By Amanda Lo
Intisar Al-Adhi is a former Leadership in Democracy Fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The competitive internship program was sponsored through an American university. Intisar assisted with IWPR’s Status of Women in the Middle East and North Africa (SWMENA) project in the spring of 2009, helping to prepare for a SWMENA workshop in Lebanon. In an e-mail interview from Yemen, Intisar shared experiences as the founder of All Girls Society for Development, an organization that aims to educate and empower girls in her home country, as well as her views on how the Arab Spring has affected Yemeni women.
IWPR: What has been your experiences and background with women’s issues?
Intisar Al-Adhi: I have been working with women in particular and young people since 2003 to plan and implement development programs of interest related to Yemeni women’s issues. We also advocate socially and politically for educational issues.
IWPR: I know that you founded an organization in Yemen to help girls. Could you tell me why you started it, and what is the organization’s goal and work?
Al-Adhi: I have a great interest and purpose in my life to be an effective leader in society and to do my best in women’s development and serve as an advocate for women’s issues. I had the opportunity to establish the All Girls Society for Development after receiving a diploma in Management of Non-Governmental Organizations. I am able to apply what I have studied to support development on the ground.
There is also a great need for Yemeni women in development and awareness programs to contribute to the development of personality of girls and increase girls’ self-confidence.
All Girls Society for Development aims to cultivate the personality of the Yemeni girl with a desire to empower her and enable her to play her role in society in the most effective manner. This is achieved through programs and activities designed according to the inner potential of the girl. We are interested in education, community development, and youth and awareness.
IWPR: What is All Girls Society for Development’s latest project?
Al-Adhi: All Girls Society for Development in cooperation with the Responsive Governance Program (RGP) funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and in partnership with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF, Save the Children, and CHF International, [implemented] the “Back to School Campaign” from August to September 2011. The campaign includes many activities and events to raise social and community awareness about the importance of education in general and girls’ education in particular.
The “Back to School Campaign” outreach and awareness successes include:
[Producing] TV clips on girls’ education and support from important Yemeni figures, distributing 435 banners (shown in photo above) in 11 governorates, [being featured] in 38 radio programs on 12 local radio stations, and producing a TV program session.
IWPR: How has the Arab Spring affected women’s situation in Yemen? What kind of changes has happened?
Al-Adhi: The Arab Spring led to a large increase in awareness about women’s issues in Yemen that has not occurred for 20 years. Despite what is known about Yemeni society as a traditional community, meaning the majority adhere to established customs and traditions when dealing with women’s issues, the first result of this revolution is a shift in social awareness. We see a lot of men becoming more open-minded. Yemeni men did not find it problematic to encourage their wives and female relatives to go to [public] squares and participate in the demonstrations.
In the recent past, the role of women is beginning to emerge, regardless of the speed of its emergence or the quality. There are signs that women roles are changing. We see women currently leading and participating in the revolution. It is a sign of their ability to take high positions, which has enabled her to break the barrier that hinders equality with men in political life. I consider this as a good indicator that women will have the chance to take leadership positions in the future modern state of the Yemeni people.
Educated women have the most mature understanding of the revolution and are heavily involved in improving women’s situations in their respective fields. Doctors work in the field hospital, human rights activists and lawyers work on human rights violations, and political activists work to raise political awareness in tents and through daily lectures.
The Arab Spring has led to positive changes in Yemeni society. It has opened up the horizon and gave an area for women to express her views. We have seen real participation of women in the revolution such as in the planning and implementation. There is a growing trend that men acknowledge the importance of women’s involvement in various aspects of life.
However, the Arab Spring also has its downfalls with respect to women’s plight. There are women who have lost their jobs because of the change in economic conditions and, as a result, their way of living has deteriorated. In addition, some families have lost their breadwinner due to violence in the demonstrations, such as being hurt by other demonstrators, the killing and indiscriminate shelling of civilians. Furthermore, the fear and anxiety of possible violence, both armed violence or collective punishment such as the interruption of electricity, water, and the insecurity and instability caused by oil scarcity, have worsened their present living conditions.
IWPR: How has your experience at IWPR in Washington, DC, been relevant in helping your work in Yemen?
Al-Adhi: During my time at IWPR, I benefited from the working environment and from working with employees. It helped me identify effective communication methods in a team. I had a wonderful and useful meeting with Heidi [Hartmann, president of IWPR,] who responded to my questions with support and patience. I will not forget when she encouraged me to continue working. I liked the attention towards research and I took advantage of this kind of research that seeks to improve the lives of women. I also learned about the relationship between research organizations and the media. Lastly, I try to add the internship component in most of the projects for All Girls Society programs. I believe that internship experiences are essential in building the capacity of girls and youth.
Amanda Lo is the Communications Intern at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.