Yemeni Women Take Up A Centuries-Old Struggle

National Yemen

The voice of the Yemeni revolution is a women

Asma al-Mohattwari

Some people will tell you that it is the fault of Eve that Adam at the fruit of the forbidden tree.

From the beginning of the humanity, women have suffered unequal and unfair treatment. Some of this treatment can be traced back to the earliest stories of the world’s religions. Everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve, the first two human beings that God created to live in a paradise on earth. Some religious figures—many of them male—believe that Eve was responsible for Adam’s eating from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. As a result, Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden and in their punishments were created all of the suffering and injustice in the world we now inhabit. The Qur’an, however, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistake. Nowhere in the Qur’an can one find even the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree, or even that she had eaten before him. Eve in the Qur’an is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. God, according to the Qur’an, punishes no one for another’s faults. Adam and Eve committed equal sins and then asked God for forgiveness; He forgave them both.

The issue of women’s rights has been addressed by humans for a long time without ever achieving a satisfactory solution. Before Islam, women were held accountable for many negative events, and they had no rights within their societies. According to the traditional Islamic narrative, women in Pre-Islamic Arabia had almost no rights. They were not considered equal to men and were thus dictated under a strict patrilineal system. They were viewed as objects and constantly humiliated. Women had very little control over their marriages and could not inherit property. In the family, their purpose was no more to bear children, even though they had no rights to these children once they were born. When a woman gave birth to a female, it was considered a disgrace to the family. Female infanticide was a common practice.

At a time when female children were considered fungible property, and sometimes buried alive for their crimes, Islam called for the honoring of women and the protection of their rights. Islam protected women’s rights to education, employment, inheritance and many other aspects of society.

To those who prevent women from studying or working, Dr. Murtadh al-Mohattwari has a history lesson. Dr. al-Mohattwari is a professor of law and the founder of the Bader Mosque. According to al-Mohattwari, Islam encourages women to be educated and to have a job. He refers to Khadija, Prophet Muhammad’s first wife, who was a merchant both before and after converting to Islam.

With the passing of time, Arab societies have become governed by strict customs and traditions. Some of these customs suggest that aspects of Arab culture are guided more by male preference than religious instruction. Now, however, the concept of women’s rights is becoming more common.

History shows that women have played major roles in Yemeni society.  The Queen of Sheba, for example, is a source of pride for the Yemeni nation. In addition, Yemen’s Queen Arwa has been noted for her attention to infrastructure, which contributed to a documented time of prosperity under her rule. Modern day women of Yemen, however, are subjected to a society that reflects largely agrarian, tribal, and patriarchal traditions. This trend, combined with illiteracy and economic issues have caused women to be continuously deprived of their rights as citizens of Yemen.

It cannot be denied that woman have broken into a range of different professions at all levels. Many of the fields in which women once worked were originally exclusive to men, but women have since began exploring work opportunities outside of the home, finding ways to contribute in both political and economic activity.

Dr. Naja al-Saem, a professor at Sana’a University, said that the lives of Yemen’s women have developed significantly, and continue to develop. “One of the most complicated of all women’s issues is a lack of encouragement from their parents, brothers and husbands, who believe that women are unable to make decisions or accomplish anything. They believe that women’s only duty is to take care of her husband, children, and house. When others look to women as incapable people despite their ability and creativity, this can frustrate women and prevent what she might otherwise have achieved in some cases.”

In order to see a significant change in the lives of Yemeni women, women must first be educated and overcome Yemen’s high rate of female illiteracy. According to an international report issued by ESCWA, the rate of illiteracy among women in Yemen is as high as 65%. Ms. Amatalalim al-Soswa, Assistant Secretary-General to the United Nations, noted that education is still facing many challenges and difficulties in Yemen, and the education of women in particular. Women’s freedom, she suggested, will not be completely achieved without the participation of all Yemeni women, and furthermore the implementation of their education qualification in the areas of employment and community participation.

According to al-Soswa, one of the greatest injustices against women is that they are limited to agricultural work in rural areas because of their illiteracy. Their efforts are then rarely counted in economic indicators (such as GDP) because they receive no salaries for the work they do in fields and gardens.

“Yemen women have rights to economic participation and education. In addition, they have the right to political participation, and here I mean the right to vote. The issue of equality is generally related to what the constitution and laws protect and guarantee, and we promote a strong focus on women’s involvement in formulating the constitution and the elaboration of general principles emphasizing women’s full rights as complete eligible citizens. Yemen is still facing a high rate of illiteracy and poverty among women, as well as an inability to fully access health services benefiting all people.”

As a member of the NDC’s state-building working group, al-Soswa said that female participation in the decision-making processes are weak due to a gap between women’s involvement and politicians’ poor understanding of that involvement.

“The 30% [quota for female involvement in the NDC/future Yemeni government] is not an aim in itself but a means to promote women’s fair and equitable participation according to their performance and ability. We don’t want women to participate as objects; we want efficient and capable women who can prove the value of their presence despite difficulties they may encounter,” she added.

Some political parties maintain a narrow view on the women’s participation issue and consider the issue in general a personal one. Despite this, al-Soswa believes that the NDC’s approval of 30% female participation in the future Yemeni government constituted a great victory in the war against women.

“I don’t see any justification for those who object to the quota. And to those who make it a religious issue, I want to tell them that women’s participation [in society and government] does not contradict religion at all. We must be careful about the holy materials.  I wish the NDC could make Yemen live in peace, with equality between males and females” she expressed.

Dr. Ahmad Salem said that in order to obtain their rights, women must pursue education and be aware of their rights; this will help her to convince others of what she wants and what she is struggling to achieve.

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