The German technical cooperation agency Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) is a private, though state-owned, company that implements commissions for the German federal government and other national and international, public and private-sector clients. Bushra Barakat heads the organization’s projects aimed to strengthen women’s rights in the Middle East and Asia.
GTZ was established over thirty years ago to provide technical assistance to overseas countries works’ primarily with the German Federal Government, its main client being the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). It is currently implementing 2,300 development projects and programs in 126 countries. GTZ has offices in 67 of these countries, and employs around 10,600 employees, of which 1,000 are employed at the Head Office in Eschborn near Frankfurt. It operates women’s rights projects in over 30 countries worldwide. Bushra’s role as women’s rights expert is diverse and, though challenging, is also rewarding. “I believe women should be progressively involved in the development of their country,” she asserted. She added, “But it is important to begin by acknowledging their traditional roles and how they are changing. In Yemen, there is a need for women who can adapt new ideas to existing traditions without creating negative consequences.”
One ongoing project is supporting a national organization, the Women’s Forum for Research and Training (WFRT), in its campaigns to strengthen women’s rights in Bushra’s native Yemen. There she provides technical support for activities that show women how to take an effective public stand for their rights. A key element of this is the pursuit of a modern, pro-woman interpretation of the two most important sources of Islamic law, the Koran and the traditional sayings, deeds and actions of the prophet Mohammed and his companions. “In the long history of Islamic law, deriving and developing laws from these sources has almost always been exclusively in the hands of men,” said Bushra. “Reform-oriented female and male religious scholars believe that the religious sources must be interpreted in the context of the period in which they were written and that the spirit of the message – especially equity – must be applied to our times.”
Herself a native of Yemen, Bushra has a Computer Science degree from Louisiana State University and studied at Clarke University, Massachusetts as a Fulbright scholar from Yemen in the AmidEast Program. Prior to working with GTZ she worked for the Social Fund for Development and in the private sector in Yemen.
Part of the work of GTZ is to support the environment in which women’s rights can be discussed. The promotion of women’s rights is considered as an important priority from two points of view; as a political goal in itself and as a key to sustainable social and economic development.