Andre Da Loba for The National
Andre Da Loba for The National

In the face of a political storm, Yemen's women stand firm



When Hooria Mashhour, Yemen's minister for human rights, took the oath of office nearly one year ago, little did she know the job would bring personal as well as political hardships.

In July this year, AlMotamar, the official online newspaper for Yemen's ruling party, the General People's Congress - still headed by the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh - published a news story with a provocative headline.

"Minister Mashhour Calls for Freedom of Sexuality, Banning Polygamy and Cancellation of Quranic legislation", the headline read. The unnamed author explained that "the minister of human rights delivered a draft resolution to the cabinet consisting of multiple violations against Quranic legislations and mentioning a clause against the GCC deal that led to establishing the current cabinet which Hooria Mashhour is one of". The report claimed that Ms Mashhour supported women's and gay rights in Yemen in her draft resolution.

The minister denied delivering such a draft resolution and said the points AlMotamar focused on were the standard recommendations that the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights always puts forward. Yemen, like most Islamic countries, has reservations about some of those recommendations, and Mrs Mashhour expressed those clearly.

The minister described AlMotamar's article as part of a systematic campaign of incitement against her as a way to silence her work. She took to her official Twitter account and claimed the media of the General People's Congress "is inciting the community against me due to the ministry's efforts in following up with the Human Rights Council recommendations that condemn the immunity to killers of protesters during 2011 crackdown on protesters".

Before the article was published, Mrs Mashhour had been pushing for an impartial national committee to investigate crimes and violations committed by the government during the crackdown on last year's uprising, which forced Mr Saleh from power.

In addition, Mrs Mashhour was persistent in calling for the cancellation of the immunity granted to the ex-president. She repeatedly expressed those demands during Cabinet meetings.

The GPC understandably has no wish to see the former president lose immunity or have his policies during the uprising investigated.

Mrs Mashhour says she is in the process of filing a case against AlMotamar for spreading false information about her work and instigating the community against her.

For its part, the news service denies her allegations. In an emailed statement to me, AlMotamar said it published the story "without bias or incitement". Mrs Mashhour "didn't deny that she proposed the draft resolution but she called it as the HCHR recommendations and she asked for each minister to presume accordingly. We assure that it wasn't our intention to target Mashhour for her person and we have no reason whatsoever to do so."

Feminist activists in Yemen strongly believe that had it been a male minister the media war would have been different.

In a conservative country like Yemen, to associate a person with a news story about gay rights is agitating and could lead to serious, perhaps fatal, consequences. Yet Mrs Mashhour remains firm. She wrote on her Twitter account: "I will never ever give up defending the human rights of all Yemenis, regardless of their cultural and/or political backgrounds."

Mrs Mashhour's sense of fortitude is not unique among female pioneers in Yemen. In April 2012, I had the privilege of spending three days in Stockholm with Amal Basha, one of Yemen's veteran defenders of human rights

Mrs Basha is the founder and chair of Sisters' Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF), an NGO watchdog that works on uncovering a wide range of human rights violations in Yemen. This woman has been subjected to verbal and physical harassment, especially after the publication in 2009 of a report on torture in Yemen. Nonetheless, she continues the fight.

"Aren't you tired?" I asked her innocently in Stockholm. "It's been a risky job for you." She answered me with complete confidence and a firm voice. "Over the past 10 years, SAF has managed to file hundreds of suits in Yemen's courts about individuals violating human rights and women's rights. Justice was served for 70 per cent of them. How can I get tired? I'm very passionate about what I do and I have no plans whatsoever to stop."

Mrs Mashhour and Mrs Basha are representative of many other female warriors who have been on the front line for several generations, fighting for a better future for all in Yemen. The fact that many outsiders only became aware of this during the 2011 protests, should not reflect on the female champions who continue to agitate for change.

Arguably, there is no cohesive feminist movement in Yemen, but each woman in Yemen has been part of a historical collective women's movement that has been taking place for a long time. I can say that confidently, bearing in mind that Yemen used to be in its history a very feminist country.

In fact, Yemen was ruled by three different queens. The best-known is the Queen of Sheba from ancient history, but in the 11th and 12th centuries the country was ruled by queens Arwa Al Sulayhi and later Asma'a Al Sulayhi.

However, it's not enough to romanticise historical facts because, today, women in Yemen are suffering more than ever with Yemen's overall problems and, accordingly, they need empowerment more than ever.

During the 2011 uprising, Yemeni women astonished the world with their role during the protests - especially, of course, the Nobel laureate Tawakkol Karman. However, their role in the uprising was just an extension of their everyday struggles.

"Many people talk about Yemeni women breaking the wall of fear and social norms during the uprising," says the Yemeni journalist Samia Al Aghbari, "but no one mentioned how Yemeni women have always been and still are in the struggle for a better tomorrow for everyone in Yemen. That kind of discourse seems to me to marginalise the fact that women in Yemen have a long history in the struggle."

Yemen currently has three female ministers in the cabinet of President Abdurabu Mansur Hadi - unlike Mr Saleh's where we had only one female minister.

After the deal by the Gulf Cooperation Council for Mr Saleh to step down as president, there was huge pressure on the new president to assign female ministers to the new cabinet. Perhaps that was the only good thing out of the GCC deal. Having three female ministers puts Yemeni women in a relatively better political position than our sisters in, for instance, Saudi Arabia.

In a nutshell, one can measure how healthy the social and political structure of a country is by measuring women's status - and women in Yemen still face a wide range of challenges, even after the revolution. Yet no matter the challenges they face, they stand firm. Even in the midst of the storm, Yemeni women keep fighting.

Afrah Nasser is a freelance journalist from Yemen, based in Sweden since 2011. www.afrahnasser.blogspot.com

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It's Monty Python's Crashing Rocket Circus

To the theme tune of the famous zany British comedy TV show, SpaceX has shown exactly what can go wrong when you try to land a rocket.

The two minute video posted on YouTube is a compilation of crashes and explosion as the company, created by billionaire Elon Musk, refined the technique of reusable space flight.

SpaceX is able to land its rockets on land once they have completed the first stage of their mission, and is able to resuse them multiple times - a first for space flight.

But as the video, How Not to Land an Orbital Rocket Booster, demonstrates, it was a case if you fail, try and try again.

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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Tips for job-seekers
  • Do not submit your application through the Easy Apply button on LinkedIn. Employers receive between 600 and 800 replies for each job advert on the platform. If you are the right fit for a job, connect to a relevant person in the company on LinkedIn and send them a direct message.
  • Make sure you are an exact fit for the job advertised. If you are an HR manager with five years’ experience in retail and the job requires a similar candidate with five years’ experience in consumer, you should apply. But if you have no experience in HR, do not apply for the job.

David Mackenzie, founder of recruitment agency Mackenzie Jones Middle East


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