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Published on 01/09/2011

Yemen: A Project for Women and to Strengthen Civil Society

Yemen is making the headlines these days because of the growing people’s protests against President Ali Abdallah Saleh, who has been in office for thirty-two years. Although violently repressed by the regime, demonstrations of increasing size are being held in large cities such as Sanaa, Taez and Aden.

Since 2008, GRET has been participating in a food security project conducted by the French NGO Dia, present in Yemen since 1999. A promising local association was identified through this project: the Al Zahra association founded in 1998 by a group of women in Mokha.


Two hours from Taez, in the city of Mokha, located on the coastal plain of Tihama, the political agitation took the form of smaller demonstrations that nevertheless led to the dismissal of the director of the local Council.

The entry into the city begins with the local government headquarters and a long asphalt road along which there are a few shops that leads to the port and to the three main roads that connect the city. The livestock quarantine building is located at the port, and the water desalinization plant and the electric plant are located outside the city limits. In the morning, children (both boys and girls) walk to school, and men ride motorcycles and make their way through the goats that sometimes cross the road. In the villages, there are no asphalt roads, only a few dirt roads bordered by Prosopises that break the wind and capture plastic bags and trash in so doing.

The Tihama region is thought to be one of the poorest in Yemen. Farming is difficult there because of the arid climate, and economic life is little developed, which means that there are few education or job opportunities for young people, especially young women.

On January 1, 2010, a project conducted by three associations—GRET, Dia and Al Zahra—was launched, partially financed by the European Commission. Al Zahra conducts training activities for women and follows a local development logic. The association is led by a director and currently has a staff of ten members, in addition to approximately sixty more women members. Al Zahra conducts the project, with strong support from GRET at headquarters and the presence of one full-time GRET volunteer on this project. The aim is to improve women’s autonomy and strengthen civil society.

Increasing Women’s Autonomy

In 2004, 77% of women in rural areas (between the ages of 15 and 24) and 23% of men were illiterate.[1] These percentages reveal sharp social inequalities when it comes to access to decent living conditions and in particular education.

One of the project’s goals is to help increase the level of education in the district of Mokha and, above all, facilitate access to education for girls and women. A mixed-gender kindergarten, managed by the Al Zahra association, aims to better prepare children for their entry into the regular school system. It is the only preschool in the city. Simultaneously with the academic support provided to students to prevent drop-outs, literacy classes offer many women who were unable to attend school a second chance to learn to read, write and count. Scholarships are given to girls living in villages that do not have high schools so that they can complete their secondary education in the city of Mokha. Scholarships are also being envisaged for young women who want to study at the University of Taez.

In addition to these types of activities, the association conducts activities that benefit the entire community. A clean environment awareness-raising campaign has been launched targeting the local authorities and inhabitants of Mokha. Microprojects are also being prepared to provide support in the form of donations in kind (refrigerator, sewing machine, etc.) and training (management, sewing, etc.) for income-generating activities that need a little help to become more stable.

This work, which aims to improve access to education and better living conditions, is done in consultation with the local authorities concerned such as the Gouvernorat of Taez, the Mokha Local Council, the Education Bureau, the Cleaning Fund, etc. Steps are taken to ensure that the association’s work does not replace these offices. This aspect is currently difficult given the growing political instability.

 Helping Strengthen Civil Society

The project also aims to strengthen the association when it comes to its financial, operational and institutional aspects. The aim is notably to improve acknowledgment of the role of civil society and the laws governing associations. Training courses are also offered to the association’s members on subjects such as the project cycle, fund raising, and even writing reports.

This component does not have immediate visible results for the entire community. Accordingly, it is sometimes difficult to obtain the local authorities’ acceptance of this component, as the authorities would like to see more material contributions such as infrastructures. The team has nevertheless placed this dimension at the heart of the project because it believes that it will make it possible to ensure the sustainability of the association and contribute to a better structured civil society over the long term. One can already see a feeling of pride among the women working on the project team, who are now able to plan their activities, calculate their budget, and work more independently; they are now more confident in the dialogue with the men holding positions of responsibility within the local government.

This project is slated to end in December 2011. However, the literacy classes and scholarships are planned for a three-year cycle at least, and the kindergarten is designed to stay open permanently. Thus, if the evolution of the political situation allows, the team hopes to be able to continue the education activities over the long term.