The Evolution of Yemeni Men and Women Amidst a Revolution
April 19, 2011
Bodies pressed up against one another, the march is so massive, there is barely any room to walk; instead it is best to softly tread so as not to cause panic. I have never seen so many people marching in unison in my life. As I climbed onto the hood of a parked car, I attempted to locate the start or end of the march. I realized that it was almost impossible to tell. The number of men that were marching was in innumerable waves. As soon as I thought I saw the end, a new wave arrived.
Yemen has received a bad rep 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.
[Who says chivalry is dead?]
I was suddenly surrounded. The march is massive and growing by the minute. I turn around to find two men making way for me. I began to rotate, observing my surroundings. I realize the men in the rally have created a human barrier circling around me. Their hands locked, so at to protect me from the suffocating mass. Amid the tens of thousands of Yemeni men, I’ve never felt so empowered. This march was in reaction to President Saleh’s statements against gender integration at Tagheer “Change” square; yet another statement towards the degradation of women in Yemen. This time, the people had enough. These throngs of men were here in uproar, condemning his misogynistic utterances.
Chants from the march:
يا صالح، يا جبان، بنت اليمن ما تنهان ! يا علي، يا جيفه ، بنت اليمن شريفه
“Oh Saleh, you coward, the daughter of Yemen is not to be insulted!” “Oh Ali, you bad odor, the daughter of Yemen is honorable!”
Yemen is at its crucial point. The people have united: man, woman and child. All have joined the effort. These gender disparities and black sheets that once separated a people have been set aside. The people genuinely want change. This yearning for change has transcended what was originally percieved as tradition. It is a revolution against ignorance and the deterioration of a people.
I strongly believe that this return to chivalry is in large part due to the earned respect and appreciation of women’s role in the revolution. Amongst the many who have led the revolution with courage and determination are women. Women have played a significant role in the uprisings. They have put their lives on the line of fire and continue to do so. These women have surpassed the expectations that Yemeni men have shared for so long, and expunged the conventional image of the “typical” woman. These women have procured the reverence they deserve. It has been an honor thus far to march side by side with women like Tawakkol Karman. These leading females have revolutionized the role of women in a land so frozen in time, in a society so rigid in freedom. These women are our heroes. They inspire us all. This is what promotes change. This is what motivates us to continue. This is what offers our men courage and allows them to face the bullets and poisons of a never-ending regime. It is a hope for a better Yemen.
My families and friends worry about my presence in such dangerous situations. But I have never felt so safe and secure in my life. Despite the bullets that surround us, the poison amidst us, I am inspired. This is all that matters. This is what offers us strength and courage. We feed off each others determination, each others bravery. The male figures of this land that I once feared I have now entrusted with my life. The women that I once sympathized for, I now idolize and revere…
It is a new day in Yemen and there is no going back.
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