Protests broke out at the start of 2011 following the ruling party’s proposals to amend the constitution. The country's sluggish economy, high unemployment rate and widespread corruption fuelled further demonstrations, which met with violent repression. In protests that followed, women were present in huge numbers, including as leaders.
Discriminatory laws and customs are major obstacles to the participation of women in political life and there are no measures to ensure the representation of women in political bodies. There is one woman in the 301-seat parliament. The 35-member National Unity Government established in December 2011, following President Saleh's departure, includes 3 women.
Women’s participation in demonstrations
The first protests in Yemen in January 2011 were led by students from Sana’a University, men and women, who gathered in Al-Huriya Square (Freedom Square) to express their solidarity with the Tunisian people. These demonstrations sparked off a broader protest movement in several cities across the country, calling for political and social reforms.
On 22 January, Tawakkul Karman, journalist, leader of the NGO Women journalists Without Chains, was arrested. Tawakkul was accused of “inciting disorder and chaos” and “organising unauthorised demonstrations and marches”. Following her release 4 days later, she received death threats from the authorities. Tawakkul joined others in calling for a “Day of anger” on 3 February. Following violent repression of protests by the security forces at the beginning of February 2011, the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh became the core demand of the demonstrators.
In protests that took place over the following months, women participated massively, including as organisers and leaders.
“Protesters want a modern country, respect for the rule of law, a constitution that ensures a balance of power. They want equality, an end to corruption,to an oppressive regime and to using war to solve problems”. Amal Basha, Director, Sisters' Arab Forum for Human Rights, FIDH-Egalité Interview, 23 February 2011
“Women are no longer victims, they have become leaders, they are at the forefront of the demonstrations… The participation of young people, men and women, without any ideological or political background, has made this movement explode”. Tawakkul Karman, activist, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, FIDH Press Conference, 7 November 2011
Women protesters are generally separated from men in areas reserved for women and children. On 14 April, President Saleh declared that Islam forbids men and women mixing in public places and called on women to “return home”. The next day, across the country, thousands of women descended into the streets to affirm their rights to peaceful assembly and to participate in public life.
As a result of their participation in demonstrations, women, like men, have been harassed, threatened and arbitrarily arrested. On 17 October, a woman demonstrator was killed by security forces during demonstrations in Ta’izz. On 19 April, security forces arrested 4 women doctors, for tending to injured demonstrators. There have also been reports of verbal harassment and beating of women protesters at public places/ sit-ins for their participation in pro and anti-government protests. On 10 October 2011, dozens of women taking part in peaceful marches in Ta’izz, to celebrate the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Tawakkul Karman, were injured by pro-government groups of men, who threw stones into the crowd. Male relatives of women activists have received phone calls asking them to “control” their wives, daughters or sisters.
Time-line of key events
2011 Mid-Jan: Hundreds of thousands of protesters gather in several cities demanding political and social reforms and contesting proposed constitutional amendments, which would allow President Saleh to seek a further term in office. 22 Jan: Tawakkul Karman, leader of the NGO Women journalists Without Chains, is arrested and detained. Activists call for a “Day of anger” on 3 Feb. 2 Feb: Saleh announces that he will not stand for re-election in 2013 nor seek to have his son succeed him. 3 Feb: During the following weeks, protesters call for freedom, an end to corruption and respect for the rule of law. Peaceful demonstrations are brutally repressed by security forces using live ammunition, resulting in many dead and hundreds wounded. Protests escalate into calls for Saleh's resignation. 11 Feb: Protests turn into large-scale sit-ins. Young people occupy the streets in Taez and such protests spread to Sana'a and Aden. 18 Mar: Security forces fire on demonstrators in Change Square in Sana’a, killing 53 people. Saleh dismisses the cabinet and declares a state of emergency. 6 Apr: Women march in al Hudaydah to protest against the regime. 14 Apr: Saleh condemns the participation of women in marches. The next day, thousands of women take to the streets. 22 May: Fighting erupts in Sana’a and spreads to other parts of the country, where government forces confront armed opposition factions in an increasingly violent struggle for power. 29 May: In Ta’izz, security officials clear “Freedom Square”, burning tents and causing the deaths of dozens of demonstrators. 3 Jun: Saleh and other senior officials are wounded by an explosion inside the presidential palace. Saleh leaves the country for treatment in Saudi Arabia. 7 Oct: Tawakkul Karman is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 21 Oct: The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 2014 condemning continued human rights violations by the Yemeni authorities. 26 Oct: Hundreds of women gather in the main street of Sana'a where they burn their veils as a sign of protest. 23 Nov: Saleh signs an agreement with the GCC, providing for the transfer of powers to Vice-President Abd Rabuh Mansur Al Hadi, in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the President, his family, and those who served under him. 7 Dec: A transitional national unity government is established pending elections. The cabinet includes 3 women. 16-24 Dec: Hundreds of thousands demonstrate against the grant of immunity to Saleh. In Sana’a, demonstrations are attacked by security forces, killing at least 9 prot ... \n