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VIENNA, Apr 29 2011 (IPS) - Despite being at the forefront of sweeping changes taking place in the country, the lives of the majority of Yemeni women are restricted to early marriage, motherhood and serving husbands, according to a new study by Women Without Borders (WWB), a Vienna based public relations and advocacy platform for women’s voices around the world.
“Most of the women talked to, even those from a traditional background, do express a desire for more independence in many aspects of their lives,” Edit Schlaffer, founder-director of WWB told IPS.
The survey reveals that women are largely restricted to the private sphere and discouraged from participating in public life.
With a grant from the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID), a team of researchers from WWB designed a 134-item questionnaire in the Arabic language that was distributed amongst 600 students at Yemen’s Sana’a University on the eve of the February uprising earlier this year.
Over half of the male respondents feel that allowing women to work undermines their religious practices. However, a majority of both men and women see changing gender roles as an opportunity to fare better in a fast globalising world
Before her first visit to Yemen in 2009, Schlaffer’s image of the country on the western border of the Arabian Peninsula was that of a hideout for terrorists and a society frozen in time.
Schlaffer was introduced to a vibrant civil society that is flourishing in the face of Western mistrust and domestic roadblocks.
The idea of the fact finding mission led by Schlaffer was to find out more about women and their views on extremism in the country, and to establish a SAVE Yemen chapter.
Yemen has a young population and women spoke openly about their own government and what they thought of governments abroad.
SAVE, or Sisters Against Violent Extremism, is a worldwide initiative of WWB to counter violent extremism and to propose strategies for derailing the extremist movement.
“Yemeni women, the NGOs and the mosques can play a vital role. As mothers, women can help in educating and guiding their sons; in society they can be activists in stopping violence,” Hooria al Mashoor, Vice-Chairperson of the Women’s National Committee in Yemen told Schlaffer.
Today al-Fotih, is SAVE Yemen’s local coordinator and continues to work with mothers seen as potential ‘alarm-sounders’ when their children travel down the wrong path.
SAVE Yemen has held talks with Women Journalists Without Chains on the role of Yemeni women in confronting terrorism and extremism. Nadia al-Sakkaf, editor-in-chief of ‘Yemen Times’, the country’s leading English language newspaper has helped to host meets with local victims of violent extremism.
Fatima al-Zuhairi, principal of a local school discussed problems of extremism amongst female students in her school, and the challenges and accusations she has faced from extremist preachers in her local mosque.
After having created a network of supporters on the ground, WWB launched the latest survey to gauge the attitude of university students in Yemen on a wide range of issues – but with a focus on gender equality and the future. The findings disclose that the youth in Yemen yearns for gender equality.
The survey showed that youth is ready for change and optimistic about the future.
The survey reports two interrelated trends seen in many developing countries – including Yemen. There is a growth in the population of young people, and increased access to education for both men and women. The educated youth pose significant challenges to economic and political stability as the rate their growth rapidly outpaces available job opportunities.
The promise of free education is real but the hidden costs such as uniforms and school supplies present an overwhelming challenge to many families. Nearly half of the respondents reported that their families find it difficult to pay for their university education.
Conservative, male-dominated social norms still make access to education an insurmountable barrier for too many Yemeni women, but a move in a positive direction is visible. The majority of women predict their future career will be that of a teacher or professor – women currently represent less than a quarter of the educators at all levels.
Domestic violence is a part of many lives, 39 percent have witnessed it and 27 percent have experienced it. Little data is available about this conduct in Yemeni society due to social stigma.
The results also reveal girls are often prohibited from attending school or playing sports, and most women do not hold jobs or participate in politics because the public sphere is almost forbidden to them.
Most female respondents to the survey – despite access to education – come from families with traditional Yemeni values. They are more concerned than their male counterparts with the wishes of the family and agree that family plays a strong role in their decisions.
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