The women of Yemen: breaking barriers

December 30, 2011 9:04 pm0 commentsViews: 8

As the Arab Spring sweeps throughout the Middle East, it proves the strength of each country’s citizens. However, many do not show women in the frontlines of mass marches, with one notable exception: Yemen.

As images of Arabs protesting saturate the media, there is only one country that notably highlights the active participation of women. From the beginning of 2011, they have been protesting daily, sleeping in tents in Freedom and Change Squares, and meeting with revolutionaries to discuss issues and plans for the future of their homeland. These are the women of Yemen.

Tradition has not stopped the women of Yemen from publically voicing their political opinions. They have protested all throughout the country in spite of all the obstacles like poverty, physical safety and assaults from government cronies and sympathizers and conservative societal norms that dictate their non-participation in politics. The cause has inspired them to overcome the struggles to the point of potential self-harm. They are literally risking their lives, one by one – some as young as 12 years old – as they line up together on the front lines, hands intertwined while chanting for change and democracy.

Actions like these are unprecedented in Yemen and have not come without controversy. At first, it shocked and upset the status quo. The recently deposed President Ali Abdullah Saleh went so far as to publically denounce the participation of women in the protests as shameful. Conservative men echoed this sentiment, believing that the involvement of women as discreditable to the revolution. However, eventually the women’s bravery slowly earned respect and admiration from friends and foes alike. While those men that disapproved voiced their opposition, other men acted to protect and support the women in every way possible (such as patrolling Freedom and Change Squares to assist in ensuring their safety). This has definitively shaped the conception of how a patriarchal society will view women and women in partaking in politics going forward. Their participation has entrenched a new historical milestone in the hearts and minds of the Yemeni populace. This is evidenced by the inspiration that is Tawakkol Karman.

Who is Tawakkol Karman? Ms. Karman, a journalist, human rights activist and a mother of three, has never shied away from her vocal opposition to the Saleh regime. However, her notoriety skyrocketed dramatically when in early 2011, the government attempted to silence her by means of harassment, threats and imprisonment. Unwilling to back down, she became even more vocal and subsequently became the emblem or “Mother of the Revolution” and the Youth. Her tireless efforts to advocate on behalf of the Youth and their struggles motivate people to this day, the protestors that march towards the capital Sana’a, that motivate those who are still in Freedom and Change Squares, and those that are combating the media blackout and it’s coverage of Yemen’s uprising. For her efforts, she has been bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize – the only Nobel prize to ever be awarded to an Arab woman.

3000 years ago the Queen of Sheba ruled over Yemen and in turn it prospered. It should come as no surprise that this new chapter is being ushered by her “daughters”. Onwards, Yemeni women continue to march – their heads held high, their voices strong in calling for political freedom from a corrupt regime by shedding traditions that hindered them in the past, and prevent them from participating as full and equal citizens in the dawn of a new democracy.

Summer Nasser

Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East