Beyond the Wall in Yemen

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yemen woman protester

A Yemeni women protesting the death of a woman and wounding of six others at the hands of Yemeni forces. © AFP/Getty Images

In late October of this year, hundreds of Yemeni women marched into a main street in Sanaa, the country’s capital.  In the middle of streets they laid a black cloth. Then in the middle of the cloth they threw their veils, piles of them, black fabric that had used to cover themselves.

Then they did something unprecedented in public: they set fire to them, marking an end to their seclusion and to their silence.

The night before, on October 25, 2011 twenty people had died protesting in Sanaa and nearby Taiz and the women wanted the world to know that they, like everyone else who had endured President Abdullah Saleh’s 33 year old regime, had had enough.

Women have been front and center in the protests that began in Yemen over ten months ago, visible among the people gathered in change square and relishing the breakdown of segregation among those gathered there.

On the second day of protests, one brave Yemeni woman chose to pitch her tent among men one of thousands of female students, housewives, and professionals who refused to stay home when the future of their nation was being fought in Yemen’s streets.  Their iconoclastic enthusiasm was buoyed when one of them Tawakkol Kamran, at 32 became the first Arab woman and the youngest ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But not everyone rejoiced at their success, some remaining insistent on retaining the old ways. On November 30, 2011, the Yemen Times reported that the Islamist Islah party erected a wooden wall in Change Square to separate men from women. As one protestor noted, the message was clear, you may break other divisions in Yemeni society, but you will not break this one.  Many saw it as a visible reaction to the inroads being made by women during the protests; ones which heralded a new era in terms of gender relations.

In the words of Afra Habori, one female protestor who began a Facebook page demanding the dismantling of the wall, Yemeni women have begun the process of change but still have a long way to go.

Despite the erection of the wall, women have continued to maintain a presence in the square, but as the protests continue toward their one year anniversary, the long road ahead and the many obstacles it is likely to pose are becoming more obvious. One of these will be insuring that the removal of old hardships perpetrated by the Saleh regime, the vast silences imposed on political opponents and opposition do not translate into the creation of more walls and more exclusion.

Blog cowritten  by Alireza Azizi Country Specialist for Yemen

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2 thoughts on “Beyond the Wall in Yemen

  1. When will we understand that issues around hijab, naqab and the Huddod BS are nothing but bigotry and a way to control women? Gender equality is here to stay. The debate over bridging the gap between gender equality has been over. It has been won! Muslims are lagging behind because we wont give up the assumptions sppon fed to us about that women are forced to cover themselves up…to whatever degree is pointless….due to misuse of information and calling it ab "Islamic" tradition. It is nothing but an arab tradition. I for one am sick and tired of it. And I am sorry to say that we are just as responsible as just big of bigots as these Mullas! Yes, we the so called modern Muslim women! We dress exactly as how we please, as western or modern as we want to but never raise our voices loud enough to protest the treatment of the lesser fortunate ones. Why? Because deep in our herats we are not sure,,,,we don't know whether we rae supposed to cover or not. So out of guilt we stay quiet so we don't draw attentione to our "western ways". Come on ladies, status quo ain't gonna work anymore. Our daughters are growing up here in america…and they are a very direct and clear minded generation. Either they agree with somethig or they don't. We better get your basic premise clear…otherwise your kids will ask you" Mom you said Islam doesn't advocate a woamn o be covered up with hijab but Imam said in sura nisa (or elsewhere) that Quran states that clearly". How are you going to address that?