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Cablegate: Women Divided On Type of Parliamentary Quota System

VZCZCXYZ0011
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHYN #2258/01 3441052
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 101052Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8576

UNCLAS SANAA 002258

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KWMN PHUM YM
SUBJECT: WOMEN DIVIDED ON TYPE OF PARLIAMENTARY QUOTA SYSTEM

REF: SANAA 1859

1.(U) A mufraj is a room in a traditional Yemeni home where
family, friends, and colleagues gather, chat, and chew qat.
Yemenis are known to be open and frank during mufraj
discussions. These gatherings are typically gender
segregated. This is the first telegram in a series that will
deal with Yemeni political and social issues from the point
of view of Yemeni women.

Summary
- - - -

2.(U) Having watched their parliamentary representation
steadily wane since unification, Yemeni women see a
parliamentary quota as vital to their continued presence on
the political scene. Women activists, however, are divided
on implementation details, leaving the quota vulnerable to
critics and possibly jeopardizing its future. End Summary.

Why Yemeni Women are Pushing for a Quota
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

3.(U) Whether they are from the tribal north or the former
socialist south, Yemeni women continuously complain that
their social and political rights diminish with each passing
year. Women's participation in parliament is indicative of
this regression. Immediately following the 1994 Civil War
there were 20 women in the first parliament of unified Yemen.
Today, only one of the 301 members of parliament (MPs) is a
woman. Many female political activists fear that, if a quota
system is not imposed before the 2009 parliamentary
elections, there will be no female representation in the next
parliament.

4.(SBU) On November 23, Poloff attended a traditional
all-female mufraj at the home of Amal Basha, one of Yemen's
most outspoken female activists and head of the NGO Arab
Sisters Forum for Human Rights. Basha began the discussion
by insisting that a quota system is absolutely necessary to
ensure women are not eliminated from the next parliament.
The other eight women present, all civil society activists,
supported her claim, adding that ordinary Yemeni women would
not vote in support of a woman if their husbands did not.
Some in the group also belong to a women's NGO, the National
Coalition (NC), and actively hold fora and pressure the ROYG
to implement a quota system. A local woman working for
UNICEF said that Yemeni women have been influenced by
conservative wahabi doctrine, leading many to believe it is
sinful for a woman to enter politics.

Yemeni Women are Divided as to Which Type of Quota System
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

5.(U) In spite of broad agreement on the importance of a
quota system, there is no consensus within the women's rights
movement on the type of quota to implement. For the past
year, Post has provided a Middle East Partnership Initiative
(MEPI) grant to the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to
create a Women's Network that brings together Yemeni women
politicians from the four major political parties. In
response to the women's debates on the quota, NDI produced an
extensive legal study that concluded there were three
possible quota systems in Yemen:

- - Voluntary party quota (VPQ): Each party voluntarily
imposes a quota for the number of women candidates in its
slate.
- - Legal seat quota (LSQ): National law sets aside a
specific number of seats for women in parliament.
- - Legal candidate quota (LCQ): National law imposes a
quota on all political parties specifying the number of women
candidates they must run. Closed constituencies reserved for
women could also be included in this plan.

6.(U) Each of these options has specific challenges. The
VPQ does not guarantee any seats for women. The LSQ requires
a national referendum to amend the constitution. (Note:
Article 63 of the Yemeni Constitution states: "The House of
Representatives consists of 301 members, who shall be elected
in a secret, free, and equal vote directly by the people."
Some legal experts say that a quota for seats, where the law
would compel people to vote for a woman, contradicts the
constitution and therefore Article 63 would need to be
amended. Article 146 in the Constitution reads that to
change Article 63 (along with 20 other articles) a national
referendum must be held. End Note). The LCQ requires a
change in the Electoral Law or Political Party Law. For this
to pass, the majority of parliament would have to vote in its
favor.

7.(SBU) Female politicians refuse to agree on what type of
quota to support. Women from the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP)
continue to demand a 30 percent seat quota, without
addressing the need for a national referendum. In typical
bargaining fashion, YSP member Wahbia Sabrah told Poloff, "we
even want to ask for 50 percent, so they would give us 30
percent. It is our right." The women from the ruling
General People's Congress (GPC) Party affirm the President's
September 24 reform initiative in which he called for a 15
percent quota for women (reftel). It remains unclear what
type of quota the President intended to push, or how this
initiative would legally come to fruition. The women from
the Islamist Islah Party maintain the autonomy of their
party, reiterating that, although they want a quota system,
they do not want it to infringe upon the independence or
success of Islah.

8.(SBU) Meanwhile, the Yemeni women's rights movement, led
by the NC, is striving for a 30 percent seat quota. The NC
is not working with, and has yet to consult, female
politicians and other women's groups not belonging to its
organization. The movement for the quota remains highly
politicized, split, and legally uninformed.

Comment
- - - -

9.(SBU) Those that oppose a quota system have been taking
advantage of the division among its proponents, and some have
branded the quota as a western idea that violates national
unity and Yemeni tradition. Divided among themselves,
activist women have been unable to combat these criticisms
effectively. Time is quickly running out, meanwhile, and
unless the women's movement for a quota quickly unifies in
support of one system, there will be no quota before the 2009
parliamentary elections.
SECHE

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