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As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, one of Proximity’s researchers, Dr. Alexandrine Dupras, takes a moment to reflect on the challenges facing Yemeni women amidst the country’s ongoing conflict.


Pre-Conflict Progress: Women's Inclusion in Governance

Before the onset of the conflict in 2015, Yemen had made significant progress advancing women's participation in the public sector. Drawing on a historical tradition of women's involvement in governance,[1] the country witnessed noteworthy developments in the decades preceding the 2015 conflict. Indeed, Yemen was the first country in the Arabian Peninsula to grant women the right to vote (in 1967).[2] Likewise, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, a series of policies and institutional frameworks were put in place to bolster women's engagement in the public sphere, leading to the recruitment and elevation of 1000s of women to prominent positions across public institutions. By 2015, a number of women had assumed high-profile roles. Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, for instance, was the ambassador to Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, and Wahiba Faraʽa was the Minister of State for Human Rights.[3] Furthermore, a solid legislative foundation for supporting women in governance was put in place, providing women with rights to engage in the country’s political life and creating institutions at national and subnational levels to promote the rights of women and ensure their concerns were reflected in public policies, programs, and plans.


In the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” and the widespread civil unrest, Yemen became entangled in power struggles and regional conflicts, precipitating a period of internal turmoil.[4] However, even amidst this chaos, Yemen was a trailblazer in the region, embarking on a path toward a so-called inclusive transition. This strategy materialized through the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), a 10-month negotiation process to build dialogue wherein 26.9% of its delegates were women. [5]


Gender Dynamics in Conflict: Impacts on Women's Participation

The protracted conflict has transformed Yemen's gender dynamics, eroding the previous achievements. The ascendance of conservative factions has hindered women's participation in meaningful political roles, with Yemen ranking 154 out of 156 countries in the 2021 Global Gender Gap report.[6] 


The conflict has undermined the effectiveness of salient institutions that were previously working to enhance the participation of women in the public sector. In 2001, for instance, the Ministry of Local Administration (MOLA) established Department of Women’s Development (DWD). The primary mandate of the DWD was to promote women’s involvement in public life. Subsequently efforts were made in 2009 to decentralize the DWD by establishing branches in districts, aiming to ensure broader representation and inclusion of women across Yemeni communities. The war undermined these endeavors. Amidst the fragmentation of government entities between Sana’a and Aden (alongside drastic budget constraints for ministries and public institutions), the DWD has remained largely inactive for several years. Although efforts were made to reinstate the DWD through a Resolution passed by the MOLA in areas controlled by the Internationally Recognized Government in 2022, it remains weak due to resource scarcity and constant instability.


Moreover, women's participation in governance in Yemen is also constrained by entrenched socio-cultural norms, the implications of which have become more acute amidst conflict. These norms delineate a division of labor between genders, relegating women to domestic and reproductive responsibilities, limiting their opportunities for engagement in public spheres such as governance.[7] Cultural and social norms bestow leadership roles on men in Yemen, with UN Women calculating that Yemeni women only hold 4.1% of leadership positions in the country in 2021.[8] Meanwhile, the mahram (male guardian) policy continues to restrict women's freedom of movement, hindering their general access to employment. Although it does not prohibit women from working, the requirement for women to be accompanied by a male relative during travel, particularly in areas controlled by the Houthis, severely restricts their mobility.


Some Opportunities to Move Forward

Despite the challenges facing women's participation in governance in Yemen, there have been notable efforts since 2015 to elevate their role in the peace process. Several initiatives have sought to address the current situation and empower women to assume greater roles in the public sphere.


The Peace Track Initiative (PTI) is as a women-led Yemeni organization established in 2015 with the mission of supporting the peace process and advocating for the inclusion of women and marginalized groups. PTI plays a pivotal role in feminist peacebuilding in Yemen, advocating for women's rights and emphasizing the significance of their participation in peace negotiations.


Another initiative, the Yemeni Women Pact for Peace and Security (known as Pact or “Tawafuq”), emerged from a conference organized by UN Women in Cyprus in 2015. This Track II initiative is dedicated to advancing peace and stability in conflict-affected regions by prioritizing women's perspectives in peace and security decisions. The Pact recognizes women's indispensable role in peacebuilding and strives to empower them to engage actively in decision-making processes, while also advocating for gender equality and women's rights as integral components of sustainable peace.


Furthermore, initiated in 2018 under the auspices of UN Women, the Feminist Summit serves as a consultative platform managed by women leaders. The summit is working to articulate a unified vision among women to influence the peace process in Yemen, fostering trust among women leaders and creating an inclusive space to support peacebuilding efforts. It also focuses on collaborative partnerships among women's organizations, advocating for women's rights, and facilitating the exchange of experiences and information to strengthen feminist advocacy efforts.


Entangled in regional conflict and the interests of foreign power, Yemen’s future is being shaped. Amidst this dire context, the long-term role of women in the country’s governance cannot be forgotten. International stakeholders need to work with Yemeni policymakers to acknowledge the invaluable role of Yemeni women in decision making. Yemeni women possess the insight and resilience necessary to help rebuild the nation – and their indispensable role in shaping Yemen's future cannot be overstated.


Alexandrine is a consultant specializing in international development sector and NGOs in the Middle East region. She holds a PhD in Sociology and has worked with several INGOs and third-sector organizations.


[1] Yemen has a long history of women being engaged in governance, stretching back to at least the 10th century BC with Queen Bilquis of Sheba and then Queen Arwa’s rule of the Sulayhid dynasty in the following century. See Fatima Mernissi, “The Forgotten Queens of Islam”, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).

[2] Marta Colburn et al., “GAP III Yemen Country Profile Evaluation Report,” Third-Party Monitoring & Evaluation of Resilience Projects in Yemen in the Areas of Migration, TVET and Financial Inclusion, Report to the Delegation of the European Union to Yemen (Particip, 2021), 20.

[3] Colburn et al, “GAP III Yemen Country Profile Evaluation Report,” 2021, 20.

[4] Erica Gaston, “Process Lessons Learned in Yemen’s National Dialogue”, United States Institute of Peace, 2014.

[5] Moosa Elayah et al., “National Dialogues as an Interruption of Civil War – the Case of Yemen,” Peacebuilding Vol. 8, No. 1 (2020): 98–117; and Jamal Benomar, “Is Yemen a New Model?” Journal of International Affairs Vol. 67, No. 1 (2013): 197–203.

[6]. World Economic Forum, “Global Gender Gap Report 2021,” Insight report (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2021), 19, https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2023/.

[7] Maha Awadh and Nuria Shuja’adeen, “Women in Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding in Yemen”, Nahj Consulting, 2019, 15.

[8] UN Women, “Yemen Data”, Women Count (2023), retrieved from: https://data.unwomen.org/country/yemen; see also Ali Ahmad, Zena. “Yemeni Women: Leading into the Future | United Nations Development Programme”, UNDP, 2023, https://www.undp.org/yemen/blog/yemeni-women-leading-future. 

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As part of our USAID-funded Syria Livelihoods Program (SLP) in Northeast Syria, Proximity is creating employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. SLP focuses on equitable income generation and access to services for women, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups, creating an inclusive enabling environment or economic recovery.


USAID has recently highlighted some of the individual success stories of the project on their USAID Syria Facebook account. These success stories are part of the 200 access to capital awards SLP is issuing to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Northeast Syria.

 

Story 1

“In order to be the breadwinner for myself and my family, I must work and never stop," says Montaha, 38 years old and mother of three, in Raqqa City.


Montaha is one of hundreds of job seekers with disabilities in Raqqa governorate for whom SLP has found paid work placements.


“USAID found me employment in a bakery making pastries and sweets. When I am working, I appear to myself and to others as stronger and of more value to the community.”



 

Story 2

Aisha, 45 years old and originally from Homs, owns a clothing retail business in Tabqa City. Like hundreds of other women with disabilities in Raqqa governorate, SLP is helping Aisha to grow her small business.


“USAID has helped me develop a business plan for an expansion,” says Aisha. “I applied for financial support to grow my business, expand my shop and improve the position of my products on the local market – receiving the financial support will really improve my psychological and financial situation.”



 

Story 3

“USAID supported me with a financial award to open a small sewing workshop near my house in my village. This support provided me with permanent professional stability and provides a convenient local service for women in my community. I have a lot of customers!” says Aya, 28, from rural Raqqa governorate.



 

About the project: SLP fosters resilience and stability in conflict-affected communities across Syria, by reviving livelihoods and restoring local economies. Low income and prevailing unemployment are principal drivers of instability in Northeast Syria, and SLP directly addresses this through job creation and increased income generation. SLP provides market-led support to entrepreneurs and MSMEs in Northeast Syria to catalyze economic growth through targeted demand driven interventions believed to be foundational for stabilizing the economy of Northeast Syria.

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With current analysis suggesting that ChatGPT is the fastest growing app in Internet history, we wanted to consider its potential uses for development, and M&E in particular.


We were thinking about which expert to speak with – and then realized that we might as well talk to ChatGPT directly about what it offers!


So we created an account on ChatGPT and asked it a number of questions. The artificial intelligence chatbot provided the following answers (which we have not edited).



Proximity: Do you think ChatGPT can be used to benefit international development work?

ChatGPT: Yes, I believe ChatGPT has the potential to benefit international development work in various ways. For instance, it can help facilitate communication and information-sharing among stakeholders and partners involved in development projects. Its natural language processing capabilities can also help in the development of chatbots that can provide helpful information and assistance to beneficiaries in remote or hard-to-reach areas. Additionally, ChatGPT's machine learning capabilities can be utilized to analyze and make sense of complex data sets, allowing for more informed decision-making in the field of international development.

Proximity: Can you provide any examples of this data set analysis?

ChatGPT: Sure, one example of using ChatGPT's machine learning capabilities in international development work could be in analyzing large datasets related to food security. By training ChatGPT on existing data and using it to identify patterns and trends in food production, consumption, and distribution, we could better understand food security challenges in different regions and design more effective interventions. Another example could be in analyzing data related to disease outbreaks or public health issues, allowing us to identify risk factors and take preventive measures. In both cases, ChatGPT's ability to learn from large datasets and make sense of complex information could be incredibly valuable in informing decision-making and improving outcomes in international development work.


Proximity: And what role could ChatGPT play in emergency contexts?

ChatGPT: In emergency contexts, ChatGPT could be a valuable tool in providing timely and accurate information to affected communities. For example, ChatGPT could help facilitate communication between responders and communities by translating messages in different languages, which can be essential in multilingual communities. ChatGPT's natural language processing capabilities could also be utilized to develop chatbots that can provide personalized information to individuals, such as tips on staying safe during an emergency or information on how to access essential services.

Moreover, ChatGPT's machine learning capabilities can help in analyzing data related to emergency situations, such as social media or satellite imagery, which can provide valuable insights into the extent of the damage and the needs of affected communities. This information can be used to improve emergency response efforts, by providing responders with a more comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground, and by allowing them to target their efforts and resources more effectively. Overall, ChatGPT has the potential to make a significant impact in emergency contexts, by improving communication and facilitating better decision-making.


Proximity: Are there any uses of ChatGPT for monitoring and evaluation, in particular?

ChatGPT: Yes, ChatGPT can be used for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) in international development. One way it could be used is by analyzing data from various sources to identify patterns and trends that can help inform program design and implementation. For example, ChatGPT can be used to analyze social media posts, news articles, and other online sources to assess the impact of a particular program or intervention. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used to conduct real-time sentiment analysis, allowing us to understand how people feel about specific issues related to international development.

Furthermore, ChatGPT's natural language processing capabilities can help in the development of chatbots that can provide real-time feedback and support to program beneficiaries. This can help us track progress towards program goals and identify areas where improvements can be made. By leveraging ChatGPT for M&E, we can make data-driven decisions that lead to more effective programs and better outcomes for the communities we serve.

Proximity: Would ChatGPT still be helpful in complex contexts where collecting primary data is risky and difficult?

ChatGPT: Yes, ChatGPT could be particularly helpful in complex development contexts where collecting primary data is risky and difficult. In such contexts, secondary data sources like news articles, social media posts, and reports from other organizations may be the only viable sources of information. ChatGPT's natural language processing capabilities can help us make sense of this data, identify trends and patterns, and inform decision-making even in the absence of primary data.

Proximity: Could ChatGPT help organizations to learn from monitoring and evaluation data they have collected?

ChatGPT: Yes, ChatGPT could be used to help development organizations learn from monitoring and evaluation (M&E) data they have collected. By analyzing M&E data using natural language processing techniques, ChatGPT could help identify patterns and trends that might not be apparent through traditional data analysis methods. It could also help identify potential causal relationships between program interventions and outcomes, enabling organizations to better understand what works and what doesn't.

Furthermore, ChatGPT could be used to develop chatbots that provide real-time feedback to program beneficiaries, allowing organizations to monitor progress towards program goals and identify areas where improvements can be made. By collecting feedback in real-time, organizations can respond quickly to emerging issues and make necessary adjustments to program design or implementation.

Overall, by leveraging ChatGPT's machine learning capabilities and natural language processing abilities, development organizations can gain deeper insights from their M&E data and make more informed decisions about program design and implementation.

Proximity: Are there any risks of using ChatGPT that organizations should be aware of? ChatGPT: Yes, there are some risks that development organizations should be aware of when using ChatGPT or any other machine learning technology. One of the main risks is bias. Machine learning algorithms like ChatGPT learn from existing data, which means that they may perpetuate existing biases in the data. This could lead to discriminatory or unfair outcomes, particularly if the data used to train ChatGPT is not diverse or representative.

Another risk is privacy and security. ChatGPT may be trained on sensitive or confidential data, which could be compromised if the algorithm is not properly secured. Organizations should take appropriate measures to ensure that data privacy and security are maintained at all times. Furthermore, there is a risk of overreliance on machine learning technology like ChatGPT. While it can be a powerful tool, it should not be used as a replacement for human expertise and judgement. Development organizations should ensure that they have the necessary human capacity to interpret and act on the insights provided by ChatGPT.

Finally, development organizations should be transparent about their use of ChatGPT and other machine learning technologies, particularly if they are using them to make decisions that impact people's lives. This includes being transparent about the data being used to train ChatGPT, the algorithms being used, and how decisions are being made based on its output.

Proximity: What first steps would you suggest for organizations wanting to leverage ChatGBT? ChatGPT: The first step for international development organizations wanting to leverage ChatGPT would be to assess their data needs and capabilities. This would involve identifying the specific challenges they are trying to address and the types of data that are relevant to those challenges. They would also need to assess their capacity for collecting and analyzing data, as well as their readiness to adopt machine learning technologies like ChatGPT.

Once they have a clear understanding of their data needs and capabilities, organizations could start exploring the use of ChatGPT for specific applications. This could involve starting with a small pilot project to test the technology and assess its potential impact. For example, they could use ChatGPT to analyze social media data related to a specific development issue or to develop a chatbot that provides information and support to program beneficiaries.

As they begin to use ChatGPT, organizations should be mindful of the risks and limitations of the technology, as well as the need to maintain transparency and accountability. They should also be prepared to invest in the necessary infrastructure and human resources to support the use of ChatGPT and other machine learning technologies.

Finally, international development organizations should collaborate with other organizations and stakeholders in the development sector to share best practices and ensure that the use of ChatGPT and other technologies is aligned with the broader goals of sustainable development.



Proximity: Thanks you very much for all the information! ChatGPT: You're welcome! It was my pleasure to help. If you have any more questions or need further assistance, feel free to ask!



This interview was conducted by Ezra Karmel and Haitham Abdallah. Ezra is the Director of the Proximity Lab, and Haitham is an RMEL and program development expert working in the MENA region who as worked on several Proximity projects.

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