by NGOs and so the families did not have to pay money and were assured that their daughters were in good hands (World Bank). 

This segregated approach to education seems to be the answer to Yemen’s educational problems. In line with the parents’ demands, providing female educators would leave families feeling safe while providing girls with future role models. Thus, enrollment in the future would increase and the drop out rates will cease. It may prove challenging to convince educated women who come from urban areas of moving to the rural areas; therefore, a special program may need to be set where a generation of rural female educators are put into place. Also, the Ministry of Education can offer higher salaries for teachers who work in more isolated areas until the conditions of rural education improve.

Creating Incentives

The Yemeni government or NGOs can create incentives for families to send their children to school. For example, schools can provide free lunches. Also, educational fees for rural families can be dropped. Girls in the schools with the worst enrollment rates can be eligible for monetary rewards that increase in accordance with their class level and grade achievements. These incentives can also be provided to poor families who feel the need to pull their daughters out of school to work in the field. A project conducted by the World Food Program gave families food and other incentives for sending their daughters to school (“Yemen: Poorest Households Receive Cash”).

Final Reflections

In 2011, Yemeni women took to the streets their frustrations, and while the country struggled with instability over the last year, families had to make due without electricity, water, or gas. While the Middle East was roaring with the uprisings, 12th grade Yemeni students had to prepare for their standardized tests regardless of the fact that schools were suspended for months. In the midst of the uprisings, the results of this national exam were released by the Ministry of Education and revealed that 11 out of the top 13 highest scores in humanities across the country were occupied by girls. Also, out of the only two students with the highest scores in the English scientific exams; one was a girl. Finally, more than half of the 18 students with the highest scores in the scientific exam, 11 girls received the highest scores (Ministry of Education 2011). 

Women in Yemen are capable of achieving their ambitions; however it is poverty, child marriages, cultural traditions and, most importantly, lack of educational opportunities that are standing in their way. Of all the challenges that the country continues to face, improving female literacy in Yemen is the obvious and most effective solution in establishing a developed nation. Providing Yemeni women with the opportunities they deserve as equal citizens will elevate the conditions of women and the the nation as a whole. Without the active support and help of the female half of the population, the country will never be able to achieve its democratic aspirations.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Obstacles in the Path of Female Education

Child Marriages
Image via Glamour Magazine

Child marriages remains one of the biggest impediments to female education. Ironically, it is a cause and symptom of this problem. In the West, the story of Nujood Ali, who was married at the age of nine to a man in his thirties and became known as the youngest divorcee in Yemen became famous, she even has a bestselling book, I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. Once married, it is hard for young women to get a divorce; first, talaq unilaterally belongs to men, and second, if a girl attempts to get khul’a or no fault divorce, then she must return her pride price and forgo financial support (Khalife 9). This complicates matters because young women do not have their own money or come from really poor families who are desperately in need of it. While this rarely happens in the West, in Yemen, there are numerous comparable stories. The UNICEF revealed that in 2006, 14% of all females in Yemen were married before the age 15, while 52% (more than half) were married before the age of 18 (Khalife 1). Most children finish their high school education by the age of 18 but Yemeni girls are inclined to leave schools to fulfill household responsibilities. 
Image via PathFinder International

Young brides also means young mothers. The lack of education leaves many of these mothers with no options as “they have little chance of controlling how many children they have, or when they have them” (Khalife 2). Only 9.3% of all women ages 15 to 49 use a modern form of contraceptive, so it is not surprising that 45.1% of all women aged 20 to 24 gave birth before the age of 20. Moreover, these young mothers endanger their own lives as the number of women who die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth (also known as the Mother Mortality Ratio) is 430 per 100,000. This number is high but it appears low in comparison to the 21.6% of women who have a delivery with the assistance of a health care professional (doctor, nurse or midwife). If the mothers are not risking their own lives, then they are risking the lives of their children, the estimated number of infant deaths under 12 months (infant mortality rate) in 2009 was 58.4 per 1,000 (USAID).

Furthermore, uneducated mothers use Khat or Catha Edulis (family of Celastraceoe), which is a psychotropic plant commonly found in Yemen, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. In the South, in 1978, the NLF was successful in preventing its use, except for weekends (Ghanem 8). However, during unification, Khat became accessible and its production remains unregulated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) one of the consequences of khat is that it is psychologically addictive. Other studies revealed that it contains several chemical elements that function as a stimulant; causing Khat chewers to experience anxiety, insomnia, depression, moodiness, and hypertension. Moreover, the chemicals sprayed on the plants and pesticides are known to cause heartburn, constipation, anorexia, nasal problems and other digestive illnesses. Sadly, many of the illiterate mothers who chew Khat, are unaware of its dangers and think of it as a cultural tradition. Research proves that mothers who use Khat to have infants with lower birth weights and 40.7% of women in a recent study confessed to chewing during pregnancy (Saad 309). Indeed, the lack of education affects the entire society as 46.1% if all children are born underweight (USAID).
Female Workers
Image via Olga Engelhardt

Without formal education, many of these women are not equipped to work or generate their own income. Unemployment is high in Yemen, but it is even higher for women, 39% compared to that of men at 16% according to 2005 figures. Yemeni working women make up hardly 20% of all workers, and unless these numbers increase, women will continue to struggle for egalitarianism. Of those women who work, the constitute a minority in the fields that they work in, where 15.5% of education workers are females, and 35.6% percent of women work in the agricultural sector (Khalife 10). These numbers may not entirely disclose the reality of women working in agriculture. Many women work in farms that belong to men in their families and in such jobs, it is considered a duty so they do not get payment in exchange. Hakmah Ali, a 40-year-old woman reveals that all her life she has been working in her family’s farm, she explains:
My program starts early in the morning. I get up at 5 o’clock in the morning. I feed my two cows and ox. We have also 30 heads of sheep and goats. After that, I wake my children up, give them breakfast and ask them to take the cattle to the nearby areas to herd, said ‘Ali. After I finish my work at home, I go to the farm to help my husband or to bring something for the cattle to eat. (Al-Omari)
The shortage in educated females restricts women from choosing the professions they desire. Even when they desire a job, it is not that easy because 44% of women report that their husbands decide whether they work or not (Khalife 11). 

Cultural Tradition

Image via Asia News
“Do not put the gas next to the match”
“A dog won’t come unless its called”
“Women are deficient in intellect and religion as well as inheritance”
“If you follow a woman’s wishes you become one” (Boxberger, 119-120).

These are only some of the proverbs about women in Yemen. The first two reveal a lot about the social position of women. Yemeni society is very conservative and women chastity is expected and protected. In the first saying, women are compared to “the gas” and men to “the match”, the proverb warns of the “explosion” that inappropriate gender mixing can lead to. Many families are scared of sending their daughters to co-educational schools and rural families fear for their daughters and prevent them from going to school because they are too far. The next saying reveals that if anything happens, including sexual assault on a woman, then she is responsible for bringing it unto herself. Following that is a common saying that is based on the female Islamic inheritance (lil rajol haq al-inthayan - for men double the women); the culture deducted that it is so because women are “deficient”. Finally, the last saying is self-explanatory but is really problematic because it reveals an attitude that would challenge women once their education and employment increases. 

If a female is in a place of leadership, then she would have trouble gaining respect and mustering the support of her male colleagues. Experts like Linda Boxberger, view cultural traditions as the biggest obstacle in the path of Yemeni women in general (130). Many other families are just convinced that women are destined to be in marriages, so when coupled with economic hardships, they choose to send their sons over their daughters (see chart 6).

Chart 6: Proportion of Boys and Girls enrolled in Primary School by Country
Source: Baerlocher, Mark O. "Differences in the Proportion of Boys and Girls Enrolled in Primary School." Canadian Medical Association Journal 177.7 (2007): 712. Print.

Image via Yemen Fox

The average size of a Yemeni family is seven (USAID) and more than half of Yemen’s population lives below the poverty line, while 16% of the population lives with less than $1 a day (‘Alim 6). If a family has many daughters then the parents chose to withdraw their daughters from school and marry them to a wealthier man in order to guarantee their survival. Poverty is only going to increase because the economy growth is decreasing (13% inflation) while the population growth is rapidly increasing (3.02% per year). Al-Mekhlafey predicts that poverty alters the priorities of families, making female education at the bottom of the list (274).
Tomorrow: Reflections and Recommendations (Female Education Yemen)

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Failing Condition of Women’s Education in Yemen

Part 4 of 4 
The two emergent Yemeni states followed dramatically different political philosophies, with South Yemen taking a radical Marxist approach and North Yemen developing a
conservative military government. Still, they had much in common: a heritage of relative isolation from the rest of the world and problems of underdevelopment such as poverty; lack of infrastructure; and lack of basic health and social services, including education... Although the two Yemens shared similar problems and aims, they remained at a political impasse. Both agreed on the goal of a unified state but each aspired to absorb the other. (Boxberger 121-122)
In 1990, the YAR and PDRY merged to form the Republic of Yemen. Saleh maintained his position as president of unified Yemen, while the president of the PDRY, Ali Salim Al-Beed, assumed the position of vice president (Dresch 186). The phase of May 1990 to July 1994 was dubbed by many Yemen experts “the transitional period” where the two ruling parties, the General People’s Congress (GPC) of the North and the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSP) of the South, formulated a vague political action plan called the Program of National Construction and Reform.

Two of the main points concerning women declare the nation’s objective of “providing opportunities for women to study and work” and “promoting the emancipation and freeing of women from traditional customs and traditions in order to enhance their effective participation in society” (“Women’s Rights and Political Contingency” 423). By 1992, a new family law was put into effect across the nation. This law was almost identical to the North’s Family Law but with minor changes based on the Arab League’s
Mashru’ Qanun al-Ahwal al-Shakhsiyya al-’Arabiyya Al-muwahid or the Unified Model of Arab Personal Statute Law. The new country had a new constitution where Islam is the official religion of the state and Shari’a is the main source of law.
From the very start, the educational system of the country was overburdened. Yemen’s official stance on the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 altered the nascent economic condition of the country. There was extreme pressure and unexpected repercussions on Yemen from being at odds with Gulf States and the West on policy matters. In 1991, more than a million Yemenis were expelled from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf as a punishment for Yemen’s refusal to support the military campaign launched against Iraq. This mass expulsion of Yemenis workers coupled with the loss of financial support from the Gulf had a huge negative impact on the country. As unemployment and inflation skyrocketed, Yemen was overwhelmed with the sudden influx of returning workers. The inflation affected everything, for example, powdered milk prices increased from 26 to 182 Yemeni Riyals (Dresch 191). Among these reverberations was the immobilization of the education system. 

The pedagogic skills of the country suffered from overpopulation and poor management. According to data gathered by the World Bank and the Ministry of Education, by 1992, it was already clear that male education was more favorable than that of women. Girls made up only 24% of all students in grades 1-9 (Noman 2). With more scrutiny, the numbers reveal that many girls drop out of school; for example, in grade 1, girls make up 31% of all students, whereas by grade 9, they constitute only 11% of all students. Additionally 54% of all six-year-old girls never go to school (Ba’abad 292). Even though these numbers appear scanty, it is still considered an improvement and will continue to grow gradually. Nonetheless, while the northern women were used to the current law, the southern women protested the new decrees on April of 1992. The women united under the Organization for the Defense of Democratic Laws and Freedoms, which is a 5,000 member conglomerate of lawyers and other female professionals, but their protests for reform were snubbed (Molyneux, “Women’s Rights and Political Contingency” 428-9).

1994 Civil War

In April of 1993, parliamentary elections took place. The GPC won the majority with 123 seats, and the Islamic party, known as Islah, won 62 seats while the YSP lost some seats in the south and gained some in the north but overall came in last place winning only 56 seats out of 301. The YSP’s claim to 50% of the power was jeopardized. Now, the Presidential council had two GPC members, two Islah members and only one YSP member. The speaker of the parliament was the prominent Shaykh of Hashid, Abullah Al-Ahmar; one of the leaders of the Islah party. Displeased, Al-Beed (VP), retreated to Hadramawt (a governorate that shares borders with Saudi Arabia at the east of Yemen). This trip alarmed the GPC who feared that Al-Beed would create an alliance with Saudi Arabia. Saleh mobilized his army in preparation for the worst. The new country barely had time to settle and was already well on its way for a towards political upheaval. The YSP prepared and submitted 18 points of demands to be met, while GPC prepared and submitted 19 points to the “Dialogue Committee”, which drafted a constitution that stated the full consolidation of the YSP and GPC’s army. Saleh and Al-Beed agreed on the terms provided by the committee in Oman (Dresch 193-5). 

Soon after, war broke out on April 27, 1994 in ‘Amran. By May 21st, Al-Beed declared secession and declared a new country with Aden as its capital. The north, under Saleh, fought to reunite the country. The war ended on July 7th with the fall of Aden, and the escape of Al-Beed and the other secessionist leaders. The results of the war revealed that the majority of the people of Yemen wanted peace and unity but the months of fighting left the city of Aden plundered. According to Molyneux, the south lost much of its “distinctive, modern character” after the war as the event curtailed political diversity in the nation (“Women’s Rights and Political Contingency” 430). 

Islah’s Growth in Government and Ramifications on Female Education 

Islah, formerly known as al-Tajamu’ Al-Yamani li-l-islah or the Yemeni Reform Grouping, is mainly a northern party (later includes southerners) that stood firmly with Saleh during the Civil War; “[s]everal Islamists claimed that fighting the socialists was jihad or holy war” (Dresch 196). Islah had three powerful representatives that drew supporters from all over the country; Sheikh Abdullah Al Ahmar of Hashid who represented the tribalists, Yasin Al-Qubati who represented the Muslim Brotherhood (no connection to Egypt’s MB), and Abdul Al-Majid Al-Zindani who represented radical Islamists (Dresch 186-7). The party presented itself as a challenger to the GPC and YSP; however, they had strong connections with president Saleh (i.e. Islah’s party secretary, ‘Abd Al-Wahab Al-Ansi, was strongly connected to Saleh). Although Islah is a three-part party, the Salafi influence was always prominent in their policies. For example, prior to the unification, Islah opposed the merger with the south as the radicalists considered them “un-Islamic” (Molyneux, “Women’s Rights and Political Contingency” 426).

As a reward for supporting Saleh and the GPC during the brief conflict, Islah’s influence increased significantly and with that came changes to women’s status. The Minister of Justice was from Islah and stated that women “were totally incompetent in Islamic Law”, so women judges in the south were dismissed or reassigned to other jobs. Also, many members of Islah publicly criticized the nomination of a woman as an undersecretary in the Ministry of Information. Other members declared that women should not serve in the parliament because “God made women emotional and did not give them strong character, and emotion does not suit leadership” ("Yemen: Government Attitude Towards Women”). This argument is still used to this day against women leadership and the United States is used as an example of a powerful country that would not choose a woman as a president. 

The educational system after 1994 changed according to Islah’s agenda. Prior to 1994 and since the 1980s, Islah supported and financed religious schools known as Al-Ma’ahid Al-‘ilmiyyah or the Learning Institutions. Many of these institutions had Egyptian teachers and through time were gaining popularity. In 1993; however, they caused a stir in the parliament. The schools were acting independently from the formal educational system and were financed by Saudi money (Molyneux, “Women’s Rights and Political Contingency” 426). As a way of compromise, Saleh struck a deal with Islah; he agreed to finance their salaries as long as they decrease their reliance on Saudi Arabian money and shut down these schools. In turn, Islah agreed to comply as long as they retained control of the Ministry of Education, and so a new educational curriculum was in place.

The country suddenly witnessed an increase in universities in the period following the Civil War as the population settled down. The public universities of Sana’a and Aden had been established since 1970-71 but the majority of public universities were inaugurated following the transitional period in the cities of Taiz, Hudaydah, Ibb, Hadramawt, and Dhamar (see chart 4). The public universities offered an array of scientific, engineering, and humanities majors varying from medicine to business. In 1995, a law was decreed uniting the programs, administrations and objectives of public universities (Ba’abad 356). Coincidentally, many private universities opened their doors to undergraduates in the same period (see chart 5), but their majors were limited. For example, Al-Iman university, a free religious school running on donations, founded by Islah’s Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani offers only two years of Wahhabi instruction. According to the latest data available on public universities in 2002, these private universities do not have any restrictions by the Ministry of Education or supervisions on the standards, rules and regulations because they were created prior to 1996 when university permits took effect (Ba’abadi 366-369). This lack of management allows private universities to do as they wish and to endanger the quality of education that the students are receiving.

Chart 4: Public Universities in Yemen (data based on 2002 findings)
University NameInitiation Year # of Colleges# of Sections
Aden 19701588
Source: Ba'abad, 'Ali. Al-Ta'aleem Fee Al-Jumhooriah Al Yamaniyah [Education in the Yemeni Republic]. 7th ed. Sana'a: Maktabat Al-Irshad, 2003. 355. Print.

Chart 5: Private Universities in Yemen (data based on 1998/1999 findings)

University NameInitiation Year# of Colleges# of Sections
College of Shari’a 12/29/199311
University of Science and Technology 01/12/19941040
Higher College for Qur’an04/15/199411
University of Applied Sciences10/09/1995836
Queen Arwa University 01/06/1996738
Source: Ba'abad, 'Ali. Al-Ta'aleem Fee Al-Jumhooriah Al Yamaniyah [Education in the Yemeni Republic]. 7th ed. Sana'a: Maktabat Al-Irshad, 2003. 371. Print.

Along with a contentious structure of education, female agency was undermined. Islah, like many Islamist parties in the region, was well organized and within their party, they had a women’s division that dealt with “women issues”. Islah believed that women’s role was better fit at home and that it is what God preferred. A woman’s primary role is to care for her children and care for her home. Luckily, they did not object to women working, however they insisted that women obtain the permission of their husbands (
"Yemen: Government Attitude Towards Women”). Changes in family law increased talaq and polygamy in the south. The new government was accused of diverting aid from the south and investing it in the North which deteriorated the economic status of Aden; causing higher unemployment rates in general, but also amongst women. Many female factory workers were dismissed from their jobs.The previously mentioned General Union of Yemeni Women in the south was accused of taking no action to defend women’s rights. Another “women issue” was co-educational schools, as the party objected to takhallut al-ta’lim or social mixing through education (Molyneux, “Women’s Rights and Political Contingency” 426). Starting 1996, the Minister of Education (an Islah member), gradually ended co-educational classes and recommended that females be taught by women ("Yemen: Government Attitude Towards Women”). Their ideology was capable of infiltrating the constitution as well. A few months following the war, the constitution changed Shari’a from al-masdar al-ra’isi or the main source of legislation to al-masdar al-waheed or the only source of legislation (Molyneux, “Women’s Rights and Political Contingency” 426). Most importantly the marriage age limit, 15 years old, was abolished on the basis that it was “un-Islamic” (Khalife 2).
Female Education during the Past Decade

For southern Yemeni women, education under the Republic of Yemen was disenchanting while for northern women, the system granted educational privileges for the first time. However, educational modifications for women took off in 2001, when the Ministry of Education partnered with NGOs in an attempt to achieve universal basic education by 2015. The Ministry of Education in 2004 decided that it was time to create a special sector for women. Headed by a female deputy minister, the office was staffed by women to monitor and implement female educational plans. Armed with the support of other nations and NGOs, the Ministry of Education had a new budget of only $8,439,452 (Al-Mekhlafey 270-273).

Although the goal was challenging, the efforts spent were fruitful. According to the World Bank, the gross enrollment ratio (GER) for grades 1-9 improved from 65.4% to 75.8% in a two year period from 2004 to 2006. The breakdown of these number reveals that girl education improved as well as the female enrollment rate went from 50.9% to 63.7% (see chart 6 for progress) which narrowed the gender gap from 28.8 to 23.3 for primary education (Al-Mekhlafey).

Chart 6: Changes in Indicators for Basic Education (2000-2005)
Source: Alim, Abdul, Kamel Ben Abdallah, Solofo Ramaroson, Maman Sidikou, and Lieke Van De Wiel. Accelerating Girl's Education in Yemen: Rethinking Policies in Teachers' Recruitment and School Distribution. Working paper. New York: United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), 2007. Print.

A report prepared by UNICEF reveals that although gender parity ameliorated since 2001, the rate of progress will not allow the country to achieve the Millennium Development Goal # 3 (to promote gender equality and empower women) by 2015 (Alim 4-7). Illiteracy in Yemen in 2007 for the entire population above the age of 10 was a staggering 47%; only 59.5% of all females in urban areas and 24.3% of females in rural areas are literate (Alim 9). The gender gap is very small in primary education; however, it increases significantly in higher education. Case in point, 43% of all first grade students were females in the academic year 2003/04; this figure represents 76 girls for every 100 boys, but by the ninth grade, the number decreases to 44 girls for every 100 boys (Alim 8). These numbers reveal that many girls do not continue their education and dropout.

Tomorrow: The current Obstacles Standing the in the path of female education in Yemen.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Failing Condition of Women’s Education in Yemen

Part 3 of 4

Women's Education in the North of Yemen Prior to 1990

Like its southern counterpart, the North of Yemen was occupied but by another power; the Ottoman Empire. This dynasty followed the Sunni sect of Islam. The Ottomans occupied the north three different times: first in 1538-1568, then in 1569-1613, and finally in 1849-1918. During these times, they paid attention to the educational development of the country as they created primary, junior high and industrial schools. The Ottomans obliged families to enroll their sons into schools; and in the city of Abaha there was the first religious girl school, nonetheless, female education did not take off (Ba’abad 47-50). Alongside the Ottoman Empire, a parallel Yemeni dynasty ruled over certain towns in the North, known as the Mutawakkilite Kingdom which is Qasimi Zaydi (Shi’a) dynasty. During the 17th century, a lot of tension existed between these Zaydi and Ottoman rulers, who claimed authority by descent to the Prophet Muhammed. Throughout the Ottoman rule, Imam Yahya Muhammed of the Mutawakkilite kingdom struggled to maintain power over the northern tribes that were more autonomous due to the country’s mountainous terrain (Dresch 35). While these two powers struggled over power, female education was neglected.

By 1918, the Ottoman Empire collapsed with the end of World War I and Imam Yahya declared the North of Yemen as the Mutwakkilite kingdom. Nonetheless, there were many parts of the north that the Imam couldn’t control. For example, the tribes in the town of ‘Asir were Sunni and under the direct influence of the Al-Saud family, and eventually became part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (see map 3). The two main tribes of Yemen, Hashid and Bakil, disagreed on their approval of the Imam. Eventually Hashid recognized him as the “king” but clans within Bakil did not entirely accept Zaydi rule (Dresch 9-15). As the North continued to function as scattered self-governed unites, education was the prerogative of learned families only. 

Map 3: Saudi Expansion and “Classical” Yemen

Source: Dresch, Paul. A History of Modern Yemen. Cambridge: Cambridge United Press, 2000. 33. Print.

Under the Imamate, formal education did not develop much and carried on according to how the Ottomans have left it (i.e. no ministry of education or formal unified curriculum). Regardless, some progress occurred in boys’ education where Dar Al-'Ulum (House of Science) and a public library was created in 1919, bearing in mind that the majority of students never completed middle school or high school. By 1949, The North of Yemen had a total of 535 schools; one of them for females (see chart 2 for the breakdown of schools). Girls in elite families went to al-mu’alaamah (a form of Islamic school) where they memorized the Qur’an for a few years and in 1949, a special school was founded to teach girls home economics and sewing (Ba’abad 51-67). Generally, schools were located in urban areas and were scarce in rural areas which required boys to make long commutes to classes (Noman 2). Of course, due to the conservative nature of the North, girls were not allowed to travel that far without constant male supervision. 

Chart 2: School Classifications in 1957
Source: Ba'abad, 'Ali. Al-Ta'aleem Fee Al-Jumhooriah Al Yamaniyah [Education in the Yemeni Republic]. 7th ed. Sana'a: Maktabat Al-Irshad, 2003. 68. Print.

The Imamate which ruled like an isolationist monarchy faced a lot of opposition and by 1962, the people of Yemen overthrew Imam Muhammed Al-Badr. While the south was inspired by Marx, the North was inspired by Egypt’s Nasser who promoted an ideology of Arab Nationalism. At the end, the revolutionaries proved stronger and the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) was created (see map 4). By 1970, Saudi Arabia officially recognized the new government which put an end to the Imamate (‘Ali 47). When the YAR took control, education in the north was ghastly. According to data provided by the World Bank in 1965, only 9% of total number of primary school age group were enrolled, with 1% female (Boxberger 121).

Map 4: North Yemen: Provinces, Major Cities, and Major Roads, 1984
Source: Krieger, Laurie, Darrel Eglin, Sally Ann Baynard, Donald Seekins, and Bahman Bakhtiari. The Yemens: Country Studies. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: American University, Foreign Area Studies, 1986. 101. Print. 

Female Education in the YAR

The first president of the YAR, Abdullah Al-Sallal, showed interest in improving female education, after all, the country witnessed minimal progress during the Imamate. During his inauguration ceremony in the city of Ta'izz, women were invited to participate in the celebration as an equal participant to men, which promised a better future under the YAR. The structure of the educational system was different than the PDRY; students had six years of primary education, three years of intermediate education, followed by three years of secondary education (Noman 2). Furthermore, the constitution of 1963 stated that education is a right for all Yemenis in article 32, and based on this, the Ministry of Education was created. The ministry created a system and a curriculum that emulated the educational system of Egypt. In turn, Egypt supplied the YAR with many educators to teach until the country had enough graduates to employ its own teachers. Many other countries lent a helping hand to Yemen; Saudi Arabia built schools, Kuwait paid the salaries of teachers, and Sudan sent employers to work as teachers (Boxberger 121). In 1969, a law was passed obligating university and higher education graduates of teaching in the country for two years prior to employment (Ba’abad 77-80). From 1963 to 1990, the YAR worked hard to improve education (see chart 3), but no specific sector was dedicated to women and only families that allowed their girls to go to school were educated.

Chart 3: Improvements in Middle School education from 1962 to 1990

Source: Ba'abad, 'Ali. Al-Ta'aleem Fee Al-Jumhooriah Al Yamaniyah [Education in the Yemeni Republic]. 7th ed. Sana'a: Maktabat Al-Irshad, 2003. 87. Print.

This lack of concern for women, carried out to other aspects of Yemeni society. Although the new country created a nationalist constitution (similar to that of Egypt’s), it took time to formulate laws concerning women. Family contentions in the YAR were settled in different ways according to Islamic law or Shari’a of the region. Zaydi courts used ijtihad (interpretation by the personal effort of a scholar) which treated each case as unique. This granted more rights to women than in Shafi’i courts where a single interpretation of the law applied. Many times family and women matters would be settled according to ‘urf or tribal law which is based on ahkam al-aslaf or rules of the ancestors (Molyneux, “Women’s Rights and Political Agency” 420). It was not until 1979, when Saleh came to power, that the YAR developed a National Family Law that incorporated Zaydi and Shafi'i jurisprudence. Overall, the laws followed the conservative and religious nature of the North; polygamy (as long as the husband practiced 'adl or equity) and talaq were permitted. Marriage age, for males and females, was legally set at 15 years old; however, it was not enforced. At times, when a family matter did not seem to be explained in the law, the adjudication was in the hands of the qadis or judges (Molyneux, "Women's Rights and Political Agency 419-420). Women's rights in the YAR seemed to lag behind those of the south; for example, women in the North gained the right to vote in 1983 while women in the south earned that right in 1970 (Khalife 10). For the most part, the approach to laws concerning women was heterogeneous due to the lack of a strong central state and granting women education was determined by individual families.

Tomorrow: Women's education after 1990 in Yemen