Yemen: political arena from rural backwardness to Facebook

Girls get married at 25 in the cities, at six in the country

20 June, 12:42

    (ANSAmed) - ROME, JUNE 20 - While Yemen's Conference for National Dialogue has come up with quite progressive declarations as to what the country's new Constitution should look like, social and economic backwardness in the country's rural areas still weigh heavily on Yemeni society.

    The countryside is where the rights of women and children are routinely trampled: here children are married off to one another at the age of six, the black head-to-foot veils women must wear remain a visual reminder of their isolation and segregation, the rate of illiteracy is high, and childbirth takes place solely with the aid of midwives, for the country has very few trained ob-gyn doctors.

    The closer one gets to the cities, the better the conditions: the marriageable age rises to 25 years.

    Saimah al-Qiari, an activist for women's rights in rural areas, is familiar with the situation. She spoke Friday at the close of a seminar on Italy-Yemen cooperation on human rights in the new Yemeni Constitution.

    It is primarily a question of development and infrastructure, but the law can also be effective in driving social change, she told ANSAmed.

    With regards to child marriage, ''the government must put pressure on the village sheikhs, because they have direct ties to the government itself'', she explained. A country full of contradictions, Yemen shares one thing with fellow Arab Spring countries: the popularity of social networks as a tool for political organizing.

    Olfat al-Dubai, who sits on the committee that is writing the new Consitution, represents the Islah Islamic party. Her Facebook profile has 40,000 followers, and she confirmed that more and more institutional players are turning to social media to keep their fingers on the pulse of public opinion. For her, the priorities are ensuring reconciliation through some form of transitional justice; the rights of women and of other marginalized groups, such as the disabled; and social justice.

    The biggest challenge, she said, will come after the new Constitution is presented in September, and before voters are called to approve it in a national referendum: that is when Islamist extremists and entrenched interests in the south and the north of the country will go on a major offensive.


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