As I watched Tawakkol Karman deliver her powerful speech during the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, I couldn’t help but feel proud of her accomplishment that has brought her, along with the courageous Yemeni women, to the spotlight of heroism. She has undoubtedly portrayed Yemeni women at the best possible image reversing the long-rooted misconception the world had on them. For years, stereotypical image of Yemeni women has been perceived as weak, docile, and subservient. The highly conservative Yemeni society and tribal customary traditions have played a significant role in promoting such a misconception.
For many years, Yemeni women have been sidelined in many aspects, particularly in the political arena. The role of Yemeni women has mostly been confined within the household, presuming that the most important contribution women can make is to family and society, as homemakers and mothers. There were numerous obstacles affecting Yemeni women’s status in society, such as high illiteracy, lower socioeconomic standing, and the strong grip of customary traditions and social norms which led to minimal – if not non-existent – participation of women in key decision-making spheres in Yemen.
However, as the Arab spring unfolded and change movements unraveled in Yemen, the brave Yemeni female activist Tawakkol Karman had the courage to be among the first few young Yemenis who took to the streets invoking what’s known as Yemen’s peaceful youth revolution to topple the regime’s 33-year-old dictatorship. Following her footsteps, thousands of Yemeni women of different ages, classes, regions, sects and professions have fearlessly and bravely taken to the streets to support the revolution in the process, invoking dignity, justice, freedom and democracy as their political aims. Women have taken part in change movements calling for freedom and seeking democratic change in a very creative and astonishing manner. They have broken many barriers in their aspiration for a change and building a new civilized and democratic Yemen. While it’s undeniably brave of men to have broken fear barrier and stood up against brutal dictatorship, however, Yemeni women have gone even farther by positively breaking fear, social, and traditions barriers, standing against oppression and playing a major role in bringing about democratic change. They have played a frontline role in bringing down entrenched dictatorship as they were dominantly present in change and freedom squares, marching in the streets, organizing and mobilizing change movements across Yemen, standing shoulder to shoulder with their men counterparts, struggling for a better future for their country.
Coming from different spheres of life as wives, mothers, and students, Yemeni women left their homes and took to the streets in an act of heroic and admirable protest. They took part in sit-ins, marched tirelessly, aided those injured in the demonstrations, and even ran fundraising campaigns in an effort to support the country’s ongoing revolution in every possible way. These brave and heroic women have undoubtedly broken stereotypes that dictate Yemeni women to be submissive. They have shown heroism; revealed the utmost readiness to sacrifice; practiced their peace-loving desires by creative means; and excelled in using modern instruments to advance their aims.
The image of thousands of Yemeni women, gathering together, unanimously dressed up in black traditional dress, participating in protests and marches throughout Yemen, has astonished the whole world. These women do not all look like their western counterparts nor do they necessarily fall under the category of the emancipated woman constructed by the West, yet one thing is certain: far from the stereotypical misrepresentations of Yemeni women as submissive and confined to domestic space, they fought alongside their men counterparts, they invested the public space that was supposed to be forbidden for them and have done all of it independently and spontaneously. It is undeniably an epic accomplishment for Yemeni women to have come a long way and actively participate in such a male-dominated society.
Mobilizing unrelentingly, Yemeni women have been active – inside and outside Yemen – in steering the revolution, delivering a powerful revolutionary message and rejecting injustice in its various forms. They creatively used every available tool to make Yemenis’ voice heard. They have dominated the social media world actively using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogs. It is worth noting that the vast majority of Yemeni bloggers are women, whose words are louder than the dictator’s guns. It was those Yemeni women who forced Reuters to abide by professional and ethical unbiasedness in their coverage on Yemen’s revolution after a social media campaign known as "Shame On Reuters" was initiated by the courageous Yemeni female activist – Hind Al-Eryani and blogged about by another phenomenal Yemeni female activist - NajlaMo. They had the determination and power to reject any act of misinformation against their revolution.
Among the praiseworthy accomplishments Yemeni women have achieved, is the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize award by Tawakkol Karman and receiving the Italian Ana Maria Mamuliti 2011 international prize by photographer Arwa Othman this month. With such applaudable accomplishments, Yemeni women have indeed amazed the whole world and brought Yemen back into the spotlight of fame, reviving the positive attributes Yemen was historically known for. One cannot feel but proud of those women and admire their extraordinary achievements.
Regardless whether Yemen’s revolution has succeeded or not yet, the success Yemeni women have achieved is irreversible. Admittedly, Yemeni women today have proven their existence regardless of any other obstacles. Undoubtedly, women will have a bigger role to play in the post revolution era and take a significant part in shaping Yemen’s future.