One of the notable Rising Voices grantee project is “Empowerment of Yemeni Women Activists in New Media Techniques”, led by Ghaida'a Al Absi. When the project started in April 2009, one post talked about the ignorance about blogging in Yemen, especially among women.
The project facilitators worked hard to change the situation by imparting series of workshops in several cities of Yemen for the next two years. The challenges were many. There were frequent power cuts, many participants were so conservative, they did not allow them to take pictures of them even in veils.
But after a while it seemed like magic. As Ghaida'a writes:
These activists were really talkative and full of energy. It is like a magic, every time you train new women activists, you got some energy from them.
She thought that the EWAMT project is like a candle among other candles, which are lighting up the darkness in Yemen. And soon blogs of trainers and participants were up. We could learn many things about the women of Yemen. For example:
Because of the social pressure on women; they are trying to prove themselves through getting a higher education and gaining new skills. For example, the rate of success among girls in the secondary education is higher than among boys.
By February 2010 the first phase of the project ended with 112 female bloggers trained and 24 active blogs being published. The second phase started in Taiz city with an workshop with 15 participants. By October 2012 Sara AlMaktri, a participant, became a trainer.
The Yemeni revolution started in February 2011. And already we saw some of these women trained by EWAMT blog about the uprisings. The revolution closed down Sana'a University and the workshops were postponed. But these women kept on blogging. Olga Ghazaryan, Oxfam GB’s Regional Director for the Middle East, writes in Oxfamblog about this strong characteristics of Yemeni women:
Women’s spontaneous support of the revolution was a powerful challenge to the traditional perceptions of women’s’ roles and how they should or should not behave in public. They did something unseen and unheard of before – they went out to Change Square to protest side by side with men, staying out at night, interacting with people outside of their own family and tribe and daring to express their opinion vocally in public.
Ms. Ghazaryan adds:
In a country where every step a woman takes is circumscribed by rules and restrictions, the revolution has created a “once in a generation” opportunity to address the gender gap – one of the main drivers of Yemen’s chronic underdevelopment.
And thus the darkness was filled with lights. Ghaida'a notes:
EWAMT workshops were not only about technical issues of blogging, but also were about exploring, discussing, and raising awareness about issues had being rarely talked about it in the public sphere because of the conservity of the Yemeni society, and sometimes because of the fear from the Yemeni intelligence would arrest anyone who expresses his\her discontent about the Yemeni regime.
The challenge of the women still remains as the threats of a backlash against women’s advancement by more conservative elements is real and strong. But we hope that more people and organization like EWAMT will keep on lighting the candles as you cannot keep a burning fire hidden in darkness for long.