Yemen Women Use Digital Tech to Improve Society with Safe Streets Favorite 



May 14 2012


Taiz City, Yemen

From Women's News Network
YEMEN: Even though the connection to the
internet has been intermittent at best and often too slow, women
advocates in Yemen are now working to push digital tech as a means to
improve society and gain human rights.
As women continue to
battle extreme sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo, Egypt, women
in neighboring Yemen are also fighting the fight against what some say
is a centuries old crime. Bringing action and efforts forward to stop
their harassers, a strategic group of women activists are now working to
stop what they consider ‘crimes against women’s dignity and rights.’
Women who have been verbally attacked on the streets do not usually
share their experience publicly. Many internalize the experience
thinking they have done something wrong to gather the unwanted and often
damaging attention. Street harassment does not only include verbal
abuse. It also includes being touched in a manner that is sexually
aggressive. A December 2011 case in Cairo, Egypt has shown a woman who
was critically harassed as her clothes stripped away as she battled with her harassers. This harassment was considered to be both political and sexual in nature.
‘Defying the Silence,’ an organized the ‘safe streets’ campaign in
Yemen, aims to bring law and justice to the issues of sexual aggression
against Yemeni women on the streets. Since 2009, Ghaidaa al Absi, an
innovative leader and Global Voices (Rising Voices) grant recipient has
been helping women jump to the cyber street of blogging to bring
attention to injustice and issues of human rights under conditions that
many have considered to be much deteriorated since the civil unrest and
pro-democracy movement began in the region. In spite of this, the group
of women activists have continued, often meeting in a members home.
“As of June 2011, public services in most parts of the country had
ceased to function, as the escalating armed conflict began to claim an
increasing number of civilian casualties,” said the UNHCR – United
Nations Refugee Agency describing challenges that still exist inside the
region. Due to internal strife a rising tide of displacement has
happened in Yemen as women continue to be marginalized.
“By August 2011, some 100,000 IDPs were registered in the south, in
addition to the 299,000 IDPs already in the north of country as a result
of the war between the Government and the ‘Al Houthi’ rebel movement,”
added the UNHCR.
To push for safer streets in Taiz City, Ghaidaa al Absi, a rising
group of 200+ women have brought attention back to the issues of women
and Yemeni society. Persistent problems of street harassment throughout
regions in the Middle East were discussed openly during a recent world
conference on women in Istanbul. But what are the solutions?
The 12th AWID (Association for Women’s Rights in Development) International Forum on Women’s Rights,
April 19 – 22, recently provided a dynamic space for open discussion on
issues facing women in Yemen and throughout the MENA (Middle East and
North Africa) region. Activism and action were highlighted.
As part of the work for ‘Defying the Silence’ in Yemen, Absi’s goal
has been to train over 200 women to become ‘experts’ in using open
source online digital publishing tools as they become active voices for
their communities using digital cyber-activism.
“Society accepts it and women expect that they will be touched and talked to,” said Absi at the AWID conference.
Continued reports of harassment in Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a has
brought Maeen district police chief, Ahmed Al-Tahiri, to step up
efforts to catch and prosecute predatory acts against women on the
streets. Despite this promise for stepped up efforts, most men who are
reported on sex-harassment charges often have their case caught up in
what Sana’a policewoman Bushra Al-Khawlani explains is a process of
office “referals’ where a case is referred from one department to
another with often little to no final punitive measures being made
against the offender.
Currently Yemen does not have any specific legislation protecting women from sexual harassment.
Using Google maps, Wiki and Facebook,
numerous Yemeni women cyber-activists are currently now working with
other activists to stop the abuse on the streets as they seek solutions,
in spite of mobile challenges in certain areas and a lack of sustained
internet connections they are working together to bring impact to the
issues. Their work is based on efforts to improve, change and remove
strife for women in the region.
“Every day I walk in the streets, and every day I face  sexual
harassment. Unfortunately, it becomes daily life, and we women are
forced to adapt to it either by being silent or yelling at the
harassers,” shared Absi in a February 2012 interview to highlight the conditions many women face on the streets as they go about their daily routines.
Stepped-up efforts by the women under a recent micro-grant by the Tactical Technology Collective
(TTC – Tactical Tech), along with the organizational leadership of
Absi, are now working toward solutions. TTC is an online digital
resource that shares open source toolkits, guides and information for
cyber-activists worldwide. Through the TTC program grant the  Safe Streets website
has produced an interactive map that now reveals ‘real-time’ locations
where sexual harassment on the street has been reported by women
throughout the Yemeni region.

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