‘Ana Insan Madani’ can best be translated as ‘I am a citizen’. In this regular feature, we meet prominent Yemenis from various backgrounds and fields and hear their thoughts on matters related to Yemen, being a citizen and what ‘madaniya’ means to them.
Dr Sawsan al-Refai holds the post of policy, advocacy and research coordinator for the Arab Campaign for Education for All. She is an expert in public policy and advocacy, managing and providing support to government, civil society organizations, the United Nations and international organizations in the Arab region and Eastern Europe, specializing in gender and human rights, but also researching other areas of social policy. In addition, she has extensive experience developing humanitarian programs and working on third party monitoring.
She is also a founding member of the Arab Network for Civic Education in the Arab region, and is a member of the Yemen Pact for Peace and Security, a Yemeni women’s group working on women and security issues.
Dr al-Refai holds a Master’s degree in health policy, planning and financing from the London School of Economics and a diploma in population and gender studies from the University of Costa Rica. She is an accredited trainer in international human rights mechanisms, gender mainstreaming and gender based violence.
● What does the word madaniya / مدنية mean to you?
Madaniya for me is a very complicated word. It is not one thing, and it is not one person or place. It is a collective, peaceful purpose where people, things and places harmonize for a better global world. That said, I do not mean that it is a state of non-conflict or a complete state of consensus. No, it is a universal intention to better who we are and where we live despite the conflicts, and despite the differences.
● What does homeland mean to you?
Home is where the people I love are... The people I love paint the beautiful scenery and bring in the memorable aromas. So my home is actually expanding to include more than one place. Yemen remains my home because it still embraces most of the people I love, alive and not.
● What does it mean to be a citizen to you?
To me I am a citizen when I have an honest intention to invest time, effort and energy into making myself and my community better, even just a little bit each day.
● In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the rule of law?
The rule of law is controversial but necessary. It is like medical vaccines... yeah, they have problems, but if you eliminate their use, you fall into total catastrophe. Laws should not be treated as sacred doctrines. As we become better citizens, we become more able to work together to improve them.
● When you hear the word equality, what comes to your mind?
Humanity comes to mind.
● Have you voted before?
Yes, I have. I participate in any election process, whenever I can, as long as it is democratic to the best of my knowledge. I did not vote in the last elections in Yemen, because there was one candidate only and the election process was not valid from my point of view.
● If you had the power to make one change in Yemen, what would it be and when?
Make the education sector the NUMBER ONE priority for all: government, donors, citizens. I am trying my best to do it now... I wish it will be the change everyone is hoping for.
● What should the world know about Yemen today?
Yemen is a unique country. Its history, geographical location and people are not another ‘copy’ of anything else. The world, particularly the international community and media covering Yemen, should know that the horrific war Yemen is suffering today will not make Yemen another Syria or another Afghanistan. Yemen is Yemen, and it will rise again!