"I wanted to break the chains"

Written by Khadega Al-Sunaidar on Monday, 24 February 2014. Posted in Jemen

I am from a Sana‘ani  family. In my family, it hasn‘t been important for a female to finish her high school. Once she is 16 or 17 years old she has reached the age of marriage. To get married is her destiny and that is what she has to be prepared for. During my studies I was doing household works. That was my mother‘s priority. She thought, that my certificate wouldn‘t be useful  as sooner or later I would end up in my husband‘s house anyway. The female in my family has been considered a burden that the parents strive to get rid of by getting her married.

Over the time I have received many marriage proposals.  But I rejected them all, because I wanted to finish my education. And when I was admitted to university, my mother told me, that by doing so I wasted my chances of finding a husband. Men in my country prefer to marry young girls. They look for women, who obey them blindly. For a lot of men, an educated female is synonymous to a lot of headaches.

After graduation from university, I struggled with my parents to be allowed to work. They were very strict. They rejected my idea of being employed in a private company, where men and women work side by side; they considered this a big shame on the family. No one in my family supported me, not even my six sisters. I was all alone. But my belief in my right to choose the direction of my life was strong:  I didn‘t want to become a teacher for females, which for sure is an important job, but almost the only one that is accepted for women in my country. So I struggled for one year:  I basically stayed in my room and refused to talk. After these long twelve months my father surrendered: He finally allowed me to pursue the work I wanted.  And then I started my career as an editor in Yemen News Agency.

But this process was a painful one. Even now, as I write these lines, I feel the agony as if it happened yesterday. Opposing loved ones, your family, is almost unbearable. But I realized that there is hardly any progress without pain. My opposition was a path of transformation that I had to go through. I wanted to break the chains, to know my rights and to improve my knowledge, education and skills.
And fortunately, in the end everybody gained something: I gained personal freedom, and my family gained confidence and pride - in me as a daughter and a woman.

I became a role model for my female relatives because I proved that a woman can be independent, work together with men - without being corrupted (as still is the view of many traditional families). I did not only break a taboo, but also changed stereotyped gender-views. In my family, I was the first female to work in a male-female environment and not to be a teacher for females. I was the first female to drive a car and the first one to travel outside the country without having a male (chaperone) accompanying her. I was even chosen by my family to accompany my uncle to Egypt when he needed medical treatment. By achieving this status, I have paved the way for my younger sisters and other female relatives and am able to motivate them. Moreover,  I support them without hesitation whenever they need it. I don't have to be a leader or a president to do it. I just do my best to be useful - regardless of where I am. I have two female relatives now, who are following my steps. Isn’t that great?

Due to these experiences, I am keen on supporting women finding their own way of life. I am a strong advocate for women‘s empowerment in Yemen. I try to be positive and to seize every opportunity to talk about women’s rights to the women around me. I dedicate a lot of time to support their learning experiences. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, and Yemeni women suffer, among others, above all from illiteracy and social inequity.

My biggest dream is to spread education in all parts of Yemen, especially in rural areas and to financially support those who wants to finish their school, but can't because they are poor; I dream to support  institutions that encourage education and campaigns that raise awareness of the importance of education. I believe that good education is the only solution for our problems.

I remember saying to a female Dutch researcher during an interview she did with me, that “"here in Yemen, women struggle to get something you consider as basic in your life. And we struggle like tigresses."





About the Author

Khadega Al-Sunaidar

Khadega Al-Sunaidar

I was having tea with a young female friend, who then worked as an English teacher, and we discussed women's rights and the professional perspectives of women in Yemen. All of a sudden she said: "Oh, you have to meet Khadega. She can give a lot of insight!" And so Khadega and I met. We met only once in person, but have been in contact ever since. And whenever Khadega writes and tells me about her life and experiences in Sanaa, I am enthusiastic about her critical views, her courage and her humour. I am keen on spreading her views.