Women’s Voice”Islam came to change tradition and culture in favor of women” [Archives:2005/846/Culture]

May 30 2005

By Abeer Yahia Aleryani
For the Yemen Times

Yemeni women are much luckier than their peers in neighboring countries. In Yemen, women have their civil rights complete and equal to men. It is guaranteed in the constitution. We don't suffer any discrimination from the government's side. Regardless of the belief that the government's approach towards improving women's situation is an attempt to gain favor of the Western world, the fact is that Yemeni women are benefiting from this approach. They live a blooming era, mainly in terms of political rights and career opportunities.

Personally I think that Yemeni women have been offered a lot since the revolution and have benefited from it as a “full” citizen. They were encouraged to enhance their education by the government, and have been able to apply and get good jobs. They have been allowed to drive cars and to elect whoever they choose to represent them in the Parliament. Recently, they have been nominated and elected to occupy key positions in the government sector and become decision-makers.

In Yemen, women have their independent identities. In fact, they have the right to hold identity documents. In some neighboring countries women are not even permitted to obtain ID cards! This is still considered as a dream for women's rights advocates in other countries.

However, the problem of women in Yemen is due to the way the other half of the Yemeni society, men, are treating women. Women's problems in Yemen are not caused by the regime or the constitution. No matter what great efforts and privileges the government issues, the Yemeni male's mentality will remain the same. Their view that women are inferior will remain the same. The discriminatory and prejudicial attitude of Yemeni men towards women will remain the same as long as women themselves, as mothers, sisters, and daughters are not capable of changing this mentality.

As long as Yemeni women succumb to the unjustified traditions and customs inherited from hundreds of dark years in our history and consider them as sacred and divine rules, women's problems will continue. Their situation will deteriorate even further and they will lose the rights they acquired since the revolution. These inherited traditions and customs have nothing to do with religion. In fact, they are in complete contradiction!!

Inherited tradition and culture has caused contradiction in everything between men and women in Yemen. Men can deal respectfully with women as female colleagues and a competent workforce. Yet many will not allow their daughters, sisters, or wives to join the workforce. Some families, though small in number, will allow the women in the family to work various works from teaching to architecture to medicine. Yet the vast majority of the society will not even allow the women in their families to get an education beyond elementary school.

This society, both rural and urban, gives women less rights and more duties and obligations than their male counterparts. This is particularly true in rural areas where women are expected to work the land, cook, get water, raise the family, take care of the husband, take care of guests, as well as other tasks. Yet, women do not have an opinion in the affairs of the society, or the family for that matter. Women are still forced to get married at young ages. No account is taken as to their young age and their maturity and subsequent ability to bear the responsibility of a family. This is not to mention the health related problems of early marriages, especially in case of pregnancy.

Islam came to change tradition and culture in favor of women. Yet, it seems that no one remembers!! Religious teachings never differentiated between educating any of the genders, nor prohibiting work for either. What religious practice advise is that women are the most important half of society. They bear the responsibility of raising the next generation. By the way, did you know that it is the only obligation of wives towards the family? Did you know that women are not obligated to cook, clean, or wash? Did you know that the Prophet (PBUH) did all those tasks, and helped his wives at home? Did you know that the Prophet (PBUH) always asked the opinion of his wives, sometimes on matters regarding state affairs? There definitely is a big gap between what Islam says and what inherited culture and tradition state!!! Did you know that it is prohibited to force women to get married without their approval?

The gap between religious teachings must replace the current traditions and cultures that are a burden on the society. The government is not required to impose a large amount in the annual budget to impose women affairs. There is no need to spend such large sums and have the Yemeni citizens bear the burden of this cost. In a country that is among the 30 poorest and less developed countries in the world there must be other social and economic issues that deserve the governments concern more than this one. However, the government can spend a fraction of what is spent now on educating the society on the rights and obligations of both men and women, towards each other and towards society.

However, the large part of this matter will have to be left to the people of the country. Both men and women must be educated in their rights towards each other and towards society as a whole. The men must realize the rights and obligations of the women within their families first and then within society. They must start thinking attentively of what the Koran and Prophet Mohammad advised them regarding women and stop corrupting and misinterpreting the religious instructions according to their own wishes. Women also must educate their counterparts regarding their rights and obligations and stand up for their rights. Women should not comply with the unjust inherited customs and traditions that were only made by man to corroborate his authority and domination over women.

Until then, nothing will make Yemen a country of liberty regarding women's affairs. No efforts of the government and International Organizations will make a distinctive impact unless the will of change and developing comes from both the men and women of the country.