10/07/2011, 00.00
YEMEN

Tawakul Karman gets 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, leads Yemeni women’s Arab spring

Liberia’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee share the prize. A journalist and human right activist, Karman is an advocate for women’s rights and literacy. She opposes child brides and is committed to her society. She rejects the Islamic veil because it is a “traditional” garment, not an Islamic precept.
Oslo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded this year’s peace prize to Tawakur Karman, a woman who has fought for human rights, especially women’s rights, in her native country, Yemen. The award also goes to two other women, Liberia’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and peace activist Leymah Gbowee, also from Liberia.

Tawakul Karman (pictured), 32, is a journalist and founder of Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC), a non-governmental organisation set up to promote human rights and freedom of information. Eventually, it broadened its scope to include advocating on behalf of women and children as well as fighting corruption and bad government.

Every Tuesday since 2007, she and her organisation have held a protest vigil in front of the government building in Sana’a’s Freedom Square. Because of her anti-corruption protests, she was arrested several times, but later released.

When the Arab spring broke out, WJWC joined protesters demanding justice and the removal of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, deemed by many to be a dictator. However, Tawakul Karman’s action is different from recent anti-government demonstrations.

First, she advocates non-violence. Her office sports portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. “We refuse violence and know that violence has already caused our country countless problems," she said.

Secondly, her goal is to promote the status of women in a country like Yemen still ruled by tribal and Islamic male chauvinism.

Although women have been elected to parliament, the country still lacks a minimum marriage age for women. In some cases, girls as young as seven or eight have been married off.

Illiteracy among women is also a whopping 67 per cent. Women also unduly suffer from malnutrition because families tend to privilege boys and men even when it comes to food.

Karman’s organisation has challenged traditional customs, tried to stop child brides, and opened literacy classes for girls whilst pushing women to demand their rights at home.

In 2004, she took off her niqab and since then has urged other women to do the same.

Speaking to the Yemen Post last year, she said, “I discovered that wearing the veil is not suitable for a woman who wants to work in activism and the public domain. People need to see you, to associate and relate to you. It is not stated in my religion [Islam] to wear the veil, it is a traditional practice so I took it off.”

However, her courage has earned her death threats, but she will not give in. Her strength comes from her father Abdul-Salam Karman, a politician who once served as the country’s minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

In recognition of her work, she received the International Woman of Courage Award in March 2010.

For Tawakul Karman, “Women should stop being or feeling that they are part of the problem and become part of the solution. We have been marginalized for a long time, and now is the time for women to stand up and become active without needing to ask for permission or acceptance. This is the only way we will give back to our society and allow for Yemen to reach the great potentials it has”.
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