Southern women revolutionaries fight for recognition in colonial struggles
Female’s participation, right by the side of revolutionary men, was one of the biggest contributors to the cause. They worked on many different fronts and assisted the combat men, who were fighting British colonization. Imperialist forces occupied Yemen for 128 years.
Aisha Abdulaziz, one of the strugwomen who participated in the revolution, still remembers the hardships she underwent with friends in Aden and her role in helping liberate the south of Yemen.
Abdulaziz said Southern women participated in protests and sit-ins, helped transport messages between the revolutionaries and gave first aid to wounded fighters. They also played a vital role in hiding revolutionary men, as well as transferring weaponry.
While this was going on, Aisha was a secondary school student at Khoor Makser in Aden. She recalls how she and a group of female students refused to attend classes, chanting slogans against the British occupation. The principal at the time was a British citizen. He called the police, who arrested the advocate and her friends.
In prison, the students were investigated for two hours and then released on the condition they would sign a document pledging to end their protests.
This did not deter the female revolutionaries. Rather, they collected money for the cause and according to Abdulziz, established a secret charitable assembly. Furthermore, they adopted the practice of transporting weapons via camel, fooling British guards into thinking they were carrying grass for cattle.
Thanks to their efforts, in almost every house in Aden, females opened their doors to assist the wounded or provide supplies, according to Abdulziz.
One strong-willed woman named Da’ara Saeed, particularly stands out in Abdulziz's memory. She defied gender expectations by often wearing men's clothing and carrying a weapon on her shoulder during protests.
Nadera Abdulqodos, a journalist and human rights activist, pointed out that women established the first female assembly in Aden in the 1960s, which was led by a woman named Sa’aida Gargara, known in Aden as Sa’aida Basharaheel. Gargara's daughters now own the Al-Ayam newspaper, a well-known publication in Aden.
At the same time, another organization called the “Arab Woman's Assembly” was also established and headed by the revolutionary woman, Radia Ihsanallah. The group focused on charitable work but eventually moved to political participation. It spread awareness about the revolution by holding seminars and issuing brochures.
Through these assemblies, female laborers, housewives and female students were able to complete their important revolutionary work, but due to the nature of it, everything was secretive. Not even the women's fathers and husbands knew about it.
Now famous women including: Khawla Sharaf, Dr. Asmahan Al-Ali, Aisha Abdulaziz, Dr. Anisa Abood Abdulqodos joined the National Front and established their own political parties with the help of the assembly.
Despite their important efforts in the struggle for independence, Abdulqodos sadly reflects that women's role in society is still ignored.
"We are still suffering from illiteracy, injustice, corruption, poverty and backwardness," she said.
Raja’a Saeed, another female revolutionary, spoke painfully about the situation.
She pondered, “Did the October Revolution benefit us or harme us? I don’t know. What followed the revolution was horrible. People fought each other once again. The 1994 war is an example. Yemenis were killing each other. The revolution perverted from its true direction. The only thing that remains is the name.”
Saeed said that without the female involvement, the revolution would have never been realized, reinstating the fact, that at the time they were the only ones capable of moving weapons because of the intensive security screenings men faced.
Many others agree with Saeed's and Abdulqodos' opinion that history has been cruel the female revolutionaries.
Mohammed Abdullah Al-Nahari, a history teacher at Omar Bin Abdulaziz School in Sana’a, said justice has not been served for Yemeni women.
“Women have not been given their full rights in parallel with their status when documenting history. The women’s efforts are many, including the liberation efforts, the national development efforts and the post-unity efforts,” Al-Nahari said. “The women jointly struggled and no one can deny that.”
Recalling his historical studies, Al-Nahari said in Aden, the women's movement existed even before the revolution.
Women were members in the Administration Authority, the Labor Conference, the Socialist Party the Al-ba’ath party, the Southerners’ Association and the Salifist Youth Organization, according to Al-Nahari.
Farook Al-Hakimi, the former Deputy Minister of Culture, recognizes the important role Yemeni women played in helping the revolution break out.
“There were many leading revolutionary women such as Aida Ali Saeed Yafaei, Fawzia J a’afer and Zahra Rahmat Allah. They took a great role in organizing the fronts that resulted in the success of the military revolution. They also helped keep the revolutionaries in touch,” he said.
Al-Hakimi asserted that bullets alone would not have been able to eliminate the British colonialism. Women’s demonstrations and strikes were paramount in making the revolution a success he said.
Because of this, he demanded that the Yemeni women receive equal recognition.
"Their rights must be given because they are half the society and development cannot be accomplished without them," he said.
Despite the celebratory efforts of female revolutionaries in the eventual freedom of the South from British occupation, the region is still plagued by political conflict that emerged following the rebellious period.
However, women like Saeed, who struggled so diligently to establish independence, said she hopes Yemen will witness solidarity and security in the future, "for [my] country can no longer bear any suffering and conflicts."
The Yemeni people need to concentrate on the stability and development of the country she said.