"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Monday, April 12, 2010

Women in Yemen

Blog friend Haley Sweetland Edwards has a new piece up on Yemeni women.   I really dug this article- it isn't just a recitation of statistics about why Yemen is a terrible (maybe the worst) country for women.  Instead, Haley gets a look on the inside, of women who are off the streets and can relax and talk.  It is a world in which I would never get an entrance, and neither would many journalists.  It is easy, when in Yemen, to see women walk by in the niqab, vanished into an anachronism.   You might shudder, or you might just walk by (and perhaps your inherent liberalism would make you feel bad for condemning the practice, even if you know that your condemnation springs from liberalism). 

Anyway, it is a nuanced piece, and it lets Yemeni women talk.   There are variations in point of view among the women at the bridal shower Haley attends, which may be surprising.

At the bridal shower, opinions were mixed. Faisa Hussein, one of the few women in Yemen with a university education, said Western countries fixate needlessly on the niqab.
“You,” Hussein said in an apparent reference to Western women, “hate us for wearing it. But I wear it because it makes me feel free. When I wear it, I can talk and laugh and eat and smile, and no one looks at me.

Her daughter, though, gets to the uncomfortable reality behind that freedom.

“She’s right. Yemeni women cannot talk, laugh, eat or smile in public, or people will stare at them.”

I don't like the idea of Western countries banning the veil.  I think that is far more trouble than it is worth, and can have the effect of rallying opposition.   But I don't think anyone should pretend that the veil or the niqab or burqa are anything but a subjugation.  Perhaps, through the years, people could find freedom within that subjugation, but they are designed to keep women hidden.  Some say they protect women from men, from their lust and scorn, but that doesn't exactly seem a reason to punish women, does it?

I know this is contentious and probably outside my field.  I'd welcome any comments.  

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