Until up to a year ago, most Yemen women were largely invisible on the political scene, preferring to remain in the shadows, away from a world decidedly dominated by men.
As a traditional Muslim society, women politicians are often, or at least were, frowned upon as many felt women’s very nature did not match well with politics.
Last year’s uprising shattered those beliefs with more often than not, women being seen leading the demonstrations and marches, determined as they were to carve their sons and daughters a new, brighter future.
Women’s very role within Yemeni society was redefined by activists , who like their male counterparts, faced the regime’s wrath, putting their life on the line for they believed they too, could stand up for justice and democracy.
Tawakkul Karman , the 1st Arab woman to have ever been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, led the youth revolution in Sana’a, urging in her fiery speeches for all Yemeni men and women to join the movement and oust the regime.
Unbending and defiant the young mother of three withstood criticism and sarcasm, forcing her detractors to admit that she too had not only the courage to fight for her beliefs, but had the right to demonstrate amongst men.
Women in Yemen accompanied the revolution every step of the way, putting their skills as doctors, nurses, leaders, writers, photographers, teachers to the service of their country, slowly tearing down the walls that society had built around them.
Who could ever forget Aziza, Yasmin, Tofaha, Zeynab and all the “martyrs” of the revolution who laid down their life with a bravery yet unmet.
Unarmed and peaceful brave Yemeni women looked at death in the face, forever defiant for they believed in the strength of their own heart.
Models and heroes of a culture, which often forgets that it is their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters who are the very foundations of society, Yemen woke up to discover this past year the treasures it was carrying.
Women everywhere from the northern Yemeni mountains to the arid plains of Marib, the greenery of Hadramaut and the sparkling blue sea of the Gulf of Aden, are shaping the Yemen of tomorrow, setting up new projects, promoting constitutional change and becoming more political.
For the 1st time in centuries Yemeni women are remembering that they are all Queen Sheba’s daughter, that in their blood it is the strength of a nation which is flowing.
Unlike other women in the region, Yemeni women enjoy a great level of freedom, with no law limiting their choices or desires. With this newfound boldness, who’s to say where Yemeni women will be tomorrow or what role they will play. One thing is certain though, there is no stopping them.
As Karman said, “the Revolution returned the principles of equal citizenship between men and women.”
By Jawaher Asa’ad and Chiara Onassis
Has the Arab Spring truly been a spring for Yemeni women's rights, as well? Will it change the gender divisions in the long term future?