Yemeni Women Say Equal Rights Are Compatible With Islam
Inroads to equality hindered by accusations that feminists are acting 'un-Islamic'
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - When tens of thousands of women were prominent among the demonstrations, Yemen's president at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh accused the women of "un-Islamic" behavior.
Saleh has since turned over power to Vice President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi last February. Tawakul Karman, female journalist, politician and women's rights activist who became the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize says that there is no merit in this accusation.
"Islam, like other religions, is not in conflict with women's rights, democracy or any human rights principles or values like equality, justice and dignity," Karman says. "These are the values of the divine faiths."
Yemen remains in the grip of a very poor and deeply traditional society where women have a literacy rate only half that of men. Yemeni women continue to push ahead, many using social media techniques to press their case. The Internet blogger who calls herself "NoonArabia" declares that there "is nothing in Islam that says a woman cannot work or play [a] vital role in society beyond the walls of her home. Fundamentalists always misuse Islam as a means to suppress women."
The main things hindering women's progress in Yemen according to NoonArabia are such social customs and tribal laws - and not religion. Women in local demonstrations are making a "huge step in breaking the taboo barrier."
"Yemeni women have proved themselves as partners in the struggle for change," NoonArabia says.
In spite of this, Isobel Coleman, a Middle East scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations in caution when it comes to expectations about Yemen.
"This is a very traditional society," Coleman said, adding that Yemen may have to undergo a "wholesale cultural revolution" before it deep-seated change is possible.
"Traditional gender segregation had insinuated itself into the center of the revolt from the Islamic groups who put a fence around them," Rahma Hugaira, president of Yemen's Media Women, an opposition group says.
Hugaira says that many women demonstrators felt they were being manipulated by political groups vying for power and decided to leave the square and give up the public demonstrations.