This interview is with Tawakkol Karman, the founder and president of Women Journalists Without Chains. In 2011 Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Yemeni, first Arab woman, and second Muslim woman to receive the award, in recognition of her work to advance women’s rights and participation in peace-building efforts in Yemen.
Women are significantly underrepresented in peacekeeping efforts in Yemen and around the world. Why do you think it is important for women to be present in peace-building efforts?
Women should be part of peace-building because they have the potential to create change. And when I talk about peace-building, I don’t just mean negotiations, because peace-building is more than that. Of course, women should be part of negotiations—at least 30% of the roles should be filled by women and women should actively shape the process. Women should also occupy high and decision-making positions in political affairs, economic affairs, and the media. This will help ensure that women play an effective role in peace-building and that they and their contributions are noticed.
How are Yemeni women contributing to peace and security within their own communities and across society? And how do you think Yemeni women will contribute to the peace process as it moves forward?
Yemeni women, and women throughout the Arab Spring countries, are demanding peace. In 2011, Yemeni women took to the street to demonstrate against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. We led a great and peaceful revolution. We demanded that women be included in the 2013-2014 National Dialogue Conference, and that they be given substantial roles and responsibilities. Women also helped draft a constitution that guaranteed peace, rule of law, and democracy – because if you want to reach real sustainable peace, you need development, democracy, and rule of law. Now we are facing a coup led by the Houthi militias and Iran, and a war waged by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In spite of this, Yemeni women are doing our best to continue our peaceful struggle, uphold our values, and create peace through negotiation between the parties.
Yemeni women are doing important work to advance peace, but they have to overcome significant barriers to participate in the process. Can you speak to these barriers?
One challenge is that the political parties do not want women and youth to play a real and effective role in the process. And when we talk about women, we should also talk about youth, because both groups are marginalized and both have the potential to create change. This potential scares the political parties. The parties, and some of the envoys, only want women to be involved in the peace process for show. But I call on every woman who wants to participate in peace-building, especially negotiations and dialogue, to refuse to accept a marginalized role.
Why is advancing the status of women so important to Yemen’s future?
Improving the status of women is very important—not only in Yemen, but all around the world. Everyone pays a price when women are marginalized. Women from both developing and developed countries are fighting for their rights. For example, the United States has never had a woman president and American women are still struggling for equal wages. It is a shame that women in the strongest country are struggling for their rights. In Yemen and other developing and undemocratic countries, the battle is even more difficult and critical. We need to empower women because it is how society becomes strong.
You have three children, and two of them are girls. What is your hope for your daughters and for the future of Yemen?
My dream for my daughters, and for all the Yemeni children and children around the world, is that they will live free from dictatorship, corruption, racism, and hatred—in states with good governance, that ensure access to education and medicine. I believe this will happen one day, and that this is the destiny of the coming generation. We are seeing it happen now. People around the world are demonstrating against injustice, hatred, weapons, and most of the demonstrators are young people. This gives me hope and makes me believe for a great future.