Yemen’s Domestic Conditions
Since 1978 Yemen has been led by Ali Abdullah Saleh in a dictatorial government. Ali Abdullah Saleh has led Yemen for more than 30 years. At that time it was very difficult for women to enter parliamentary and government seats. In the era of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s leadership, there were two things that were difficult to obtain, namely freedom of opinion and expression as well as democratic rights. In Yemen chauvinism (tribal nationalism) is still very thick coupled with primordial elements of non-Salafi clerics (outside the Al-Islah Political Party). This is similar to the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) which exists in Indonesia. The party consists of Shi’a-Zaidi and Sunni-Sufi clerics who are very influential.
In addition, there are still many illiterates among women. Other unfavorable social conditions are many women who suffer from malnutrition due to family traditions that tend to privilege boys, early marriage is not uncommon in Yemen, early marriage is conducted so as not to provide opportunities for women to get higher education. Traditions like this continue to occur during the leadership of Ali Abdullah Saleh for more than 30 years.
Arab Spring in Yemen (2007-2011)
A wave of democratization swept across the Middle East region which undermined the position of each previous form of government which was considered democratic. One of the countries experiencing a wave of democratization is Yemen. The demands of the people of Yemen on government are freedom, equality, the separation of powers and the opening of broad participation to the community. In general these demands constitute an effort to uphold democratization for the people of Yemen.
Yemenis protest that is rooted in economic problems. More than 46 percent of Yemenis are below the poverty line and many unemployment problems in society. The Yemeni per capita income is only 2 dollars per day with 43 percent of the population earning per day below that number. The price of basic necessities for the community is also increasingly expensive. In the list of Human Development Index of the Arab region, Yemen is ranked 4th from the bottom after Sudan, Djibouti and Mauritania. In addition, the Corruption Perception Index ranks 146th and 13th in the Failed Country Index.
In mid-January 2011, the people of Yemen held a large-scale demonstration against the ruling Yemeni government. The demonstration is a form of public dissatisfaction with the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime. The dissatisfaction of the people of Yemen against the ruling government is caused by several factors, namely the economy and the saturation of the people over the authoritarian rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh which has been running for more than 30 years. The main objective in the demonstration is to undermine the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to create a better government for the people.
The role of the Civil Society or civil society becomes a force to change the political system. Civil society is the main actor whose role is to speak out in overthrowing authoritarian regimes and promoting democracy in society. In the people power carried out by civil society, many are also participated by women.
The Role of Women in Democratization Efforts
The wave of democracy that occurred in 2011 hit countries in the Middle East, one of which is Yemen. The public held a demonstration demanding political change in the domestic political system. The women participated in the demonstration, allegedly by bad propaganda. The propaganda sometimes makes women reluctant to participate in demonstrations or protests against authoritarian governments. The reality is precisely women who appear proactive in the Islamic revival movement in the Middle East.
The Yemeni revolution which has taken place actively can provide a picture of the high role of women. Women’s participation in protests against authoritarian rule and the movement to overthrow the authoritarian regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has been in power for more than 30 years. In the protest, thousands of women were fighting against Yemen’s rulers. These women became pioneers in the mass protest movement at the time. One of the roles of women in democratization efforts in Yemen is Tawakkul Karman.
In a parliament where there is only one woman out of 301 members, not yet agreed to a minimum age of marriage. The parliamentary disapproval was due to the fact that in 2008 there was an early marriage, Nujood Ali. A woman in parliament has not yet agreed to a minimum age of marriage to prevent the recurrence of early marriage. In Yemen the level of illiteracy among women reaches 67 percent. In addition, women are also the first victims of food shortages and access to health services is very difficult. In the political field, there are only two female ministers in Yemen. Many obstacles faced by women to advance in government and parliament.
Who is Tawakkul Karman?
Tawakul Karman is a Yemeni woman who was the main pioneer in the demonstration. In an interview conducted by radio reporter Nederland Wereldomroep, Karman said the demonstration was carried out by every woman to demand reforms. In 2010 in an interview conducted by Al-Jazeera, Karman conveyed the detention of journalists. The detention marks the high level of violence in Yemen. Tawakkul Karman continued to protest and demand change.
Tawakkul Karman is a woman who works as a journalist and human rights activist. Karman is also a wife with three children. Karman continued to call for democratization in his authoritarian country and for his male-dominated politics. Karman did not hesitate to fight for freedom of opinion and oppose the authoritarian President Ali Abdullah Saleh. In his struggle for his country and women, Karman won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tawakkul Karman said that women are the foundation of a nation. A dignified nation certainly appreciates the women who contributed greatly in producing the next generation of the nation that will bring great change to a country. That is the reason for Tawakkul Karman to fight to protect human rights for women in Yemen. In his struggle to call for freedom and democracy, Karman encountered a lot of rejection. Karman also had the idea to form a radio station and newspaper as a tool of struggle which was later rejected by the Yemen Ministry of Information from 2007-2010.
For Tawakkul Karman in the Spring Revolution, there are four stages that must be passed. The four stages are: subverting the dictator and his family, subverting the security forces and the military and its nepotism network, establishing traditional institutions, and establishing a modern democratic and civil state. In a Time note, Karman has been actively demonstrating since 2007 through his actions every Tuesday outside the Parliament Building.
In 2005, Tawakkul Karman founded Women Journalist Without Chanins (WJWC). During demonstrations in Yemen, Karman often reports the latest situation from the field near Sana‘a University to the television network so that it can be watched by the entire world. Karman founded WJWC along with seven other Yemeni women journalists, with the aim of fighting for freedom of expression and opinion, as well as democratic rights. Previously, the group demanded the Government of Yemen to free Short Message Services (SMS), which are tightly controlled through the Act. In addition, the women journalists also demanded that the government free its citizens to build media through the internet.
Karman was arrested and jailed by the Ali Abdullah Saleh regime, then finally released because supporters of Tawakkul Karman staged a demonstration. Efforts to free Karman were also marked by large-scale demonstrations. On August 17, 2011 Karman was taken back by the apparatuses. Efforts to make a better change for Yemen made Karman a woman known as Yemen’s “Revolutionary Mother”.