The Voices of Yemeni Women in Media [Archives:2008/1194/Viewpoint]

September 29 2008

Sexual abuse, domestic violence, the female quota system for elections, reproductive health, maternal health and family planning issues are the main women's rights topics featured in the Yemeni media. However, other issues like sexual abuse inside of the family frame, domestic violence, rape inside of marriage and honor crimes get hardly any coverage at all.

Luckily, the situation has been changing gradually as many reporters start to focus on the influence of war, poverty and injustice on women's development in Yemen.

Such change is predictable, especially when gender-related development strategies are part of the government's agenda. Both official and unofficial studies conducted by the government and NGOs look at the concept of gender development and inequality as a key issue, which in turn gives journalists a new angle for their stories.

The problem is the fact that different studies have differing figures, which can discredit the journalist if he or she doesn't use accurate data or doesn't check the studies against each other.

At the same time, the reporters risk boring their readers with endless amounts of differing data, all which lack the human touch. Though it is often difficult to reach these women or difficult to persuade them to speak about their experiences, personal testimonies are absolutely necessary to make the reader understand the gravity of the issue.

In addition, the victimization of women was and still is the main feature of gender-related stories. There are a few exceptions in certain mass media outlets that try to show the progress that some Yemeni women have made. These include interviews with prominent women such as human right activists, intellectuals, and members of the government. But this means that the voice of the average woman is rarely conveyed.

Earlier this year, an eight-year-old girl named Nojoud was widely written about, portrayed as a victim of early marriage – a phenomenon that has existed for a long time and is widespread in Yemen.

Nojoud went to a Sana'a judge by herself to ask for a divorce from her 30-year-old husband. Nojoud's bravery attracted not just national and the international media attention, but also created grounds for discussion about early marriage among people worldwide.

The international coverage focused on Nojoud not as individual incident, but as a case representative of Yemeni women's general status. Nojoud's story was handled in a number of different ways: news, interview, investigation and opinion.

Because of this intense media coverage, there was a huge debate over the Yemeni law that stipulates the minimum age of marriage. Currently, the minimum age of marriage is 15, but parents and guardians are allowed to overrule that based on their own discretion to judge whether or not their daughter or charge is “ready”” for marriage.

Though the media deals with certain themes related to women's issues