For a decade now, Yemen has held the last position in the Gender Gap Index. This index shows that Yemen has the widest gap in gender equality among other countries across the continent. This poor performance is reflected in our high rates of maternal mortality and lack of educational opportunities for women, but this underdevelopment has been exacerbated by a lack of women political participation. In this moment of unrest in my country, we are at a crossroads. We must include women in the peace talks or risk perpetuating the poverty, inequality, and violence that have caused havoc in our country for years.
It has not always been so bad. If you ask my mother, a proud southern Yemeni, about Yemeni women, she will speak reverently of the glory and power of Yemeni women in the South. She used to regale me with stories about how southern Yemeni women claimed their political rights as early as 1977 during the local elections. She told me that they established the Women Union in 1968. In fact, she used to brag about the amazing ‘family law’ that restricted polygamy, a law that defined the safe age of marriage and that famously gave a divorced woman, who had custody of her children, the right to retain her marital house. In sum, we were gaining political rights during that era.