Alaa Al-Eryani, a women’s rights activist, launched a page on Facebook dedicated to the Yemeni Feminist Movement. She talks to us about her initiative and her dedication, and shares her insights on the situation of women in Yemen.
La Voix du Yémen (LVDY): What is the Yemeni Feminist Movement?
Alaa Al-Eryani: It is an intellectual movement that focuses on women’s rights and aims to improve the status of women in Yemen through promoting gender equality and opposing discrimination. This is addressed to everyone: women who are in denial and need awareness, but also people already interested in these issues and who wish to be more active.
LVDY: Why is the issue of women’s rights important in Yemen?
Al-Eryani: Women are living in a society where unfortunately both men and women believe that women are inferior to men. They have no role except taking care of the house and reproduction. This is mostly due to high illiteracy rates and our strong traditions.
However, women represent half of the society. In fact, they are the half that brings up the other half. So, if women are not getting their full rights and are not contributing to the society’s growth, then how can we expect the country to develop? I believe that each and every individual, women and men, should contribute in building our country and if women are still objectified, looked at as half citizens and not able to contribute in the society, then we will never be able to develop Yemen.
LVDY: What pushed you to focus on this subject?
Al-Eryani: I have always hated the patriarchal traditions and standards that made me feel that I am invaluable to the society and not in control of my own life. But it is only last year that I finally woke up, said “enough is enough” and made the decision to get a divorce. That changed my whole life and driven me to fight for my rights as a woman.
I got married right after I finished high school. By being too young for that responsibility and by having to follow all those traditions that restricted me from being who I am, I went through a very hard time. At the beginning, getting a divorce was not even an option for me: I was worried by my family’s reaction and by facing the whole society that has a negative view on divorced women. Last year, after 4 and a half years of marriage, I was finally brave enough to stand up for myself and get a divorce. I believe that if I had just accepted my situation and lived with it like many women do, I would have not had the chance to be as happy and content as I am today.
And so, I have decided that I will try my best to help other women in unjust situations to get the same chance I did, to speak up and to refuse to live any life in which they do not feel that they are treated as full human beings and full citizens.
Al-Eryani: With this initiative I hope to create a media for women, a platform for them to express their concerns, their demands and a space for discussion on the possible ways of action and solutions. I started this by myself because I knew other people that were interested but no one was really motivated to do something. Hopefully, I will soon be able to start a partnership with other similar groups.
LVDY: For now, your initiative only consists in this Facebook page. How do you think social media would help women when majority of them are illiterate and do not have access to Internet?
Al-Eryani: The issue of women rights does not concern only women, but the whole society. I think social media can be of great help to start up this movement and get the attention of educated people who do use social media including decision makers and personalities that have great influence on the Yemeni people. But the plan is to eventually bring the movement to life and expand it into something much bigger.
LVDY: Are you planning to organize any activity or campaigns in order to realize your goals?
Al-Eryani: The first thing I want to do is setup a membership form so people can actually join the movement and participate. In the future, I would like to open an NGO maybe, to expand the project so it is not only on Facebook and can reach out as many Yemenis as possible, both men and women. I want to organize workshops too, trainings, awareness sessions, etc, first in Sana’a and then throughout the country. We have no financial support but I want to see what we can do without it. If necessary, we will of course look for some support.
LVDY: What have been the reactions so far?
Al-Eryani: I got much more negative reactions that positive ones. I have been accused of wanting to destroy Yemeni girls: I was told that they are conservative and that I am trying to take them away from religion and traditions. These people believe it is not allowed for women to ask for their rights. I also got some threats and my Facebook account was hacked. It made me a little scared, but I am now more motivated than ever.
Fortunately, I also got some support. More than 2500 people liked the page on Facebook in less than a month, and some girls contacted me saying they loved the concept and that it was a good idea for women.
LVDY: What about your parents or relatives?
Al-Eryani: My parents and most of my relatives are very supportive of what I am doing. I do have some relatives that are a bit angry, not of the page specifically, but of my work as a women’s rights activist in general. My mother is the best supporter of all, she is the one that pushed me and encouraged me to open this page when the idea came into my mind. I am very grateful to have her by my side.
LVDY: What do you think of people saying that feminism is something negative?
Al-Eryani: Many people do not really understand what feminism is. I am disappointed to see them thinking it is bad, sexist and only driven by hatred towards men. That is not true at all: feminism is simply about fighting for equal political, economic, and social rights for women. That is why I am planning to use this page also to raise awareness about what feminism really is and what it stands for.
LVDY: Is there any man involved in the movement?
Al-Eryani: I have a couple of male friends who are helping me. Many liked the page, but they did not reach out yet. Most men would not support our movement. I think they are afraid of women being more powerful, independent and speaking out!
LVDY: To conclude, do you have a message you want to share with our readers?
Al-Eryani: To all the men against us, I say: no matter how much you try, we will not stop.
Interview conducted by Benjamin WiacekFrançais
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