Tawakul started her public activities as a veiled woman as many Yemeni women cover their face regardless of their occupation. With time, she decided the “niqab” was not helping her to be as effective in communication as she wanted to be. One day she was presenting a working paper on human rights at a conference in 2004 when she simply took her niqab off and went to the podium with her face uncovered for the first time in her adult life in public.
“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,” she explained.
Although she admits it was a difficult decision, she has accepted it and moved on and does not regret it at all. She even calls other women and female activists to take theirs off.
There are many Yemeni women who are active in the public and political sphere and, according to Tawakul, they are more sincere than the men because they have to be twice as good in a patriarchal society.
The problem is that active women undergo double oppression as a woman and as an activist, because our society does not accept women to lead in public life or to be visible.
“As it is being part of the democratic process is very difficult for both men and women, especially if the position the activist or politician takes is against the state or influential bodies. So imagine what it would be like for women who are already oppressed just because they are born as women?”
This is why she advises all activists, men and women, to never give up and to work together so that they are able to make real change. Encouraging freedom of expression, she sees, is the first and far most important way to achieve change in a society.
She called on those in media and activists to take to the streets and not just sit there in their offices. They should demonstrate and protest and not feel afraid because “fear paralyzes us and we need to get moving.”
Her special advice for women is not to wait for permission before they demand their rights. There is a large number of educated women who are qualified and capable and they should participate in the public and political life.
“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,” concluded Tawakul Karman.
La entrevista completa se puede consultar en http://www.yementimes.com/defaultdet.aspx?SUB_ID=34255