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.
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.
Inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, and in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian people, on Thursday February 3rd, thousands of anti-government protesters took part in a protest calling on Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down after 33 years.
A day before Thursday’s demonstration, president Saleh announced that he would not seek re-election when his present term ends in 2013 and he will postpone April’s parliamentary election, two of the key demands of the opposition. Yemen is entering its third week of protests calling for reforms, including an end to unemployment, and respect for freedom of expression.
Yemen — challenged by the presence of al-Qa’ida, a separatist movement in the south, and peacekeeping with the Shia rebels (Huthis) in the north — has increasingly resorted to repressive and illegal methods, including arbitrary arrest and unfair trials.
In the midst of growing call for reforms, the crackdown on freedom of expression has worsened. The Yemeni government has become increasingly intolerant of the independent media and any criticism. Journalists, editors and publishers have been detained, held incommunicado, ill-treated and jailed on spurious charges after unfair trials. Security forces raided newspaper offices and television stations and shot at demonstrators peacefully protesting against repression of free speech. Newspapers have also been suspended and news websites blocked.