Female Journalism in Yemen [Archives:1998/06/Culture]

February 9 1998

Female Journalists in Yemen  (published by the Arab Culture House in the United Arab Emirates, 110 pp., 1997) is written by Yemeni journalist Tawfeeq Hassan Agha. Ms. Nadwa Al-Dowsari reviewed it for the Yemen Times.
Female journalists in Yemen have made their mark since a long time ago, dating back to the time before the independence of  South  Yemen. A number of women actually managed a journal called “Fatat Shamsan”. During the years of struggle for national liberation, Yemeni female journalists were also heavily involved. Most of them, however, wrote under pseudonyms. But some of them came out openly and used their own names. Notable among are Ms. Mahiyah Shamsan, chief-editor of “Fatat Shamsan” newspaper and Ms. Radhiyah Ehsan.
Beyond the written media,  women also played a major role in radio broadcasting, though most of their efforts were oriented towards family and children’s  programs. Some of the better known radio producers and presenters are Fawziya Ghanim, Adeela Bayoomi, Fawziya Omar, Najat Omairan, Najat Gurgurah, Nabeeha Mohsin and others. In the North, the media had focussed on women and families.   The purpose was to win the support and understanding of women regarding the political struggle between the Imam and the opposing intellectual and political circles. Other issues tackled by the Yemeni media of the 1950s were related to social issues like high dowries, Islam and women, women’s right to education and work and the issue of the veil.
In 1964, the Yemeni Women Association, chaired by the mother of Martyr Al-Loqaiya, was established. Several women joined, especially the wives of army officers, students as well as wives of Yemeni emigrants. The association focused on intellectual information. It broadcast a daily program from the Sana’a and Taiz radio stations, which was responsible for a tremendous surge in awareness. In 1966, seven women joined the radio stations as announcers. In addition to their being school students, they had to present several programs in the radio broadcasting. One of those was Ms. Zahra Taleb who is considered to be the first woman who made a real contribution to the field. She was an announcer, producer and actress. One of the successful radio programs she prepared and presented was “The Family”.
Before and immeditely following the 26th September 1962 Revolution, women and their issues had to remain on the back-burner. The very survival of the Revolution was at risk. Women had to wait for a chance for any role. Despite that, some women were able to break those restraints and assert themselves. A name to remember is Ms. Aneesa Mohammed Saeed, the first female announcer on Taiz Radio.  That was the beginning of a breed to be raised at Taiz Radio, and to later command nation-wide respect. Ms. Amatal-Aleem Al-Sousuwah, though a later generation journalist, came through this course.
As far as journalism handling women’s issues is concerned,  there are several periodic magazines completely dedicated to women today. Even though this is still inadequate, many newspapers have a page or a column devoted to women, mostly concerning home affairs. Today, it has to be admitted that men control journalism in Yemen. There is no law to deny women’s participation in this field. But daily practices put severe limitations on women’s full participation in journalism. For example, afternoon work seems to be more qat chewing sessions  than actual journalism. This makes women’s participation socially unacceptable.
“When I drift back to my own memories” said Dr. Ra’oofa Hassan, chairwoman of the Social and Women Studies Unit in Sana’a, “I remember my experience in the elections of the Yemeni Journalists’ Association of 1985. I got the fourth highest number of votes, but was not allowed to be the general chairwoman of the association. I had to settle for the post of Social Director of the Association.” At the time, female journalists were relegated the job of covering only social issues. They were not seen fit to comment on political or economic matters, let alone military stories. By the same logic, female journalists were not supposed to represent the profession in regional or international conferences and gatherings.
As an example, Dr. Ra’oofa Hassan was not able to join the first conference for Arab Female  Journalists in Beirut in 1981. She indicates that the then minister of Information did not permit her. Neither could she join the second conference for Arab Female Journalists in Tunisia a year later. Of course, much has changed since those days. Nevertheless, to this day, women’s participation in Yemeni journalism seems to be marginal. Very few women are able to overcome the social obstacles in order to take their rightful place in the profession. But there are models.
One model is Arwa Mohammed Qa’ied Saif. Based totally on  personal efforts, she publishes a magazine, Arwa, devoted to family and social affairs. She is considered to be the first editor-in-chief of a Yemeni women’s magazine, which was launched in 1990. Arwa – the woman and the magazine – have become an embodiment of women’s worries as well as dreams. The only female chief editor of a newspaper in Yemen today is Ms. Sayyidah Al-Hailamah, a Sanaa-based newspaper called Al-Mara’ah – The Woman. Again Here, however, the emphasis is on issues that are female in nature, and not on the general spectrum of journalism. In other words, a woman has yet to head a media organ that is of general interest in nature.
In the past, and to a certain degree now, the progress of female journalists is hampered because of traditional and social values. Even though, women have started their rightful, confident steps towards full  partnership in the field of journalism. The College of Journalism at Sanaa University – given its 40% female enrollment – will lead to that. But, still many difficulties abound.
In general, women have distinct needs in journalism. Right from the establishment of the Yemeni Journalists Association, that was clear. Radhiyah Shamsheer was a member of the central board of the association then. Dr. Raoofa Hassan, Radhiyah Ehsan and Amal Al-Lawzi were founding members of the association. Today, the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate boasts 4 women as members on the central board. Yemen really has a group of highly-qualified female journalists such as Radhiya Shamsheer, Dr. Ra’aoofa Hassan, Ms. Amatal-Aleem Al-Sousuwah, Sayyidah Al-Hailamah, Raja’a Abdulaziz, Salwa Dul’aini, Samia Al-Aghbari, Nadheera AbdulQuddoos, Afrah Saleh, Qadriyah Al-Ja’afari, Hoda Fadh, Aneesa Abdullah Ghanim, Ahlam Abdul-Rahman, Fikrah Mohammed, Rasheedah Al-Qaily, Sameera Al-Hitar, Rahmah Hujairah, etc., are some examples of Yemeni women who have established themselves as serious journalists.
If we expand the list to include the new faces on television, we get a few more names. Ahlam Al-Qirshi,  as a professional. Those female pioneers are leading the way for a new crop.