The Hague, 28 February 2012
After months of uncertainty and a year of protests, the citizens of Yemen voted in the presidential election held on February 21st. The election a key component of the U.N.-backed transition plan designed to end months of unrest in the country took place in an atmosphere of heightened security and was followed by violence erupting in the Southern parts of the country.
Women in Yemen have been involved in the revolution since the beginning of the uprisings which swept the country during the Arab Spring last year. Demanding equal rights, Yemeni women have participated in both urban and rural mass demonstrations across the nation, and assisted behind the scenes in protesters’ camps by preparing food, water and medical care including taking care of communication and information-flow.
During this transitional period, women are now faced with the dual challenge of continuing their presence in the day-to-day protests as well as advocating for women’s rights in Yemen. As stated by the European Union ambassador to Yemen Michele Cervone d'Urso "The women are the key for this county, for sedating this country," he said in reference to the need to calm conditions there. "They have to be recognized as a key part of society." Women demonstrated their will to maintain the public political space they had gain by expressing their right to vote.
President-elect Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi previously the vice president of Yemen successfully won the uncontested election that ended the 33 year rule of Saleh. President Obama has endorsed the election outcome and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated the people of Yemen "on today's successful presidential election," calling it "another important step forward in their democratic transition process”. However low voter turnout risks threatening the polls legitimacy. Hadi perceived by many as a “care-taker” has been charged with reconciling the country, reintegrating members of both the North and the South, upholding the demands of the Yemeni population and creating a just and fair state.
Yemen's mainstream opposition, led by the Islamist Islah party, has also given its blessing to Mr Hadi's election. Tawakul Karman, the party's joint recipient of last year's Nobel Peace Prize, insisted that however imperfect the exercise was, it still represented Yemen's final repudiation of Mr Saleh's rule. "We are now declaring the end of the Ali Abdullah Saleh era and we will build a new Yemen," she said as she queued to vote. This election offers the government an opportunity to join hands with the people to make sincere, result-oriented efforts and rebuild a nation.
However many Yemenis remain skeptical about the political agenda of President-elect Hadi as stated by an Arab diplomat "unless these elections lead to change and reform they will be meaningless.” Civil war remains a very real risk in a country facing rebellion in the north, a southern secessionist movement, an emboldened offshoot of al Qaeda and an economic crisis that has brought it to the brink of famine.
Gender Concerns International would like to draw particular attention to the role of women and the importance of supporting, sustaining and encouraging the proactive women’s organizations and associations on the ground that want to move towards a different type of society. The presidential election referred to as an important milestone in Yemen’s transition by the European Union failed to fully acknowledge women’s consistent contribution to the revolution. This observation is further supported by the lack of a gender sensitive perspective in the election observation mission reports published to date.
In the words of Tawakkol Karman "We are building the democratic and happy Yemen that all of the youth and women have dreamed about." This mean encouraging inclusive governance, the political participation of women at all levels of decision making and equally including women in the economic and social construction of a new state.