It's time to say

Women are tired of all this

Monday, March 13, 2023
It's time to say
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After decades of struggle by Yemeni women to achieve their rights, it is a shame that the war has brought them back to zero. As the world sees March 8 as an occasion to promote the role of women in public life, we have a bleak picture of the future of women and girls in Yemen.

The recent conflict erupted at a time when legislation on women had gone a long way, despite the failure of the executive system to implement many of them. Because expectations were high, women actively participated in public life and were involved in law reform campaigns and protests that ended in 2011. However, no one expected the end of this war and its effective ability to undermine human rights, especially women's rights.

The war brought to the table draft laws that were prevented by politics, including the prohibition of child marriage, the empowerment of women to participate widely in public life through elections, as well as a package of legal and constitutional reforms that were absorbed in the national dialogue sessions. It is true that all this would not have met the aspirations of civil society in mind. However, it was a leap in view of the long struggle represented by thousands of Yemeni women in cities and rural areas.

Instead of all these efforts being culminated in women having their full rights, the parties to the conflict, especially Ansar Allah group (Houthis), have been keen to export hate speech against women and their presence in public life, sometimes by using religion, and outdated customs and traditions at other times. Although, for the most part, women have avoided engaging in war or have not played a prominent role in igniting it, women are the biggest victim of every step taken by belligerents towards imposing their authority on society.

During eight years of war, we have seen how women were accused of being a source of sin and obstacles to the question of “divine victory”. Mosque pulpits were used to urge so-called “guardians” to prevent women from shopping, especially in the northern peripheral governorates.

Women were isolated for false reasons such as fighting gender mixing. They were also prevented from traveling without a mahram. Those women who were destined to reach their destination faced a number of accusations, betrayal and questioning of their purposes. In governorates under the control of the internationally recognized government, or the Southern Transitional Council, we have also seen circulars of the same radical and closed character, as well as arrests of women for their participation in public work.

Women's clothing has also come under scrutiny, unless it is tailored to the size of the brains of the new rulers. The matter did not stop here. For obtaining any identification or travel document, the presence of the woman’s guardian is required. It also came to these groups to interfere in reproductive health and birth control tools, which exacerbated women's health problems.

Recently, a poster campaign has been launched in the walls and corners of vital streets in Sana’a, urging women to wear hijab and be decent. Society is taking new steps to undermine the presence of women in public life, if not to completely obliterate their image in public awareness.

However, these parties, which impose guardianship, usually avoid talking about the impact of war on Yemeni women who have borne the greatest cost by losing their breadwinner or children, and bearing the high cost of living on their own. Hundreds of these women are awaiting the return of their loved ones who are behind bars or have been forcibly disappeared due to this conflict.

Deception in all this is based on an attempt by parties to portray their repressive practices as normal behavior, or to show that Yemeni society is not susceptible to development and to engagement in the era. Relying on the traditional value system, or giving repression a religious value, does not in any way mean giving it legitimacy of any kind. Instead of the fact that Yemeni history, which is an active part in this crisis, has always played in favor of women, from working on the land alongside her male brother to assuming the highest position in the state. The portrayal of women as weak or incompetent beings also makes underdevelopment adjacent to the forces that follow these outdated values, rather than women who aspire to an equal and decent living.

It is time to say that women are tired of all this and that imposing new extreme values by the force of a de facto situation is not the end of the struggle. Wherever there is repression or confiscation of a right, there is always a bold woman activist and a conscious and open society that stands on her side, in the face of all those who try to carry away her rights or degrade their value.

Happy Woman’s Day to all Yemeni women and their families.