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22. May 2012

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Dr. Edit Schlaffer, Founder and Executive Director of Women without Borders/SAVE

Edit Schlaffer on Recent Suicide Bombings in Yemen

Yemen stood in the shadow of other Arab countries during the emerging revolutions. Before the uprisings across the Middle East, all we knew about Yemen was that it was very tribal, with a rough, mountainous, desert terrain full of terrorist hideouts, and replete with criminal vagabonds who made travel a risky adventure.

I traveled across the country 25 years ago, when this was still possible. We were so confident that even if we were mugged, we could buy our freedom with a small ransom. At that time, there was no way for us to make contact with local women; they were kept away from male and, particularly, strangers' eyes.

Fast forward to two decades later when I traveled to Yemen again, but this time just Sana’a, as the countryside was already infiltrated by Al Qaeda operatives. They were also looking for ransom, but in amounts that could certainly not be covered by travelers’ checks. What was different this time was that the women were amazingly visible.

Upon our arrival, a group of young activists, journalists, domestic violence campaigners, lawyers, and artists came together to greet us. They wanted to let the world know that they were ready to make a difference in their country. A few months later, they actually did. They were determined to challenge the political power structure and patriarchy at the same time. Overcoming societal prejudice and familial objections, they camped out on freedom square, fighting for a new Yemen, determined to build up a free, democratic, and gender-just society.

Yesterday's gruesome suicide bombing is a blatant reminder that the determination of the terrorists is just as great as that of the courageous people of Yemen. But now, after the thrill of the revolution, the resilience of the people of Yemen—old and young, men and women, will be tested.

The country’s establishment and civil society must realize that they need the entire population to jointly stand up to combat the threat of violent extremism, which would destroy their hopes and dreams for a new Yemen. Now is the moment to establish the pillars for new democracies in countries across the Middle East and in Yemen. The country has thrown overboard the old tyrant, and is fighting for new values.

One of the keys to success will be the inclusion of women as an integral player in shaping this new future. It is the responsibility of the international community to stand by the women of Yemen in their struggle for participation and recognition, in order to realize their rights and a new reality for their country.


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