SANAA, Yemen (BP) — The embers of the Arab Spring still glow red in much of northern Africa and the Middle East, but flames grew tallest in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa on Oct. 26.
They stretched skyward from a pile of women’s veils, set afire as a plea for assistance from the international community.
“Here we burn our makrama [veils] in front of the world to witness the bloody massacres carried out by the tyrant Saleh,” declare leaflets handed out by women at the demonstration, according to the Associated Press.
It’s a traditional Bedouin tribal cry for help from the women of a nation that has faded from headlines.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has long said he would step down from his 33-year rule, but he doesn’t seem to be leaving without a fight. In late September, government gunfire killed dozens of demonstrators, and rockets hit a protest camp. The bloodshed hasn’t slowed down in October.
And women have been in the middle of it all, begging for democracy and freedom. One Yemeni woman, Tawakkul Karman, was even named as a joint winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her activism for women’s rights.
“What do they want? Well, what do we all want? We want lives filled with joy. We want the freedom to pursue the things we enjoy and we want to experience the kind of love found only in a family,” said Beth Judson*, a Christian worker who spent some time in Yemen in the past. “This is what they want as well.”
They’re not so different from women in other parts of the world, but they can’t be “lumped together” either, Judson said. “They are young and old, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, religious and marginal.”
And the theme of their dreams is starting to change, Judson said.
“More recently, I think there has been a shift taking place in what the younger generation of girls wants out of life. Many of their mothers only ever thought about getting married and having sons,” Judson said. “Though this is still very important to many of the high school and college-age crowd, they are also starting to explore new and perhaps unconventional paths for their lives.”
The average age for marrying is rising for Yemeni women because they sometimes fear a husband might keep them from going to college, Judson explained. “Most of the women who are protesting have at least some education and are lobbying for their own rights, a freedom that was once reserved only for men.”
It’s a yearning Judson prays will put them on a journey to finding freedom in Jesus Christ — a permanent freedom they can’t find in expanded civil rights or career opportunities.
“My desire is that these women find the joy that they are searching for,” Judson said, describing a joy and satisfaction that “comes only from being set free from the chains of sin and death and being robed with the righteousness of Christ.”
“A new government, or a degree from a well-respected university, or a job will not give them what they are looking for,” she said. “A relationship with their Maker, the One who loves them and created them for fellowship with Him — only this can fill them with the joy they seek.”
Judson asked believers to pray:
— For God to move among the hurting people of Yemen
— For Yemeni women to find their joy and freedom in Jesus Christ
— For believers to boldly share their faith with the people of Yemen.
*Names have been changed. Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe. To read more about women in Yemen, check out the book “Behind the Veils of Yemen” by Audra Grace Shelby.