Yemen’s dire need for womenomics

Published on 15 May 2014 in View Point
Nadia Al-Sakkaf (author)

Nadia Al-Sakkaf


In his speech at the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talked about many key issues that matter to the world, but what was more interesting for me personally was the interest he showed in empowering women in the economic sector―let’s call it, “womenomics.”

Prime Minister Abe realizes that investing in women as income generators is directly related to national economic growth. This was not his understanding in 2005 when he warned against gender equality. His concern at the time was that if women worked outside the house, they would be less inclined to have children and this would affect the labor force and economy.

Almost a decade later, his earlier theory has proven wrong.  Abe realized his mistakes and rediscovered the benefits of integrating women into the economy. Now he is on a mission to create “a society in which women shine,”  as he explained at the General Assembly. He says he has been working to change Japan’s domestic structures and is addressing the way gender policy can guide Japan’s diplomacy.

Investing in women is not a new idea, of course. I remember attending a presentation in 2006 by a gender expert who said that Yemen is losing at least 40 percent of its potential income generation sources because it doesn’t encourage women in the labor force.

In Yemeni culture, women are not typically called on to be breadwinners and are usually dependent on men for their livelihood. Now we see a long line of scary indicators that suggest one of the major reasons Yemen’s economy is rapidly deteriorating is because women are often only valued for their abilities to reproduce and not much else.

Women’s health is also suffering. According to the 2005 World Bank indicators, the prevalence of anemia among pregnant women in Yemen is 58 percent! That’s roughly double the rate of Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

If women do not work outside the home and isn’t married, she is usually consumed with household chores or the idea of getting married. In turn, she will then assume the household chores of her new family once married.

I am not saying that the work of housewives is in any way less than that of women who work outside the home, but in Yemen housewives often lack a sense of autonomy and all too often silently suffer from both physical and emotional abuse. Of course, there are also stories of working women in Yemen who suffer from this as well, but they tend to have a better chance to defending themselves and surviving because they are economically independent.

We need to create an environment that supports working mothers and helps them carry on their double duty as much as possible. Measures such as kindergartens and nurseries at the work place, the availability of part-time work opportunities and the promotion of work that women can perform from home would all be positive steps.

Prime Minister Abe put it nicely when he said that creating an environment in which women find it comfortable to work is no longer a matter of choice for Japan. It is instead a matter of great urgency.

If in Japan these matters are so urgent, what can we say about them in Yemen?

One look at the status of women in Yemen should underscore just how urgent it is that we take positive  measures to integrate women into the workplace.