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Saleh's Speech on Mixing the Sexes and Its Implications

in YEMEN, 23/04/2011

Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh recently used another political tool to try and suppress the pro-change protests. Like many leaders worldwide, he used "women" as a tool against his opponents. His brief statement on the prohibition of mixing between women and men (English text of President's speech) along with the smear campaigns on national TV against women implies that women in pro-change square are "loose" women. This is a great insult to all women activists. It is a dishonor to all women, their families and tribes.

His speech has numerous implications. He is clearly trying to appeal to the Salafis as he has done in the past, either to gain their support or potentially turn them against protesters. As a political analyst said: "this could give space for the formation of a future lobby led by Salafis to limit women’s participation in society". A worrisome example, is that some protesters were upset by the "accusation of mixing" and in response demanded separation of men and women "to prove him wrong." This is what caused the clashes between some members of the 1st brigade along with members of organizational committee; and a number of women activists yesterday. This is a dangerous precedent especially in light of the fact that men and women worked side by side as partners from the beginning.

The speech is also an effort to divide protesters. By trying to expose the hypocrisy of some Salafis who previously spoke out against mixing on numerous occasions, but have recently "allowed" it for the sake of the revolution; Saleh hopes to turn liberals against conservatives within the pro-change movement.

His attempt however backfired, at least for now, as more women joined the movement. In response to his speech, thousands of women took to the street on April 16, 2011. We must deal with the potential impact of this by raising awareness on women's rights and having an open honest discussion. At the same time, we must not give up just yet. The second phase of the revolution has just begun.
 

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