By: Claudia Wald
Women’s Economic Empowerment Development Assistant
International Women’s Day (IWD) is a globally celebrated on March 8th. The day commemorates the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. IWD is now an official holiday in over 25 countries, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cambodia, Georgia, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Nepal (for women only), Tajikistan, Uganda, and Zambia. The tradition sees men honoring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, and colleagues with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.
To commemorate International Women’s Day, AAFSC’s Basic Education in the Native Language (BENL) class (comprised solely of women) had a discussion on the value of women. The class discussed the work of Tawakkol Karman, Yemeni human rights activist and 2011 joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In discussing her work, the students in BENL class reflected what they envision for themselves, largely in the context of the Yemeni national and expatriate community. The group expressed mixed views on her work. Some felt that her efforts worsened Yemen’s condition by contributing to the country’s volatility, while others believed that she is striving to improve women’s rights. A participant noted that her contributions were greater than those of many men, and that she is a strong person. Participants also voiced concern that the increased turmoil in Yemen is particularly felt by women – including increased incidences of rape, kidnapping, and obstacles to working. Concern over the lack of technological advancement and infrastructure in Yemen was raised, including the importance of the widespread adoption of electricity.
Overwhelmingly, the women called for increased peace, stability and safety in their home countries. While some expressed urgency for the need for increased access to education and healthcare, others called for a more strict interpretation of gender roles, and the significance of the role of marriage as a means of access to wealth.
Some participants spoke to their desire for expanding women’s role outside of the home, emphasizing women’s contribution to the vitality of the local community. One participant mentioned that in Morocco, there was previously more freedom to pursue an education.
Participants reflected on the differences between their lives in the United States and their home countries, noting the increased rights of the individual in the United States, and the value of compulsory education to the age of 16.
The group strongly expressed their deeply held views and participants called for individuals to interpret the roles of women, and of religion, in their own way.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child, (CRC) ratified by 193 states, including Yemen in 1991, endorses the right to equality, education, religion, and an adequate standard of living.