Giving a Voice To The Women Activists In Yemen

Yemeni Women at a reservoir in Kawkaban near capital Sana'a. Photo by Raphaël Fauveau and used under a creative commons license.

The Republic of Yemen is an Arab country of more than 23 million people located on the Arabian Peninsula in Southwest Asia. It is the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula (not led by a hereditary monarch) and is one of the poorest countries of the region. Its capital is Sana'a and the language is Arabic. Yemen is so often ignored by the international media and people know little about the country. With an internet penetration of less than 2% we do not usually get alternative perspectives from the citizen journalists. This has so often led to stereotyping of Yemenis.

For example Yemenis enjoy some unique freedom as an expat blogger Jalilah informs:

The veiling of women is not law in Yemen as it is in Saudi Arabia. Many younger, educated women merely cover their heads, but not their faces, and some do not veil at all. Those who do, do so in deference to tradition, not to law. [..]

Yemeni Arabic is quite different from other Arabic dialects and the women additionally speak a dialect all their own. I later learned that this was to insure more privacy and to avoid being understood by the men!

Women constitute only 30 percent of the Yemeni workforce and approximately 70 percent of women in Yemen are illiterate. The gap between men and women is very wide in terms of political empowerment and economic participation but the literacy rate is not that different from men. Various social, religious and political factors are responsible for women's low status (source) and women rarely have the platforms to voice their opinions.

But the Yemeni women are fighting back. For example, Yemeni women activists are fighting against the fundamentalists to prove that Islam does not contradict the use of contraceptives an family planning. But these activities are not much visible to the world. It is the high time when they start to harness the power of internet to help spread their activism and widen their campaigns.

Ghaida-Al AbsiGhaida'a Al Absi plans to change the situation with a Rising Voices micro grant. She writes in her blog:

Human rights are being violated in many countries of the world, particularly developing countries, but there are a lot of people do not tolerate it and is trying to promote what is happening in their countries and to the whole world […] But..Yemen has several cases of gross human rights violations are not known to the world, and because of the weakness of civil society institutions and their lack of knowledge of right-wing.

In the project proposal Ghaida'a mentioned that her goal is:

to prepare and conduct a training course in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. The project will focus on the Politicians women and the women workers in the field of Human Rights. In addition, the main objective of the project is to strengthen the capacity of those women to be able to express their own thoughts through the Internet. The training course will be conducted monthly for four days, two hours a day.

The targeted community is the activists women who work in politics or in the field of human rights. The trainings will give the targeted community the ability to use Internet in order to publish their point of views, documenting their activities and will give them the space to publish the issues they are fighting for.

Now let us learn more about Ghaida'a. She works at the SOUL Organization for Women and Children Development as WIT program assistant. The WIT (Women in Technology) program is about empowering Women in Technology. She is also doing some voluntary work in the organization like preparing training sessions in various topics for the Yemeni girls in WIT Forum.

Ghaida'a at work. Photo courtesy Ghaida'a Al Absi

She is also a volunteer in Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights, and the founder and coordinator of the Hand in hand Initiative, which is which is a forum of a group of youths engaged in raising awareness and rehabilitation of young people to make them able to change the future for the better, through education, information and capacity-building. In addition, she is a member of the MEPI Alumni.

Ghaida'a lecturing

We interviewed her recently in Germany at a conference on new media activism in the Middle East. In this interview she introduces herself and discusses the contents of the workshops, the challenges the project will face, and what she expects from the Rising Voices community.

The contents of the curriculum of this project will cover the use of Internet in publishing the issues concerning the activists and will be generated by three experts (including Ghaida'a) in new media. The guide will be in Arabic language, and will be arranged in handouts to be distributed to the targeted community.

The participants will be taught to create blogs to document their activities, voice their opinions and create a community of activists.

We are eager to follow the activities of the “Empowerment of Women Activists in Media Techniques” project and wish its success.


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