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Cablegate: Against All Odds: Gpc, Jmp Agree That Yemeni Women

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHYN #1595 2380933
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 260933Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 2663

UNCLAS SANAA 001595

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

FOR NEA/ARP AMACDONALD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM YM
SUBJECT: AGAINST ALL ODDS: GPC, JMP AGREE THAT YEMENI WOMEN
NEED AN ELECTORAL QUOTA

REF: SANAA 1558

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. In an August 19 event on women's
political participation in Yemen hosted by the Embassy,
members of the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) and the
opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) came to a rare
consensus that a women's quota as part of a proportional list
electoral system was the best hope for near-term improvement
regarding women's involvement in the political sphere.
Attendees decried the social, educational and religious
barriers that keep Yemeni women from full participation, and
both ruling and opposition leaders pledged to include the
"women's issue" in deliberations for the 2011 parliamentary
elections. It is important that both parties work together
to implement this rare consensus decision if and when the
GPC-JMP dialogue resumes. END SUMMARY.

2. (SBU) Men and women leaders of the ruling General
People's Congress (GPC) and opposition Joint Meeting Parties
(JMP), journalists and members of civil society turned out
for an August 19 event entitled "The Yemeni Woman and the
2011 Elections," organized by the Embassy. In her opening
remarks, the DCM highlighted the important role that women
play in the development of democratic societies, and the need
for Yemeni women to participate more fully in the democratic
process. In a 90-minute discussion moderated by the National
Democratic Institute, a majority of the usually fractured
political community agreed that a system of proportional
representation ) to include a women's quota ) was the best
near-term method for advancing the role of women in Yemeni
politics. "Past elections have failed everyone, not just the
women. The current electoral system prevents a large part of
society from participating in the political process," said
Nasserite Party Secretary General Sultan al-Atwany.

3. (SBU) Although most attendees agreed that the women's
issue needed to be addressed through electoral reform,
details differed between and within parties. Khadija
al-Khateri, a GPC leader in Sana'a, insisted that without a
specific women's quota, the proportional list would fail
Yemeni women. Former head of the Yemeni Journalists'
Syndicate Abdulbari Taher said that a proportional list
should include quotas for many groups ) from the tribes to
women and other marginalized peoples. Women leaders of Islah
said that the proportional list would improve representation
across the board, by first allowing Islah's male leadership
to be elected to office, followed by the party's women
members. According to JMP spokesman and Baath Party leader
Naif al-Qanas, a 15 percent quota for women should be the
minimum allotment. Islah Assistant Secretary General and MP
Mohammed al-Sadi, however, disagreed that a women's quota is
the solution. "A quota is like charity. Yemen women should
struggle to get their rights," he said. Sadi, however, later
agreed to set a schedule for women's participation in the
GPC-JMP dialogue. (Note: The two parties are currently in a
political stalemate with no formal dialogue taking place, but
observers hope it will resume after the Ramadan holiday. End
Note.) The JMP has a women's committee as part of its
National Dialogue (reftel), which will push for the inclusion
of the women's issue in any electoral reforms.

4. (SBU) Members of the ruling party and opposition agreed
that the socio-political environment ) including family, the
tribes, income and education ) was stacked against Yemeni
women, and even major strides in electoral reform would not
necessitate political gains for the female population. Taher
added that the Friday sermons in Salafi mosques and the
country's hyper-conservative religious culture were a major
part of the problem. Yemeni Socialist Party Women's Sector
Head Wahbia Sabra worried that if the parties only focused on
the political problem while ignoring the educational and
cultural challenges, Yemeni women would still struggle for
full participation in the democratic process. "It's not
possible to solve all of the problems of women with a simple
change to the Constitution," she said.

COMMENT
-------

5. (SBU) Women political leaders must use the current hiatus
in dialogue between the GPC and JMP to press their parties'
leadership for policies regarding women. With both sides in
general agreement on the need for a proportional list system,
to include a women's quota, the time is ripe for pushing
forward a much-needed electoral amendment on women's
political participation. Women, and sympathetic party
leaders, need to be ready to hit the ground running when
dialogue (hopefully) resumes post-Ramadan. END COMMENT.
SECHE

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