Bilkis Abu Osba from Yemen is passionate about politics. Smiling, she recalls with pride the legacy of her grandfather Mutee’ Dammaj, who was one of the first people to start the 26th of September revolution. Bilkis was the first woman of her generation and her family to follow the steps of Mutee’ Dammaj. Her father Ahmed Mansoor Abu Osba and her uncle Zaid Mutee’ Dammaj encouraged her to do so. Among all these men, she also had a female role model: Amat al Alim Alsoswa, the first woman political commentator and journalist on Yemeni TV. Her bold career left an imprint on Bilkis, and when she decided to enter politics, Amat became a friend.
Bilkis’ first commitment as a civil society activist was in a college union in the 1990s. At this stage, Yemeni citizens experienced a window of opportunity after unification and the adoption of the new constitution. Equal rights for all citizens were enshrined in the new text, and this continued to inspire Bilkis who voted for the first time in 2006 after the country adopted a multi- party a system.
Her passion for politics was also reflected in her Ph.D. dissertation on political parties and democratic change that led to an academic career. Her current position as Professor of Political Science at Sanaa University runs parallel with her activism.
Since 2006, she ahs focused on gender-related issues: early marriage, women’s political participation and combatting corruption. She was selected as the first ever vice-chairwomen of the Supreme National Authority for Combating Corruption (SNACC) - and the first women to hold such a position.
With her fellow women’s rights advocates, she succeeded in pushing through a quota of 30 percent for women on political party lists. However, Yemeni salafists opposed this decision and threatened the activists. Women were called kaferat (heretics), and the salafists issued death threats against them.
Despite the security hazard in Yemen, Bilkis remains calm and enthusiastic about her country’s future. And while the Houthis from the northern part of the country are threatening the government, forcing it to lower the price of oil, she goes on with her political activism by teaching her students the true meaning of a state and the political mechanisms needed to build it.