Yemeni Women, Leaders and Warriors: Including a note to all Islamophobes from one of the most Veiled Societies in the World.
(Topic Cont’d from this POST )
Yemen has received much criticism when it comes to their treatment of women. In large part this is true. In many societies within Yemen, women are viewed as inferior, lack common sense, are melodramatic, and incompetent when leading challenging roles due to their feeble nature. This ideological approach on the role and nature of women in Yemen is quite relative, depending on the society. In many tribes, women play leading roles and are very much valued and idealized. You can find these ideological and cultural discrepancies as you begin to mingle within the Yemeni populace.
Throughout my many visits to Yemen, one thing that never seemed to fail or change was the consistency of verbal harassment and mistreatment. If you are a woman in Yemen, expect to be hit on, criticized, denigrated and sometimes even physically harassed. This misconduct is further consolidated in the capitol, Sana’a. This malignity of women is culturally rooted to the proselytizing of primitive philosophy. This however is about to change.
For quite some time now, women continue to struggle when choosing to partake in political affairs. In a system so heavily shaped by outdated tenets, women face taxing constraints when seeking to establish a voice within government. For instance, as a nation with over 7,000 tribes, many political meetings occur in the traditional form of Jalasat. A Jalasa is a gathering in which individuals are seated on the Yemeni Jalsa (floor seating arrangement) while chewing Khat. These meetings, in which many significant topics are discussed and decisions made, are gender isolated, for it is improper for any woman to sit amongst men while chewing Khat. This reminds me of the western form of gender exclusion in business and politics, when meetings would be held after hours at country clubs. As of today, out of 301 Yemeni parliamentary members, only one is a woman. In some Yemeni societies, it is considered taboo for a woman to become an attorney or take on any profession that may place her in the public eye. These are some challenges women face in political and professional environments.
In regards to policy, there have been many policies and laws implemented that have left Yemeni women shorthanded. In 2008, the National women’s Committee (NWC) formed legal teams, which worked to examine gender discrepancies within Yemeni law. This analysis of Yemeni law was to ensure that the Yemeni legal system complied with Islamic principles. They examined the Yemeni constitution and international conventions ratified by the Republic of Yemen, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). These legal teams concluded that they found clear evidence that there was blatant discrimination embedded in some provisions, essentially in the Personal Status Law, the National Law and the Penalty Law. [Yemen Observer]
For instance, the Personal Status Law does not specify a legal age of marriage, thus perpetuating the long time tradition of child brides. This creates in inadvertent effect and interference in the individual’s development and well-being: inability to continue her education and the possibility of early pregnancies which many times causes fistulas or death during child birth. The Personal Status Law also permits polygamy. This is a big problem many Yemeni women face, the legal freedom of her partner remarrying. And in most cases, in a surreptitious manner without her consent. The law in no way specifies provisions that would mandate the male party to inform his wife. This lack of consent is a clear violation of Islamic law.
This law also discriminates against divorced women in the matter of child custody. Many women who are unhappily married decide to stay married so as not lose custody of her child. There have been many instances in which civil courts have ruled in favor of the male party and have ordered the forced removal of the child from his mother. These along with 61 other provisions have been identified as discriminatory.
Today, the illiteracy rate amongst women is at 67% and girls as young as 9 are married to men who are in most cases much older. This however is drastically changing. Women are breaking away from this system and demanding their rights. In the case of Nujood Ali, she was married at the age of ten, and broke tribal tradition when she walked into a courtroom demanding a divorce in 2008. Similar acts of courage have now spread all across Yemen. A tradition that was once met with tears and fear is now met with a strong voice of rejection and disapproval. Young girls are no longer accepting these very old traditions.
Women rights activists are found all over the country. Women are opening organizations, which monitor human rights infractions and work to protect the rights of both women and men. They are claiming political positions and many have excelled so far in their fields that they have gone international. Amat Al Alim Alsoswa is one of them. She is a Yemeni politician who once started as Sana’a TV’s Deputy TV Programs Director. She currently serves as the Assistant Secretary General, Assistant Administrator of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Director of its Regional Bureau for Arab States.
Yemeni women have also taken over the media. Some of Yemen’s most outspoken journalists and writers are women. Their voices are heard in newspapers, magazines, news segments, and online blogs. The late Dr. Raufa Hassan was Yemen’s first female journalist and a renowned intellectual figure. Through her work and contributions to development, education and culture, she had left an overwhelming effect on women all over the country. Even after her death in April 2011, she continues to inspire women to excel.
Yemeni women are also leading the revolution. With leaders like Tawakkol Karman, the revolution continues to grow. Tawakkol Karman, the Chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains, has fought for reform for years. With the ignition of the Arab Spring, Tawakkol Karman and many other activists were well aware of their opportunity at hand. Today, Karman is a symbol of revolution and an inspiration to men and women in Yemen and on an international scale.
These women have taken the courageous roles of leaders, activists, and campers of Tagheer Square; they spend endless hours as doctors and nurses at the makeshift hospital, commit to acts of civil disobedience and go on fearlessly writing about the political corruption in their land. They are our true heroes.
The role of women in our subsequent government is essential. Their influence on policy is crucial when considering societal development. It is extremely crucial that women are designated leadership roles within any future restructuring of government. It is clear that Yemeni women could make major contributions to comprehensive reform and development. They hold strength and perspective that we need as a nation. They represent a voice that has tended to be ignored. It is time that this voice is heard.
Yemeni women will not only make an everlasting effect on social progression in Yemen, but also internationally. In light of the current international debate of Muslim women and the Niqab, Yemen as a veiled nation, will set an example against Islamophobic rhetoric and policy making, exhibiting and underscoring that gender inequality is not an Islamic issue, but a global issue. The Niqab isn’t what limits women, it is culture and policy. Just like policies implemented in France, women are controlled and regulated through societal norms and legislation inspired by prejudice and ignorance. It is the very act of regulating women that has continued to restrain them. What makes the west think that Niqabi women need to be liberated? The act in itself demoralizes and devalues women, implying that we are a gender unable to fight for the very rights we deserve. Policy-makers are suggesting that women are inadequate and unable to protect the rights that they are being “deprived” of.
A message to all the Islamophobes of the world: Look at Yemen, a perfect example of culture and policy depriving women of rights. What has allowed women to grow and lead right now is the very thing you fear: Islam. This is our weapon. We not need your policies and bias views. It is the strength of women that will topple injustice and corruption.
These women are breaking stereotypes and will continue to do so. These are individuals you should learn from, individuals who endure and persist, not against Islam but against a more global phenomenon: ethnocentric bigotry and sexism. Islam is our weapon, and we will continue to endure so as long as the words of Allah are at the tips our tongues.
And to all my fellow women, whether Yemeni or Non Yemeni, continue to resist ideological oppression. Continue to fight for the inherent dignity and rights that we are all equally endowed. Continue to revolutionize and show the world that women are changing policy, with our Niqabs on. Continue to fight against the cruel ethnocentrism of our so-called saviors, who supposedly carry the torch to our own liberation. We carry our own torches; our torches are the women before us who continue to inspire us. Our torches are women like Nujood Ali, Amat Al Alim Alsoswa, Dr. Raufa Hassan and Tawakkol Karman. Yemeni women, continue to be inspired and continue to inspire. You are our leaders. You are our warriors. Show the world how it’s done.
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