Women. Power. Peace.

Georgia WAND meets with 6 Yemeni women

Georgia WAND hosted five influential, educated women from Yemen on October 24, 2012.

The event was very exciting and I felt honored to be associated with a group (Georgia WAND) that had been asked by the State Department to host these wonderful women.  Such a request really demonstrates how all the hard work put forth by the organization makes an impact on those in Washington and to be presented by your government as a group that has a stake in the American political system for women is a great feeling.

Overall, I got the impression that the meeting went very well and our guests were interested in keeping this connection in the future.  I am lucky to be able to analyze this meeting from two perspectives, as the visitor and as the host.  Earlier this year I traveled to Turkey with my Master’s program and participated in many meetings like the one Georgia WAND hosted today.  Some of those meetings were informative and eye opening while others made you want to hold your eyes open with toothpicks.

With the Yemeni women however, there was wide ranging dialogue and all the women took their time to lend their voice and ask pointed questions.  This tells me they were interested and excited to meet with our organization and that we had good information to share with them.  I feel that we were able to provide the information they were seeking.

There was great interest from the group on how Georgia WAND works here in the US, what our focus issues were, how the organization defines itself and how we determine the issues we work on.  The President of Georgia WAND, Dianne Valentin, eloquently answered the question on how we choose our issues simply by saying as women we must do it all.  All issues come together and affect women in various ways and that is why Georgia WAND is so wide reaching on issues ranging from weapons, militarism, environmental justice, political empowerment for women and the like.

The group also pointed out the wide spread in age amongst the Georgia WAND members that greeted them.  Myself and Courtney Hanson, Georgia WAND Public Outreach Director,  rounded out the ‘youth’ category with Diane, Bobbie and Senator Nan Orrock filling  the remaining categories.  The women pointed out that any movement or organization must be sustained by the experiences and training being handed down from those who have done the work before to the new generation.

We were pleased to hear that these women were encouraging political empowerment and activism among women in Yemen and that they were promoting education for girls.  One of the more interesting topics that arose was that of women falsely imprisoned and shunned by their families.

Ms. Salma Abdullah Ahmed Al Masaabi spoke of the library she founded to help the women who come out of those circumstances with little opportunity.  Her library offers educational courses and vocational training as well as direct support to the women that come out of the prison system in Yemen.

I was also excited to hear how these women felt so optimistic about the future of Yemen, especially regarding the institution building, constitution formation and future elections that will take place in the near future.  They credited the increased number of women in powerful positions to the educational reforms that began in the 1960s and 1970s, the ‘first generation’ as one woman called it.  I was impressed at how she had went against the advice of the men in her family to stay out of business and she is now the first female professor of business at her university and she sits in the Chamber of Commerce.

These women would also like to institute a quota of 30% for their parliament in regards to female representation, a goal that would be most helpful in advancing the status of women in their country.

They did acknowledge the issues of strife and violence within their country and the issues of child marriages, young girls being married off at the behest of their family for more ‘stability’ as one group member put it.  However, even this was in the context of a country in transformation which has reached its most critical juncture for the future.

These women want to be part of the dialogue that shapes the future of Yemen and gives women a voice and a more equal footing in politics, business and everyday life.  That is why they were seeking out the experience and advice of a group in the United States that has played that part for decades and Georgia WAND is a fine example.

Stephanie is currently a graduate student at Kennesaw State University and is studying International Policy Management. Her main interests are nonproliferation, global security and peace studies with a focus on South Asia. She is interning with Georgia Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) in Atlanta this Fall.

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