PDC Board Member Stephenie Foster visits Yemen
Stephenie Foster, Member of Partners' Board, blogs about her visit to Yemen to work on the legal framework for girls' education.
I am on my way back from Yemen, my first visit in seven years. It’s a fascinating and complicated place, with strong tribal affiliations, ancient traditions and a challenging and defining political moment. I was there to work on a project focused on the legal framework for girls’ education. Like so many places, youth make up a high percentage of the population; in Yemen, almost 50% of the population is under 15.
Both girls and boys face challenges but girls face enormous ones, especially in rural areas. Girls and young women have lower levels of education than boys and young men, and Yemen has one of the lowest enrollment rates for girls in the region. Poverty and social norms are big contributors to these statistics, as well as the lack of women teachers in rural areas and inadequate facilities. In 2008, the government of Yemen calculated that the national enrollment rate for girls in basic education was 74.8% to that of boys, 58.8% to that of boys in secondary (high school) education and 37.5% to that of boys in university education. Addressing these low levels of education is critical to combatting poverty, early marriage and the country’s economic future.
I also was able to visit the Partners Yemen office, and meet many of the staff, currently led by the dynamic Nadwa Al-Dawsari, who is leaving Yemen shortly to work at Partners in DC. I also met the new director, Abdalla Al-Basahi, who has big shoes to fill but seems perfect for the position. The work that Partners does there is critical to building strong mechanisms to resolve conflict and strong relationships. Both are, of course, central to any kind of stability and ability to build a society where everyone- boys and girls, women and men – can prosper.
Leadership skills are key to participation and working with those in government and civil society is important as well, and the Partners’ work in Yemen helps build and sustain just these skills. It is indeed a cornerstone for a truly civil society to flourish.
Later in my visit, as I walked around the Old City of Sana’a, one of my favorite places, and watched people buying food, women walking with their kids, vendors hawking their wares, and people walking into mosques to pray, I was reminded of all that we have in common.
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