Death Stole Them but Their Work Immortalized Them

National Yemen

Missing women impact female empowerment

Asma al-Mohattwari

Yemen has lost many women who have struggled in highlighting the role that women have played in social advancement. Death took these bright minds from Yemen, however, they have left a huge impact in Yemenis hearts and minds that cannot be erased.

In this special issue, National Yemen highlighted stories and achievements of three great women who passed away, though their achievements are still discussed. We are especially pleased to showcase that disabled Yemeni women also have much to contribute.

Dr. Raufa Hassan was born in 1958. She was an academic professor, writer, and a famous Yemeni journalist who died in a Cairo hospital on April 27th, 2011. During her 53 years, Dr. Raufa was noted for her positive influence on social life in Yemen and strongly struggled for the causes of freedom, democracy and women’s rights. She devoted herself to efforts that supported Yemeni academic life, in particular, media, female empowerment, and the advancement of civil society.

Dr. Raufa fought a lot in order to support democratic and civil state before the unification of north and south, and she continued her struggle afterwards. Her assertiveness won her much infamy, especially when it came to her insistence about public freedoms such as freedom of the press, however, she has won the respect of her colleagues and enemies alike.

She courageously fought to express her opinions and defend them, becoming known as a controversial figure due to her criticism. She didn’t belong to any political party and fiercely defended the notion of ideological independence.

In her life, she trained many journalists and media figures to carry the torch of struggle for freedom and democracy in Yemen. She had a prominent role in the construction of feminist centers for studies, whether at the Applied Research at Sana’a University in 1969, or the Gender Studies Center in 1993. She efficiently managed the Cultural Development Planning Foundation, which was used as a base for organizing workshops on gender, training women parliamentarians, and encouraging women to register to vote.  Before her death she discussed the establishment of a national museum for contemporary Yemen but she passed away before achieving her dream of providing an unbiased picture of Yemeni history.

Some of her successes are more expected than those of a disabled woman of similar stature. Jamala Al-Baidhani lives with her mother and five brothers and sisters; her father died when she was still in preparatory school. Her difficulties began when she was only seven years old, when she was left paralyzed and was forced to use a wheelchair to move around.

Jamala was the first child in her family, and her mother and father were very happy to learn they would soon be parents. She became the source of happiness in her family’s home and was very active, remembered to have always been running about and playing. However, when she contracted a bad case of meningitis, her life rapidly transformed. Smiles and innocent laughter disappeared from the home when her parents understood that their daughter was a victim of paralysis.

Attending school presented a difficult challenge for Jamala. At school, she saw and felt the difference between her and the other students: as they played, she was left alone in her wheelchair.

“I really remembered the days when I was able to run everywhere, and I missed them,” she said.

Somehow, though, looks of pity only encouraged strength in Jamala. At the age of thirteen, she made the decision to join an association for disabled people and worked to help other disabled girls escape from their indoor prisons.

She used British funding to carry out a field study on disabled Yemeni girls. A year later, Jamala addressed an audience from a stage, putting her among the first handicapped girls in the Arab world to do so. Her message to the audience? “The handicapped can do better.”

Jamala soon finished high school and went on to study sociology at university. She found work at the Ministry of Social Affairs, but after a time, decided that her presence there didn’t bring her any closer to her goal of providing services for other disabled women.

Through hard work and perseverance, Jamala became the National Coordinator for Disabled People. She did her best to assist the handicapped and worked in a variety of fields to accomplish her aims. She formed her own organization and became the chairwoman of the Challenge Association for Disabled (CADW) Women. CADW helped more than 2000 disabled girl to attain education and self-sufficiency. Jamala herself went to the families and convince them that their daughters should be known, educated and see the world from their own eyes and not from the view of their parents.

In the past, Jamala was given the opportunity to travel to Germany, receive treatment, and possibly be cured – doctors went so far as to state that her expected rate of success was 90%. Jamala’s response was surprising to those around her.

“I preferred to remain disabled, to prove the disabled can achieve more than others, to show that while their bodies may be weak, their minds can be strong.”

Another woman that has deprived Yemen with her absence is Ramzia Abass al-Eryani. On Sunday, November 17 2013, a lengthy funeral procession took the body of the Head of the Yemen Women’s Union to her final resting place.

Through the passing of al-Eryani, Yemen lost one of its most prominent woman leaders. Al-Eryani was also a member of the GPC General Committee and an NDC member. She died while undergoing surgery at a hospital in Berlin, Germany.

Novelist, writer, diplomat, and human rights leader, Ramzia al-Eryani was born in 1954 in a village called Irian, in Ibb province. She completed high school in Taiz, and then studied philosophy at Cairo University, receiving her Bachelors Degree in 1977. She later earned a Masters Degree in Arabic literature in 1979.

Her death was a tragedy for all who knew her. She spent her life alleviating Yemen’s national issues, leaving her mark in areas that were personal, organizational, political, social, cultural, and especially in the field of human rights. She was a creative thinker, and distinguished herself scientifically, politically, culturally, and literarily. She was also known for her extensive volunteer work.

She was the first Yemeni novelist. She wrote her first novel, Victim of Greed, when she was a teenager, and published it in 1970. She also completed many literary works, including a book about female Yemeni leaders, entitled Yemeni Leaders, in 1990.

Al-Eryani was also the first Yemeni woman appointed to the diplomatic corps in 1980, and she served in diplomatic positions until becoming an ambassador in the Foreign Ministry. In her life, she won dozens of shields, certificates and medals in various fields such as science, research, community work, volunteerism, culture and creativity.

Al-Eryani was a model for all Yemeni women, for she surpassed the barriers of isolation and discrimination and broke from social constraints at a very early age. This empowered her to engage in great works of philanthropy, excellence, creativity, and glamour. In all the leadership positions she occupied, she defended Yemeni women’s issues. She struggled to lead the feminist movement and fought for women’s integration into Yemeni society, and encouraged women to engage in political work along with men. She made great steps in this goal in her presidency of Yemen’s most important feminist organization, the Yemen Women’s Union. Her defense of and support for women took on new heights when she was elected as the Secretary-General of the Arab Women’s Union.

Al-Eryani contributed to the adoption of various women’s issues, and under her leadership Yemeni women have continued to make remarkable achievements, demonstrating the value of her presence in the community.

All three women are models for Yemeni national character, and their gender has little to do with the positive impact that they made on the country. It is National Yemen’s hope that the next generation of Yemeni women will look to their example and be inspired to push the achievements of Yemeni women even further.