In Yemen men and women who do the same thing are often looked upon differently. Smoking is a prominent example. Among men smoking is considered a habit that might harm one’s health, but it is not at all inappropriate. However, when people see a woman having a cigarette they forget about her health and instead concentrate on her reputation: many will even think of her as a whore.
Although smoking can damage a woman’s reputation, having a cigarette and sharing a shisha with friends has become fashionable pastimes among Yemeni girls. In fact, women in Yemen smoke more than ever before, both in public and private.
Emad Mohammed, who owns The Smokers World Store for Shisha, confirmed this trend. He told the Yemen Times that more than 20 girls a day visit his shop and buy cigarettes, tobacco and other items related to smoking. Most of Mohammed’s female customers are over 20 years old.
Restaurants that serve shisha also benefit from the growing fashion. Despite the fact that such establishments do not have the best name and conservative families do not allow their women to go there, it is not uncommon today to see a group of ladies in such a restaurant having a smoke together.
Yemen Times visited one of the establishments that is known for serving shisha to women as well as men. Unfortunately, the owner of this Egyptian restaurant was afraid to lose his good reputation and denied this.
“We don’t allow women to smoke here at all, as we were told we will face many troubles if we do,” he said.
“When we first opened people from the area told us that if we allow women to smoke we will ruin our reputation and we will have problems with the Yemeni security services,” he added.
While the claim that the security services chase female smokers might be an exaggeration, women who light up in public areas are certainly looked down upon by fellow Yemenis.
Najla’a Abdarahman is a woman who does not fear to smoke openly. She shared one of her experiences with the Yemen Times.
“I once had a fight with the hairdresser. When I started smoking she told me to get out of her place because I would ruin its reputation,” she said.
While more and more women smoke in public, Najla’a’s behaviour is still the exception rather than the rule. Most female smokers told the Yemen Times that they smoke secretly and only within a small circle of friends.
Private qat sessions are the most popular occasion for girls to have a smoke. Some of them bring their own shishas and show off with the fancy style or material that it is made of. Instead of water they often use different kinds of juices that usually match the taste of the tobacco.
The girls’ parents often do not know that their daughters smoke or even own a shisha. The new small shishas that come in small boxes help them hide their secret.
Maha Ahmed is a high school student who smokes shisha and cigarettes almost every day. She has her own equipment but keeps it at her friend’s place so that her parents would never suspect she smokes. She visits her friend almost every day and they have a shisha together.
“I smoke because I like to figure out what people like about smoking,” Maha explained.
Smoking to socialize
According to university student Shahed Hussein, smoking has become an important way of socializing among young women. Herself a non-smoker, Shahed increasingly feels like an outsider among her fellow students.
“My friends don’t invite me to Qat sessions or social gatherings any more. They used to before but as I always refused to try the shisha they stopped inviting me,” said Shahed. She fears that her social life will suffer if she does not start smoking herself.
“I need a social life. Most of my friends are smokers and there is no alternative way to socialize with them,” she complained.
Girls take up the habit of smoking for various reasons. Some of them simply want to fill their spare time while others imitate their mothers. Many get a first taste of smoking when preparing their mother’s shisha.
Reem Mohammed has been smoking for more than eight years. She said that some of her friends are already addicted to smoking.
“Smoking shisha has become a normal habit for girls,” she said, adding that going from shisha to cigarettes is only a small step.
“Among ten girls you will definitely find three who smoke cigarettes as they are too busy to prepare the shisha. In addition, cigarettes are easier to hide,” Reem explained.
A smoker as a bride?
The secret popularity of smoking among young women has not improved the reputation of female smokers in Yemeni society. Mohammed Bahajry works as a pharmacist and would never marry a smoker.
“A girl who smokes is someone who doesn’t have good manners,” he told the Yemen Times.
Bahajry believes that smoking among women is the first step towards more indecent behavior.
“It is dangerous when a girl thinks she can do anything she wants. I personally consider female smokers as whores,” he said.
Bahajry believes that it is society that has made him think this way. It is therefore not surprising that his views are widely shared among the male population. Around 20 men that were asked by the Yemen Times about their views of women smokers reiterated Bahajry’s statements.
By Shatha Al-Harazi
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