Yemen has consistently been ranked the lowest on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index since 2002 (17 years in a row!). Gender equality is not only hindered by culture and society, but the government itself. The stories of discrimination, child marriage and violence against women are horrific and more needs to be done about it. We spoke to Alaa, the founder of the Yemeni Feminist Movement to hear her opinion on the issues faced by Yemeni women and what her platform is doing about it. We highly recommend reading more about these issues via @yemenifeministmovement blog, it is shocking what Yemeni women are subjected to and more people need to know about it for change to happen.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Alaa, and I'm from Yemen but I have been living in Canada for 5 years now. I'm a passionate gender equality advocate and an emerging filmmaker.
What led you to start the Yemeni Feminist Movement pages?
I was inspired to start the Yemeni Feminist Movement platform not only because of my frustration about the discrimination and violations that a lot of Yemeni women have to live with, but also because of my personal experience of being in an abusive marriage for 4 years at a young age without knowing that what I was going through was violence or abuse. All of this fuelled my work on the Yemeni Feminist Movement online platform with a goal to raise awareness about equality, gender based violence, and Yemeni discriminatory laws. I also wanted it to be a platform that highlights stories of successful Yemeni women who made it amidst all the chaos in the country.
Since starting this movement what sort of responses have you had? both positive and negative..?
When I first started it in 2013 I had very negative reactions. People immediately viewed me as someone who is trying to poison Yemeni women's minds and stray them away from our traditions and values. I was constantly being bullied and receiving threats to my inbox. This caused me to stop working on the page and I didn't re-activate it until last year when I finally felt safe and strong enough to do it. Since last year, I have received a lot of positive responses which makes me feel like the negative responses are worth it. I still get called names or threatened here and there, but overall I feel like people now are more aware than before and this makes me so hopeful.
As the founder of this group, what are your main concerns for Yemeni women and girls? and what do you think are some solutions to these issues?
My main concern is that Yemeni women in general are not recognized as full citizens by the law, nor as full humans by the society. And when you add to it all the issues that Yemen is facing as a country; the armed-conflict, lack of basic services, poverty, lack of security, etc., you get a mixture of issues that are very hard to solve with a simple solution. As the conflict in Yemen keeps dragging on, women and girls become more vulnerable to violations like child marriage, gender based violence, and sexual assault. We need more organizations to work on supporting these women, and more initiatives or groups like us to raise awareness on women's rights. But still, the situation of women and girls is not likely to improve until the conflict ends. Only then we can start making gender equality a priority, and work on changing laws and criminalizing harmful practices.
How has the conflict affected female rights in Yemen?
Even before the conflict, Yemen has been constantly ranking the lowest in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index for many years. Now, the situation has deteriorated as women and girls have been affected the most by the conflict. A lot of international organizations have reported that violence against women has increased, millions of children and pregnant women are malnourished, child marriage has increased, and a lot of girls aren't able to go to school.
Have you seen many improvements in female rights over the past few years?
There was a lot of hope during the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) in 2013, after the revolution. Women represented more than quarter of the NDC participants and the new proposed constitution under this conference recognized women as equal citizens, tackled some of the most discriminatory laws against women, and granted them at least 30% quota in decision making positions. However, this was all destroyed because of the conflict that has been ongoing since late 2014.
Are there many other organisations who are working to improve female rights in Yemen? (can you name a few?)
There are a number of organizations that are doing incredible work, but it is still not enough. I hope to see more organizations dedicated specifically for women's and girls' rights and health, and I hope to see more efforts in providing services, resources, and protection to women who are being violated or are facing violence in any form.
In your eyes, what does it mean to be a Yemeni woman?
It means to be strong, because there are times when it seems that everyone and everything is against you. It means to be brave, because you risk a lot just by speaking your mind or sharing your opinion. It means to be resilient, because you face a lot of challenges when you try to achieve your goals. Cheers to all the strong, brave, and resilient Yemeni women!