Did SHE Cross The Red Lines? [Archives:2001/12/Culture]

March 19 2001

Farouq Al-Kamali
Yemen Times
What gigantic steps the Yemeni woman has taken over 40 years of time! Daughters of Bilques and Queen Arwa have proved their courage and strength in almost every field in life, starting from the very one who sells fish at the sea shore to the one who flies a Boeing airplane above the clouds.
Last year saw the inauguration of the first batch of female police. In January 2001, Mrs. Amat Alaleem Alsuswa became the first female ambassador to Holland and Belgium. In February Captain Roza Abdul Alkhaliq was the first Yemeni woman to fly an airplane officially. The growth in Female nominees and female participation in the elections also indicates a movement towards women’s development in this country.
The list is ongoing and long. Everyday there is a new lawyer, a new sergeant, a new Ph.D. holder and so on. Crossing so many barriers and performing jobs today which were unthinkable 10 years back, is an achievement that the Yemeni woman has been working on. And still she’s aiming for more.
Yet, could we really say that the Yemeni Woman has found her way? Did she cross the red lines? While celebrating Women’s Day across the globe this is a chance to look into the woman’s situation in Yemen in detail and find an answer to this question.
Women and Education:
Dr. Abdullah Aldhifani, Humanitarian Science teacher in Taiz University, gave an indication of the progress of female education over different stages of the educational system, both in urban and rural regions.
“The number of intermediate stage girl students shot up from 3 in 1964 to 14,686 in 1987. At secondary level were just 25 students in 1971 which went up to 4,228 in 1987. As for vocational training, the female component was, and is still, clearly missing.”, he said.
“Not to ignore that the topmost students in secondary and university levels are females.”, he added.


Women and Judicial System:
Hamida Zakarya, Samiya Mahdi, Aaisha Hayel, Ikram Alaydaroos, Ahlam M’d Ahmed, Kifah Awadh, Samira Diwan, Nora Dhaif Allah, Sabah Mukarker, Fathiya Abdul Waseh, Nadia AlAlimi and others.. These are the pioneers in the field of Law and Prosecution. Women from the Southern part of Yemen joined this field much earlier than in the North where the traditions and customs were and still are to a great extent, an obstacle in their way. However, Taiz has had better luck in this field than in the Northern area. Supplies prosecutor in Taiz Nadia Saif AlAlimi, also a member of the criminal prosecution and former traffic prosecuter, stated:
“In spite of the objections of society to a woman being a judge or an attorney or even a lawyer, I joined this field as a fulfillment of my mother’s wish and because I wanted this. I have a great ambition to become a judge. When I started working, I faced many obstacles, a greater part of which were due to the mentality of the people, who refused to be governed by a woman. Especially in the criminal cases, I received threats and bad treatment from security men, and others who were accused in moral cases. Despite that I don’t bother what others are saying or doing. I perform my duty honestly. In fact, I believe that women are better in the judicial system because they do not accept bribes and rules fairly.
Women and Media:
One of the most important factors which helps in making changes in everyone’s life in general and in women’s life in particular, is the media. In Yemen, radio came first in 1954 in Aden, followed by Sana’a Radio in 1955. There are many prominent names among women working in this field. Other media sectors such as TV and newspapers still have not given women their fair share of the show.
Fikra Mahmood, journalist in Saba News Agency said:
“The Yemeni woman is trying hard to find a place for herself in society, through all kinds of activities, side by side with the man. We can say that there has been a great deal of improvement in women’s situation in the media and in life in general. True, there are many issues and topics concerning women which have been brought to light, but there are still many more in the dark, equally important if not more so. A tragic fact is that there are cultural behaviors strongly engraved in the society which are sometimes as strong as religious regulations, which limit, if not demean, women. The correct understanding and the implementing of religious dictates is very much overshadowed in matters which concern women. And for us to reach the level which we want, and which is stated for us by both the law and the religion, there is a long way to go.”

Talented Women:
Still until this day a girl writing a love poem or a creative story would face sniggers and raised eyebrows as to “How could she?” Before believing or even giving a thought to written material, it is first checked to see whether it was written by a woman or a man. If it is the former, in the write up it is sarcastically rejected and pushed aside. Even then, Hudda Ablan, Hudda Alattas, Ibtisam Almutwakil, Arwa Abdu Othman, Fatima AlOshbi, Salwa Alqadasi, Bushra Almaqtari, Intisar Alharith, Mahasin Alhawati, Nadia Muriy and many others are producing beautiful pieces of art in creative writing and poetry.
About the obstacles that face the creative women in Yemen, Intisar Alharith, a journalist and writer explained:
“Any woman who is interested in participating in social issues and wants to make a stand for herself in the Yemeni scene is always faced by disappointment. Even when she succeeds in setting herself free from a few of her chains or limitations, she still takes careful, scared steps wherever she goes, fearing that at any moment she could be attacked by aggressive male viewpoints and sarcastic remarks regarding her work. In fact she never reaches a confident state to make a decision without fearing she may be objected to by her male counterparts.
We again celebrate the International Women’s day without even getting our basic rights such as the freedom to express ourselves without any fear. On the contrary, every new day religious people invent ways and methods to limit women’s activities and bury any budding movement aimed at women’s emancipation.”

Rural Woman:
Rural woman still suffers from a lack of the basic facilities which could make her life and her family’s life easier. She works in the farms, in getting water from the wells, suffers from illiteracy, early marriage and early motherhood, and also from a lack of proper health care.
Woman and Political Parties:
Women have become active members of many political parties, and successful nominees in elections as well.
As for the leading positions, there are 50 female members in the GPC out of a total of 501 members. And in the YSP there are 32 female members out of a total of 301. In the Nasserite Party there are 7 females out of 86 members. However there are no female members in the Islah high committee but there are 7 female members out of 150 in the Islah consultative council. Politically, in the 1993 elections, two females were successful, and in 1997 again, another two from Aden won seats in the parliament. In the recent Local Councils elections, 31 females made it out of a total number of 121 against a male strength of 26,000.
The above figures show the low level of female participation in leading political positions. It is a mental block that only a man can rule. However, maybe one day we will hear of a general secretary of a political party who is a woman, or that 50 females have become members of parliament.
Woman and leadership:
There is one ambassador who is a female, another who is a minister’s deputy but there aren’t any ministers yet. Figures tell us that there are 79 females ranked as general managers and 5 who are consultants at ministries.
Woman and Sports:
Amat AlRahman Jahaf, head of the female Sports Union says:
“Women form half of the society, and it is important that they are strong and healthy. Care should be invested in her health and fitness, in order to maintain a healthy family and be able to perform her duties properly. However, there is no awareness regarding female sports in the Yemeni society. Mainly due to traditions and cultural heritage, and the lack of facilities to enable women to play in closed playgrounds. In spite of this we managed to push forward decent participation in Volleyball, Table Tennis and Chess in Aden and Taiz.”


Woman and the Future:
SHE is more than 51% of the population. That is why it is impossible to ignore her and her rights. She has paved her way through many obstacles through the last 40 years and is still determined to continue all the way.
We all hope that The Better Half of this community is given a chance to flourish, and give as much as they have.