Leveling the Playing Field for Yemeni Women: A Q&A with Safia Al-Sayaghi

Safia Al-Sayaghi, Project Officer in IFES’ Yemen field office, currently works on political finance activities in Yemen and was heavily involved with the gender and political finance project – Engendering Political Finance in the Middle East and North Africa. The project aims to

Al-Sayaghi shares her thoughts, wishes and hopes behind the project and for Yemeni women.

Can you tell us a little bit about your role on the Gender and Political Finance Project?

As the Project Officer in Yemen, my role was to manage field activities such as conducting interviews; selecting working group members; and facilitating discussions on political finance and gender over five working sessions.

From your experience working with focus groups and interviews, can you tell us about the challenges Yemeni women face in getting funding during their campaigns?

Getting funding for Yemeni women during electoral campaigns is very challenging. Our society is quite conservative and tribal in nature, which is not supportive to women’s political participation. Additionally, political parties strongly believe that women will not be successful in winning their campaigns.

Many women candidates rely on their own funds or try to manage their campaigns. With such limited resources, and other challenges, women tend to have less access to funding. As a result, less women are elected to decision making positions. This feeds into a negative cycle – as there are few successful women role models, fewer women try to campaign. As you can see, there is only one woman in the current Yemeni Parliament.

A major part of the project was the facilitation of working groups to draft recommendations on political finance reform. What kind of people participated in the working groups?

Based on the project plan, each participant was supposed to represent themselves not entities. However, we were keen to include people with various backgrounds: business, law, politics – including successful and unsuccessful candidates, journalists, campaign workers, activists, gender researchers and people from the Women’s Department within the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum – the country’s election commission.

The recommendations were shared in Yemen, correct? What do you hope the outcome of these recommendations might be?

Yes. Yemen recommendations were shared via in a press release early this year.

We hope attention is drawn to this topic, and we look forward to seeing these recommendations translated into legal articles in Yemen’s new Elections Law to be drafted during the transitional period. We hope constructive initiatives build on what has been shared and what we have done.

As a note, I do believe that sharing recommendations, alone, is not enough. Through IFES’ political finance activities during the coming months, I plan to shed light whenever possible on the recommendations to get the maximum possible debate and discussion around them.