Yemen’s Prime Minister, Mohammed Salim Baseundwah, at the opening ceremony of the Women’s National Conference in Sana’a, Yemen.

By Michael J. Zamba

More than 900 activists, civic leaders and high-ranking officials are meeting to advance a cohesive women’s platform for Yemen’s newly elected transitional government.

“Today’s gathering represents an unprecedented moment in Yemeni history,” Prime Minister Mohammed Salim Baseundwah said at the opening ceremony of the National Women’s Conference. “Currently, Yemen is working to build its future. There is a need to have this conference.”

The two-day National Women’s Conference comes four weeks after the election that was supposed to usher in a new democratic era for Yemen. Abdo Rabo Mansoor was elected president and has pledged to reform the government and prepare a new constitution during a two-year transition.

The National Women’s Conference—organized by a committee that includes Counterpart International’s Responsive Governance Project, Yemen’s Human Rights Ministry and the National Women’s Committee—drew participants from across the political spectrum with the goal of generating support for a common agenda.

It is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Dutch Embassy, UK Aid and others.

Echoing the Prime Minister’s comments, the Human Rights Minister said that the conference was an important step toward the soon-to-be-announced public-policy dialogue among the government, civil society and the private sector. It will include gender issues.

In anticipation of the dialogue, National Women’s Conference participants will review platform planks including access to education and maternal health services, banning childhood marriage and eliminating discriminatory practices.

Human Rights Minister Horia Mashur emphasized that women must make specific and measurable demands of the new government.

“Discrimination has prevented women from achieving high posts in the government,” Mashur said. “The purpose of this conference is to get women into high-ranking positions.” Women hold only two posts in the Yemeni cabinet and just one of 301 seats in the elected national parliament.

The Prime Minister pledged his support for a quota to require that at least 30 percent of high-ranking posts be held by women.

“I truly believe that if women rule the country, that it would be peaceful and prosperous,” he said. “Yemeni women are important factors in our development, and Yemen will prosper only if women are fully involved.”

More information on women’s empowerment in Yemen is included in this short video:

“This is the Yemeni spring,” said Human Rights Minister Mashur. “In this Yemeni spring, women are leaders.”

Elizabeth Richard, Chargé D’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, agreed with the Human Rights Minister.

“We know that women played critical roles in the demonstrations and transition over the past year,” Richard said. “They peacefully demonstrated. They acted as doctors and nurses for the wounded. They lobbied on social media. They have recently joined the ranks of ministers. Today, they demand their fair representation at the negotiating table, where they will play their part in shaping Yemen’s future.”

Richard said the women at the conference have an important role in the peaceful and democratic process that will produce a better country.

“Let there be no doubt, like the presidential election several weeks ago, this is a seminal event in your country’s history,” Richard said. “These next two days, you will be more than witnesses to history; you will, quite literally, write history.”

The Responsive Governance Project is a three-year initiative funded by USAID and implemented by Counterpart International along with the National Democratic Institute and Research Triangle Institute.