GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Women and political culture of feminist resistance in Yemen
Paper Proposal Text :
Analyses of gender in the aftermath of uprising and revolutionary struggles generally have shown the results to be disappointing in terms of gender equality. Women have played an extensive role in revolutionary movements across the world. However, their massive participation in the struggle did not provide them equality with men once victory was achieved. This has created a concern regarding the fate of women in the wake of Yemeni uprising. While leading role in the revolutionary struggle draw them into public life and ensure their representation and voice at the National Dialogue Conference (March 2013- January 2014), doubts have been cast over the fulfilment of the promise of gender equality and the meaningful changes for women in the real life. The women’s subordination should not be taken for granted, however, as a historical inevitability. The attention must be paid to the mechanisms of power relations and dialectical interactions between social structure and human agency. The analysis requires understanding of how women actively engage in resistance and opposition to the patriarchal structures of power and how they renegotiate their position and roles in the context of state-building and socio-political change. The present paper examines the dynamic process of women’s participation in civil society and political public life from 2009 to 2013 and the emergence of feminist awareness within the revolutionary movement in Yemen. Based on findings from ethnographic research I conducted with 60 women’s rights activists in Sana´a before, during and after the 2011 Yemen’s uprising, I suggest there is a progress made in construction of what I called “political culture of feminist resistance”.
The political culture of feminist resistance is not a static but a dynamic concept. It defines the ways in which women and men understand gender oppression and organise themselves to work together in opposition to the patriarchal system of power. The political culture of feminist resistance highlights the concepts of culture, feminist consciousness, women’s empowerment and agency to understand the women’s involvement and role in the process of change for gender equality. The political culture of feminist resistance appears in Yemen as a result of interactions between several elements, included subjective and collective women’s experiences, gender ideologies, cultural idioms and women’s organisations and networks. Constructed from pre-existing material and discursive elements, the political culture of feminist resistance has been adapted to changing circumstances and come to challenge a shape-shifting politics of patriarchal power. I argue that the existence of political culture of feminist resistance has had a significant impact on the outcomes of the Yemeni uprising. The implementation and real practice of gender equality and women´s rights in a “new Yemen” depends largely on strengthening and a steady spread of that culture. Furthermore, the political culture of feminist resistance is not the same as an organised and strong feminist movement, but is necessary for the success and development of such a movement.

From the beginning of the 2011 Yemeni uprising, women have been actively engaged and played extensive role in the revolutionary movement. Some of them have become highly visible and prominent leaders of anti-government protests. However, only a relatively small number of women were able to use feminist knowledge and articulate their strategic gender interests into wider revolutionary goals. Most of these women have come from women´s organisations and networks, such us the “Watan Coalition – Women for Social Peace”, and have worked in the field of women´s rights and gender equality long before the revolution broke up. Furthermore, there is a new group of feminist activists who have emerged from a youth movement during the uprising. Besides common political struggles, these groups aimed at including issues that directly affected women. On the one hand, they sought to overthrow political regime of Ali Abdullah Salleh, and on the other hand, they attempted to challenge the patriarchal character of the state and demanded more rights and freedoms for women. Activities such as building up a women´s agenda and raising awareness of equal citizenship and human rights among the members of revolutionary movement are examples of products and outcomes of the political culture of feminist resistance. Despite the efforts, women could not achieve much in uniting and developing a strong and large feminist movement during the uprising. Moreover, their gender interests were deliberately marginalised and denied adequate representation through the “operations of patriarchy”, which were registered shortly after the tribal, political and islamist leaders took control of the uprising. However, women did not stopped resisting the patriarchal domination. In accordance with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-brokered political transition initiative, signed at Riyadh on 23 November 2011, women were granted 28 percent representation in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). As members of the NDC, they could push for their gender strategic and practical interests to be taken into consideration in the final NDC report, issued in January 2014. Among the NDC recommendations for the Yemeni future Constitution and legal reforms, there are resolutions that ensure equality between women and men in rights and opportunities, guarantee a minimum quota of 30% for women in political public life and establish a minimum age for marriage at 18 year. All these demands are not new, but have been part of a long history of the struggles of Yemeni women for rights. In-depth interviews with female activists shed light on their agency and feminist consciousness that has been raised as a result of these political struggles. The women’s experiences give us an insight into the political culture of feminist resistance in Yemen. They also give us better understanding of causes, consequences and solutions for gender discrimination in the public political life in Yemen.