The Civic Democratic Initiatives Support Foundation (CDF) in Yemen created local level “shadow committees,” parallel structures to official policy-making bodies, to promote issues related to women’s rights and women’s participation in development. The capacity building process not only enhanced the ability of local women to advance their issues in their local public political sphere but also resulted in local level NGOs promoting women’s rights.
CDF carried out a number of steps to develop the local level shadow committees:
- First, based on a set of objective criteria related to the situation of women’s participation, CDF established a list of governorates and rural areas they wished to target.
- Second, CDF identified female participants to take part in a training on facilitation skills. This prepared the women to implement workshops in the pre-selected targeted areas.
A series of twenty workshops were conducted in 15 governorates. These workshops were attended by 500 women coming from a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds aimed at creating shadow committees at their local levels. Through these shadow committees, women were able to provide policy recommendations to decision makers related to women’s roles in local development. Several of these meetings with decision makers in different regions were covered by media.
It was not an easy task in the beginning to set meetings with the governmental offices as it was not familiar for public servants to conduct meetings with women’s groups in some rural areas. Some offices even refused to meet with women shadow committees. Moreover, the discussions that took place between the local authorities and the shadow committees regarding the incorporation of women issues in the local council’s yearly plans were also difficult to lead.
In spite of the challenges, the dynamics generated by the creation of shadow committees enabled issues related to women’s participation in local development to move forward. For example, 5% of the targeted women in the trainings were able to get professional promotions and became managers of education and health services offices in their localities. In addition to enhancing the knowledge and skills of women and giving them opportunities to advance their cause in the public, political sphere, women’s recommendations were integrated into the yearly policy planning of local councils and development schemes. This was significant especially at the educational level where a paramount importance was given to facilitate access of girls to schools. It was not possible to reach that level without the large number of meetings held between the shadow committees and the decision makers based on priorities set by the women’s groups themselves. Another benefit that resulted, women gained incentives to present their candidacy to the parliamentary elections. In fact, 100 women out of 156 of 2006 elections were trained through the project and participated in its process; however, only thirty-nine were elected and won seats in the local councils. In addition, several local level NGOs promoting women’s rights were created.
CDF is non-governmental, non-profit, independent organization, registered in the Ministry of Social Affairs Ministry in Yemen. CDF has network of civil society advocates dedicated to advancing community-based civil and democracy in Yemen. CDF strengthens the role of local authorities with focus on local councils as accountable institutions by promoting effective cooperation among councils, NGOs and government ministries to address concerns of citizens in community development issues, and by mobilizing citizens to communicate their views effectively. CDF’s global aim is to strengthen democratic and civic initiative in the Yemeni society through democratic values, human rights principles and equal opportunities.
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In many communities, there are groups whose voices are not considered when local policies are being developed. By creating unofficial structures to educate, build leadership skills, and solicit input from women at the local level, these “shadow committees” show the leadership potential of local women and amplify their perspectives on policy priorities. This tactic can also be used to demonstrate that an alternative to the status quo is possible by modeling a different approach.