Wednesday, May 30, 2007

From conflict to alliance

We landed in Yemen at 2 a.m. on Monday morning and since have had 9 meetings and a couple different tours. Aside from yesterday's powerful meeting with the Arab Sisters Forum, which was run by 2 female workers for SAF, today was the first day that a woman was present at one of our meetings in any official capacity. Jawhara Hamad Tabet was a top official with the Yemeni Socialist Party as well as chair of the Women's Committee and the Civil Society Committee. While she was quiet for quite a bit of the meeting, toward the end the gentleman leading it specifically called to her to answer a question and stated that we "needed to hear her speak." It was the strongest support of a woman by a man I have seen up until this point. She then went on to explain a point about the Socialist party and their strategic alliance with Islah, a strong opposition party, as well as her own history as teacher, principal/director/union activist and social activist.

The refreshing part of this situation is that in at least 2 other situations unfortunately, where we had been in meetings with men professing to work on behalf of the advancement of Yemeni women, no women had been present. Furthermore, when pressed about this by Cathleen, another woman on this trip, or me, we received very evasive or downright disconcerting answers. In one case, when we asked about any women helping to lead we were told that there was one woman in a leadership position, but that she did not want to participate. In another meeting, when pressed, the Islah party pushed back using the struggle of American women to gain the freedoms we currently have and asked for us to have patience. It would take a great deal of time for Yemeni society to advance to a place that American women enjoy now.

I suppose they thought that gave them cover to dodge the question, but it actually points to the larger truth and that is that they don't have the time. Much of the education debate is a fractal of the larger human rights debate going on around the world. It used to seem reasonable to take the time to see if women were up for the pressure of man's work, man's legislative power, or a man's wages; but the world is moving at the speed of a click now and no country can afford to wait for human rights to evolve. We are moving toward greater communciation, greater need for ideas, greater need for education, and a greater need for collaboration and connections if we are going to work together to find solutions to the world's most imposing problems.

A country(theirs or mine) can't afford to write off half of its population. I am so inspired by the work of the Arab Sisters Forum, the leaders who have taken chances, and the verve and attitude I see in my daughter that I am determined to move from isolated conflict with people who don't know they have work to do, to work with the people who want to make a difference, because we don't have the time to do otherwise.

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