Alaa Al-Eryani is a gender equality advocate and Women Deliver Young Leader Alumna. She is the founder of the Yemeni Feminist Movement (YFM) platform. Born out of the frustration of women being constantly sidelined throughout Yemen’s political instability and war, YFM is the first Yemeni feminist online platform. It raises awareness about feminism and discriminatory laws and practices against women in Yemen.
Al-Eryani has directed two short films, Insight (2011) and Broken (2016).
Alaa also works as a gender consultant and producer at MENA AGE Initiative for Gender Equality and is the content manager of Banat Al-Youm, an online platform that empowers young Arab girls through inspiring storytelling, resources, and content.
In her conversation with Swagata Sen, Alaa shared her journey and her struggle in reducing gender inequality and empowering women in her own country.
Alaa, Could you please tell us about your work in empowering women and reducing gender inequality in Yemen?
My work focuses on raising awareness on gender inequality in Yemen. There is an unsettling denial of the situation from both men and women. A lot of people deny that there is an issue with women’s rights and condition in our society. They see this inequality as the norm and will argue that gender equality will destroy the society and family values and structure. My work is done mostly online (for now) because this issue is so sensitive in our region that it’s extremely dangerous for us to work on the field. We are hoping one day after the war is over and the situation is safer, we would be able to reach out to women who have no access to internet to teach them more about their rights, what they deserve, and the fact that they are human beings just like men.
I focus on raising awareness and spreading knowledge through social media content, as well as promoting success stories that will empower other women and inspire the
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This is not a photo of girls with their fathers, this is a photo of Tahani and Ghada with their husbands. Taken by @stephsinclairpix in Yemen in 2011. Not much have changed since then. In fact, the percentage of child marriage kept increasing especially with the ongoing war. In 2017, @un_ocha reported that 52% of Yemeni girls and women have married before the age of 18. Between 2017 and the next year, the OCHA reported a threefold increase in under-18 marriages. In the face of increasing poverty, parents either can't afford to care for the children or believe a husband's family can offer better protection. …. … .. . هذه ليست صورة لفتيات مع آبائهن، هذه صورة للطفلات تهاني وغادة مع أزواجهن. الصورة من تصوير ستيفاني سينكلير في اليمن عام 2011. لم يتغير الكثير منذ 2011. في الواقع ، استمرت نسبة تزويج الأطفال في التزايد خاصة مع استمرار الحرب. في عام 2017 ، أفادت @un_ocha أن 52٪ من الفتيات والنساء اليمنيات تزوجن قبل سن 18 عامًا. بين عام 2017 و2018، أفاد مكتب تنسيق الشؤون الإنسانية عن زيادة نسبة تزويج الأطفال ثلاثة أضعاف.
Please tell us more about your journey…
I have been living in Canada for almost 6 years now but I lived almost all my life in Yemen. Growing up as a woman in Yemen was tough. Despite being lucky enough to come from a family that respected and valued women, I still lived with a lot of societal gender discrimination and watched women around me suffer from patriarchal ideologies. In addition to that, my experience with my first marriage with an abusive and misogynist person made me so passionate to fight against the patriarchy.
I am (and have always been) very fascinated about the strength and resilience of Yemeni women. Despite living in a country that is ranked the lowest in the Global Gender Gap Report, and dealing with gender-based violence, illiteracy, child marriage, Yemeni women have always persevered. They always shined despite it all. You will often see Yemeni women breaking glass ceilings and achieving bigger goals in spite of all the hinders. This gave me a lot of strength and resilience and made me interested in fighting for gender equality and starting my online platform “Yemeni Feminist Movement” (YFM).
I was astonished that despite the strength of Yemeni women, there are discriminations and violations that a lot of them consider normal.
I realized that as women we have been brought up to naturally accept that we are less than, that this is the way it is and we shouldn’t question it. So I decided to raise more awareness about what we deserve as women and human beings, and also empower women to speak up and not let anyone violate their rights.
I was inspired to start Yemeni Feminist Movement because I realized it would be the first of its kind in Yemen and it would really highlight some of the issues as well as successes of Yemeni women. I also wanted it to be a platform where Yemeni women can raise their voices or make their voices heard..
What are the major challenges and roadblocks which you’ve faced in empowering women/girls in your country?
One of the biggest challenges that I faced was the backlash. I first attempted to launch YFM in April of 2013 as a Facebook page but received an overwhelmingly negative response that left me in fear of my life. I was getting threats to my inbox from people who knew my address and swore to hurt me if I didn’t shut down the page.
Indeed, at the time I was not brave enough for this challenge, and ended up deactivating it while continuing my activism silently and behind the scenes.
After I came to Canada and started to settle, I decided to re-activate YFM in 2019. This time I decided to go all-in and launched fully on all social media as well as established our own website. This time around I was feeling safer because I was away from my country and couldn’t be hurt. I was glad to see that the responses to my work were much different than that of 2013; positive responses and support outweighed the negative this time. I still do get bullied and threatened here and there, but I have accepted it as part of the job, unfortunately.
Please share some of your achievements that you are proud of.
Other than founding and building YFM, I am honored to have collaborated on a lot of other projects including MeTooMENA, MENA AGE Initiative, and Banat Al-Youm. Within each of those projects, I am proud to say that we have reached thousands of women and girls with our campaigns and content. I am also grateful to have been selected as a Women Deliver Young Leader in 2018. The experience was so amazing, and we received a lot of capacity building and speaking opportunities.
What would be your advice to those who want to help and empower other women out of oppression and discrimination, but are not sure how to start?
Start with yourself.
Before you do anything, practice self-love and self-empowerment. Stand up for yourself, choose to be a warrior; not a victim, and surround yourself by empowered women who will empower you. Then from there, you can start leading by example and advocating for other women. You can do that by fighting injustice through participating in political movements (or starting your own!), supporting organizations that work in women’s rights, or maybe through becoming a mentor. There are so many things you can do to empower other women.