From the new November-December 2011 issue of News & Letters:
Woman as Reason
by Shatha Al-Harazi
Editor’s note: “Woman as Reason” is being turned over to Shatha Al-Harazi who has written for News & Lettersbefore (see “Women in Yemen show revolutionary way” May-June 2011). She offered us her important column, excerpted here, which was first published in Yemen Times.
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“I would rather she died than be raped,” said Um Ahmed Alam angrily. A woman in her fifties, she fears the chaos the country will suffer if civil war breaks out in Yemen.
Her fear of sexual harassment is bigger than her fear of losing any of her four daughters. “Death is death, we all will die eventually, but the shame of rape is what we cannot handle,” she said sadly.
Unfortunately, this is a common worry among Yemenis. Fear that sexual harassment and rape could become a big problem if the state loses control and war breaks out is a growing concern for Yemeni men and women alike.
Mothers have begun to exchange advice on how to protect their daughters from rape if the country slips into civil war. “I would kill my daughter with my bare hands if this happened,” said Alam’s husband, even though he acknowledged that the girl would be the victim in this situation.
“At the very least we make sure she [the daughter] is covered from top to toe when she sleeps, since the shelling usually starts at night,” said Alam.
Nuha Saleem, 23, is a resident of Hail area. She told the Yemen Times that her mother wakes up at night when she hears explosions and makes her cover her body to protect her from rape.
BE PREPARED AND COVER UP
Zainab Al-Ahdel, 23, lives in the Al-Hassaba neighborhood, where the warfare between the Hashid tribal confederation and the regime forces has been fierce. She described her own–and her mother’s–fears and thoughts when the area was shelled.
Al-Ahdel said that she was in her pajamas, a pair of trousers and T-shirt, when the sound of explosions became closer and more frightening. “I felt the house shaking,” she said. Then her mother began shouting at her to wear her abayya (a traditional black dress that Yemeni women wear while out to cover their bodies).
“We were scared, we could become victims of the random shelling and then become one of the daily deaths,” said Al-Ahdel. “When our fear reached its maximum, my mother began shouting at us to dress in our abayya–that was not at all logical for us.”
In Sana’a, the capital of Yemen–where all women wear an abayya and scarf to cover their face and body–families fear their community’s reaction if the shelling forced their daughters to escape without being able to cover themselves appropriately.
“I believe my mother wants us to make it a priority to cover our bodies the whole time in case we need to escape. But by saying so she makes me feel as though I have no value in life other than those society gave us,” said Reem Ali, a 25-year-old from Hail Street.
She lives in an area where the regime forces have been fighting the defected First Armored Division. Hail Street it is also at the entrance to Change Square, where the anti-government protests and continued fighting have been taking place.
SOCIETY NOT READY TO FORGIVE
Some girls even do not go to the bathroom during shelling. In a heroic way Samah Ahmed bragged to friends how she managed not to use the bathroom for five hours while they shelled in Kentucky Roundabout.
“Whenever I panic I need to pee; it is how I am and I cannot help it,” she said. “But during the shelling in our area, even though I was scared I might die, I was more afraid of going to the bathroom in case a blast hit and people saw my body.”
“Society is not ready to forgive females for being victims. Families will consider getting rid of their daughters, killing them or hiding them from society if they are victims of sexual harassment” said Al-Ahdel.
In the violence in Sana’a in September, two women were shot in the legs by snipers while walking in Hail Street. Although hundreds of men have also been shot, Yemeni society was particularly offended by these shootings.
“These thugs reached the lowest place you canreach,” a female assistant in the field hospital told the Yemen Times. “They sniped women–they did not kill them but shot them in the legs so their bodies would be seen by the men rescuing them or the doctors treating them.”
The assistant, a woman over 50, cared more about keeping victims’ bodies covered than the risk to their lives. Unfortunately she symbolizes the mentality of our society.