Role of women in protests in Yemen

April 11, 2011

Women in Yemen are fighting on two fronts. They are on the frontlines speaking up against torture, rampant poverty, corruption and lack of freedom; but they also fight on a different front. Women must fight gender-based discrimination in social arenas such as education and employment.

In 2007 when activists and journalists started being harassed and intimidated, the Women Journalists Without Chains started organizing sit-ins every Tuesday. Later on the sit-ins took on a wider scope, allowing anyone with a human rights concern to participate.

Yemeni activist Tawakel Karman (Photo Gamal Noman/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the organizers was Tawakkol Karman, president of Women Journalist Without Chains. She and others later joined wider protests in Sana’a asking for President Ali Saleh to step down. Tawakkol among others was arrested on January 23rd 2011 for participating in “unlicensed protest”. She was released a day later. Two days later her brother received a phone call implying that she would be killed if he did not ensure that she stay at home. This threat did not stop her.

She told Amnesty International that “I shall continue; I chose this road and at the end of the day it is a matter of sacrifice. People are peacefully protesting and they are facing repression.” Tawakkol is a member of the Shoura council of the Islah party.

In another case, Zahra Salih an activist in the Southern Movement in Yemen was arrested on November 8, 2010 in Aden. She was held without access to a lawyer or her family for two months. Before she was released she was told to sign a paper indicating that she will get married (suggesting that if she would get married and have children, she would have little time for activism). It should be noted that this was not the first time that she was arrested. In October 2009 she was detained for two days in connection with protests in the South Yemen.

Yemeni blogger, Aref Nasser, a journalist for Yemen observer newspaper, who has been blogging about the protests in Yemen, received a life-threatening message on Facebook, which she posted in her blog with English translation. The message starts by saying “It seems that peaceful discussion with you won’t work out”. The massage ends by saying “Wake up, waaaaaaaaaaake up! Don’t make your mother and your sister pay the price of your recklessness, you educated lady!”

But despite all of these threats we have seen increasing numbers of women taking part in recent protests in different cities including Sana’a, Ta’izz and Aden. These are not just young students who are participating in organizing protests, but also girls and married women, some of whom are reported to have camped with their husbands.

In an interview regarding participation of women in recent events, one of the opposition leaders from Islah party said “In fact, we even have women participating in the qat sessions where we discuss our policies. We have five women in the dialogue preparatory”.

Amnesty International calls for an end to discriminatory laws and violence against women in Yemen, and stands with women in Yemen for full and equal access to their human rights.