Joan Parker is President and Chief Executive Officer of Counterpart International.
History happens faster than you expect and is usually part of a chain of events. Monday, March 19, in a filled-to-capacity ballroom in a hotel in Sana’a, Yemen, I witnessed an important link in that historical chain.
At the National Women’s Conference, co-sponsored by USAID, Yemen’s transitional Prime Minister Mohammed Salim Basindwa pledged his support for a top demand from USAID-supported women’s organizations—a quota requiring at least 30 percent of high-ranking posts be held by females.
“I truly believe that if women rule the country, that it would be peaceful and prosperous,” Basindwa said. “Yemeni women are important factors in our development, and Yemen will prosper only if women are fully involved.”
Basindwa also focused on the significance of the conference, which drew nearly 1,000 women (and a handful of men). “Today’s gathering represents an unprecedented moment in Yemeni history,” he said. “Currently, Yemen is working to build its future. There is a need to have this conference.”
“This is the Yemeni spring,” declared Yemen’s Human Rights Minister, Horia Mashur. “In this Yemeni spring, women are leaders.” Mashur recalled how women took to the streets a year earlier in uprisings that resulted in a presidential election on February 17, ushering in what is expected to be a new democratic era for Yemen.
“Discrimination has prevented women from achieving high posts in the government,” Mashur said. She is one of only three women who hold high-level national posts; there is one other woman in the Cabinet and one woman among the 301 elected legislators in Parliament.
USAID’s Responsive Governance Project, which Counterpart International is implementing, co-sponsored the conference along with Yemen’s Human Rights Ministry and the National Women’s Committee. The conference is a key step toward a soon-to-be-announced public policy dialogue among the government, civil society, and the private sector, which will include gender issues.
Conferees debated draft positions, including access to education and maternal health services, banning childhood marriage, and eliminating discriminatory practices. A final document is expected later in April. Elizabeth Richard, Chargés d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, delivered a speech with a quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that tied the Yemeni spring to events in the rest of the world: “When women organize in large numbers, they galvanize opinion and help change the course of history,” said Richard.
In Sana’a, I could see and feel how they were rising to this unique moment in history.
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