Maxine Molyneux, State Policies and the Position of Women Workers in the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, 1966-1977 (Geneva: International Labor Office, 1982).
This monograph assesses the degree to which the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen has achieved its objectives, as stated in the 1970 constitution, of guaranteeing equal rights for men and women in all fields of political, social and economic activity and providing the conditions necessary for realizing that equality. The study is based on a comprehensive compilation of indicators of the educational and economic status of women and a survey questionnaire of 120 woman factory workers employed in eight enterprises in Aden of various sizes and with different forms of ownership. Molyneux is refreshingly aware of the limitations of the research methods she has employed, and makes limited and carefully qualified claims about her data. The result is an especially welcome and insightful piece of research, which sheds light not only on the status of women, but also on the general level of development since independence.
The data indicate that a very significant advance has taken place in women’s levels of political participation, education and labor force participation. Molyneux concludes that the radical reforms instituted by the government since 1970 have dramatically improve the status of women, making the PDRY one of the most advanced countries in the Middle East in this regard. On the other hand, government policy has tended to concentrate “on the public, external front, while in the private, domestic sphere there remain relations and practices which continue to escape the effects of the wider process, and which at the same time serve to hinder the further advance of women towards equality.”
Although she is aware of the constraints of tradition and of limited material resources, Molyneux is critical of the government’s failure to challenge traditional practices, such as the sexual division of labor in the home and veiling, as well as its lack of attention to sexual stratification of labor (and hence wages) in the workplace. She offers modest and sensible suggestions for future policy that would require a government commitment to engage in a struggle over these issues. Molyneux implies that the government’s timidity is due to several factors. One is a conscious policy decision to avoid engaging in a struggle over the more difficult sphere of “private” relations which impede the progress of women. From the government’s ideological perspective, bringing women into the wage labor force will eventually overcome all other obstacles to equality. There may also be a lack of sensitivity to the importance of the issues, which are the fruits of the experience of the Western feminist movement.
Molyneux’s criticisms of PDRY policy are unambiguous, yet supportive. Hopefully her approach will encourage the government to continue to facilitate this kind of research, as it appears that the PDRY’s experience has much to offer other countries.