On the complex role of women in the Yemeni "revolution"
Women cry for tribal protection
Yemen Times, October 27, 2011
by Amira al-Arasi
Some 800 women burned their veils as they called on tribal leaders to protect them from armed attack. Photos by Adnan Al-Rajihi
SANA’A, Oct. 26 — Women burned their veils as they called on Yemeni tribes to protect them from attacks by the regime yesterday.
Around 800 women, some travelling from as far as Taiz 200 kilometers south west of Sana’a, burned veils and headscarves at 60 Meter Street on Wednesday.
They read a statement signed by women’s alliances in Change Square before starting the fire and calling on the “honorable proud men of all Yemeni tribes” to come to their aid and end the killing of women by the regime.
Yesterday’s protest came 10 days after a woman from Taiz was killed when the Republican Guards attacked an opposition protest on October 16. She is said to be the first female protestor killed since the uprising began and was shot in the head by snipers because of her political activities. Two weeks ago in Sana’a two women who were thought to be part of a mixed protest were shot in the legs by pro-regime snipers.
Asma’a Al-Uthari, a campaigner in Change Square, said that they began organizing this event after Aziza Al-Mahajri was killed in Taiz. The women collected nearly 400,000 veils in Taiz, which they brought to Sana’a. They wanted to call on the tribal sheikhs to help them against the regime that has killed and suppressed women and children. The protest started at 11am on Wednesday and the burning began at noon.
“This is not a message to only the tribal sheikhs but to also all the free people in the world. We want to tell them that Yemeni women have been attacked and killed,” she said. Al-Uthari added that the cover the regime has used to hide itself should be revealed.
The burning of the veil in Yemeni tradition is a cry for help used by women in tribal culture to complain of injustice. It is supposed to move men to action when they see that the women have been violated, with the veil or headscarf symbolizing women’s honor.
This custom obliges the women to actually remove their veil or headscarf because she then exposes her symbolic hidden shame. However, the women in yesterday’s protest did not remove their veils but instead brought additional veils to be burnt.
“What happened today is a ridiculous mockery that depicted women as helpless and weak while we are strong and revolutionary,” said Wameed Shaker, a member of the Tahaluf Watan Women’s Collation for Peace. She said that by doing this, the women had sidelined their role, which should have been in the forefront of action rather than crying for help.
“This is also a call for violence and war, because it is a call to the tribes as if saying ‘come and protect me no matter what you do’,” she said, adding that the protest should have been more modern and civilized. While she watched protest and tried to convince the women not to go ahead with it, she heard the surrounding men mocking it and making fun of Yemen’s women, added Shaker.