I am a Yemeni woman and proud of it – but ladies, we face many challenges that I believe we can overcome if we worked together toward the same goals. But, you have to admit that being a woman who believes in fighting for women’s rights is even more challenging in our community. Some may even say, including myself, that the Yemeni community is one of the most closed-off of all the Arab communities. Having said that, I’ve noticed a recent change to the dynamics of women and their roles. More of us are finishing school and obtaining graduate degrees, getting jobs, and living on our own. But how did this happen?
Many will say assimilation played — and continues to play — a large part in the change. I beg to differ, believing that we have finally grown tired of the old way of thinking — that “it’s a man’s world,” — and have finally convinced the elders that this archaic and nonproductive way of life has held us back far too long.
We face challenges such as domestic abuse, shaming, gossip, forced and green card marriages, honor killings, and so much more. But these challenges don’t have to linger in our lives, or the lives of our future daughters.
Due to the rise of international marriage, abuse, and domestic violence, women have finally had enough. And for those who were brave enough to leave toxic relationships behind them, education was their salvation to gaining freedom and careers; proving to their families that the culture of shame is no longer acceptable. It wasn’t an easy journey to take, but they (we) did it. Especially for those who are divorced with children – and I should know, because I am one of the strong Yemeni women who decided to be the change needed. Families are finally realizing that the world will not stop if a woman gets divorced. Having said that, the Yemeni community is not the same here in the United States as it was ten years ago.
There are so many different tribes that make up Yemen. Which one you come from can sometimes determine the outcome of your future. We face challenges such as domestic abuse, shaming, gossip, forced green card marriages, honor killings, and so much more. But these challenges don’t have to linger in our lives, or the lives of our future daughters.
Let’s talk about the first item mentioned above: domestic abuse, which is no stranger to any culture, and is prevalent in every community. For those who say it only happens in certain circles of people with low education or socioeconomic status, let me enlighten you: domestic abuse is the number one crime in America. You don’t have to be an advocate for victim’s rights to recognize this happens within the best of families. It could be your loved one or your neighbor; it could even be you. It knows no gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, or social status. Acting like it doesn’t happen won’t make it go away either. And to deny that it happens to our beautiful Yemeni women is to deny the help for those we love. First comes acknowledgement, in order for us to be able to end the stigma around being a survivor of abuse.
Secondly, we women in the Yemini community still face the challenges of backbiting and gossiping. Sisters, can we please agree this is unlawful in the eyes of Allah (swt)? As if being a woman in the Yemeni community wasn’t hard enough with everyone outside of our culture placing stereotypes on us, we have to deal with the challenges of our own families and circles.
“Did you see what she was wearing? Shame on her!”
“Who she was talking to?”
“Why is she wearing makeup?”
“I heard she wants a divorce.”
Can we agree to keep our noses in our own business? And by the way, this goes out to our men as well. Lower your gaze, and keep it moving while you keep our names out of your mouth. The rule is to protect our shariff (honor), not destroy it.
Fortunately, not all Yemeni women face these obstacles. But, even with newly modern thoughts of progression, our community has other demons to face. Brushing these issues under the carpet allows certain behaviors to continue. One that comes to mind is how we have women destroying other women.
Yes, I am aware that this is not solely a Yemeni women problem. We can look at what happened to Israa from Palestine to validate that women hating women can destroy a life. In fact, for Israa, her own family was involved in her murder. So, yes, women can be enablers, destroyers, or nurturers. Have you ever thought about which one you were? We need more advocates, not enablers. We need to support our sisters, lift them up, and make room at the table for them.
Most women of the Arab region are some of the most highly intelligent people I have ever met. If we teamed up and supported each other during difficult times, and challenged the narrative many of us grew up with, we could accomplish so much. The days of misogyny could final be put to rest. Gossiping is wrong, especially when you know someone is going through hardship, so please don’t do it. God didn’t designate any of us to be newscasters for people’s private matters. Remember, their hardship today may be yours tomorrow.
The Green Card Marriage
Another issue that has come up lately is men leaving their wives once they have accomplished getting their green card or securing their finances. There has been an uptick lately in women being abandoned by their husbands along with their children. The men are usually not being held accountable because families do not want to involve attorneys, law enforcement, or the courts. On top of that, it’s as if they are all playing by the same play books: Lessons from one man to another on how to cleverly use women from our own community to get what they want and them discard them when they are done.
Their parents and siblings are part of the equation as well, as the men will put property or businesses in their parents name to protect their assets if the situation ever does go to court. And then, when the marriage is dismantled, brothers and sisters, along with the mother and father start the spread of exaggerated reasons the “girl” was not a good fit for their son or brother. I’ve always found it to be so classy when a divorced couples’ problems are never known, even after marriage, because they respected each other enough to keep the problems between them and not between them, the family and the world.
I realize this article may upset some people. For those of you that feel I have offended you, I want you to examine your personal life and that of those around you, and please ask yourself, have I exaggerated these claims? The abuse that women in our community continue to suffer from is because we are in denial, we are afraid of change, and we are afraid of the unknown. But most of all, we are afraid of how other people will react and what the action we do to help ourselves will do to our family’s reputation.
If you are with women who never gossip about other women’s problems, never mention a woman’s name negatively in your presence, are encouraging to women’s goals and dreams to better their future – then you have found your tribe of empowerment.
Supporting each other with love, kindness, and compassion is so important, and it is the remedy to the problems we face. If we could turn to one another when we are suffering hardship or any type of difficulty, things would get easier.
I am happy to report that there are people on the ground doing the hard work to fight for our families. We have supporters in our community — but we have to recognize them. If you are with women who never gossip about other women’s problems, never mention a woman’s name negatively in your presence, are encouraging to women’s goals and dreams to better their future, then you have found your tribe of empowerment. Make sure you continue to spread that kind of positive energy to other women.
For those who want to help uplift our women, may I suggest you work with women already on the ground doing the work. Don’t try to recreate something when you don’t know where to start. There are those who have been doing this work for decades and they’d love to show you what is needed to make the changes for a better life. Listen to the advocates who know how to approach difficult situations and promote change. They hold the keys to the future we seek. All you have to do is ask.