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Yemen’s uprising unites women from many walks of life

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Summary of story from Yahoo News, November 5, 2011

Early in Yemen’s uprising, about 20 women armed with banners demanding equal rights marched into the heart of the capital, Sanaa, joining the thousands of people who were calling for the ouster of the president.

They were greeted with cheers, and settled down on a spot below the stage in the middle of Change Square.

But as the days passed, “the women’s section” became off-limits to men. A fence went up around it. Then straw mats were slung over the fence to conceal the women.

Policed by bearded males, Yemen’s traditional gender segregation had insinuated itself into the center of the revolt.

The main goal of the protests in Yemen is an end the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his 33-year regime.

But the liberals who launched the campaign nine months ago have always had broader hopes for blanket social change in a country where tribe and religion dominate, no matter who is in power.

And women are now fighting to keep demands for their rights at the center of Yemen’s uprising and resist efforts to sideline them.

Hooria Mashhour fought for change from within Saleh’s government, through the state-run National Committee for Women. However, when the government turned to violence to crush the revolution, she quit.

She now works with an independent women’s group focused on two demands: setting a minimum marriage age of 17 and a 30-percent quota for women in parliament.

Saleh’s regime sought to reverse liberalization in the once-independent socialist south, sending militant clerics to preach there, introducing a less women-friendly family law and promoting a stricter dress code.

For Jiahd al-Jafri, who grew up there, the uprising is a chance to roll back those changes.

And Somaya al-Qawas embodies a change among Yemen’s women that can be seen, as she no longer wears the traditional all-enveloping garment.

She has also moved away from Islah, the Islamist group that is Yemen’s largest party and was always her political compass.

She says: “Our revolution is broader than just one ideology. I can no longer exclude anyone who has different beliefs.”

Al-Qawas says her husband backed her decision to join the protests. But Yemeni men in general are her adversary.

“The next revolution in Yemen is a revolution against men’s oppression of women,” she says.

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