Susanne Sterzenbach: “Women have recaptured their former leadership role in this revolution”
During the demonstrations in Yemen, the country’s women were highly visible. Thousands could be seen in the ranks of the protest marches, dressed in the black veils and full-length dress that is the custom for women today in Yemen. In former times, Yemini women wore brightly printed robes, as one can still see occasionally in the city of Sanaa’s Old Town district today.
Those wearing headscarves and showing their faces are considered to be unveiled.
We meet an array of different women, among them a karate instructor (headscarf), a banker (veil) and an aircraft flight engineer (headscarf), all of whom are very content with what they have been able to achieve under the former government. They admire President Saleh and fear that their personal freedoms and professional activities could be restricted if Islamists gain greater political power in the future.
In the revolution’s tent village we meet Nadia, a businesswoman and internet expert with no political allegiances. She managed to wrangle permission from her very conservative father to work in the protest camp during the day. Nadia photographs the happenings here, i.e. demonstrations, police activities, the wounded and the dead, and uploads them on the internet at night.
Journalist Nabiha invites us to her home. She previously worked for a news agency, but repeated gun battles have left its offices virtually destroyed. Nabiha opposes the demonstrations, but hopes for a different, more modern Yemen where she can build up a new TV network.
We search in vain for Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakel Karman at her tent in the demonstrators’ tent village. The human rights activist and member of the Islamist party Al Islah is currently touring the USA and Europe, giving speeches, lobbying for support for a new political environment in Yemen and promoting the establishment of an international commission to investigate the violence perpetrated by the former government under President Saleh. Behind the scenes it is said that Tawakel Karman wants to cut her ties with the Al Islah party to start a new party in which the young revolutionaries can have a political home. We eventually meet her at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Berlin.
She is a very determined and eloquent woman with clear political ideals: the rule of law, democracy and equality. She tells us, “Women have recaptured their former leadership role in this revolution. After all, in former times Yemen had two queens; Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba, and Arwa. This was the country’s golden age.” And what about those Yemini women who fear political change? Tawakel Karman replies, “The biggest obstacle for us women is the family, above all in Arabian societies. Once we’ve overcome that, there is nothing we can’t achieve.”
Susanne Sterzenbach studied translating in Mainz and Munich. In 2001 she was correspondent for the German TV-Channel ARD in North-Africa. 2004 she returned to Stuttgart where she works for the TV-Channels SWR and ARD.
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