A digital threat to reputation – "I personally find myself under pressure"

In many situations violence may transfer from the digital world to real life through incitement, even resulting in death threats for those women on the ground. Systematic online attacks have forced women activists abroad to refrain from supporting Yemeni women inside the country because the attacks extend to them and they fear accusations of complicity with the politician in question. Whereas once upon a time, women leaders abroad used to be the line of defence for their fellow activists at the mercy of Yemeni political dictatorship and patriarchy, the latter are now at risk of digital isolation.

The toxic environment on social media is also affecting ambitious young women who have yet to start their careers and are looking for role models. Distorting the image of women leaders is deliberate policy, aimed at limiting the ambitions of young girls and tampering with their dreams.

Those political women with a strong presence on social media are a source of concern for elite men; they are therefore excluded from appointments and promotions. This may mean ending an active woman’s professional career by so-called ‘political execution’, or at the very least marginalising and depriving her of career development opportunities and open positions, whether in the political party or in state institutions. Society considers her a problem because she is loud and not afraid to wade into a debate. From the patriarchal point of view – I hear this all the time – a woman who refuses to remain silent is considered difficult to manage. Best not involve her in the future of the party, then, say the male leaders.

 

Consequently, many Yemeni women leaders, fearing defamation and exposure to digital violence, currently favour appeasement and peaceful discourse. Many of them no longer take a stand on the many issues affecting Yemen. They have disappeared from the scene while the voices of men become louder. After all, men always have the right to express their opinions, even if they are calling for violence, thereby undermining the security and safety of society.

Society is happy to blame a woman for publishing a post expressing her opinion while standing by the man who targeted and falsely accused her. Dr. Olfat al-Dobui, for example, is facing a vile campaign because of her demand that women have the right to obtain a passport without guardianship. In this campaign, with the aim of inciting society against her, she was accused of blasphemy. Even when she defended herself by taking her accuser to court, the hate campaign continued, supported by a number of state officials. When I expressed solidarity with Dr. Olfat on my Facebook page, the post received 100 comments, 94 of which were offensive responses, accusing me of being complicit with her in her heinous acts.

Yemen’s digital platforms are in urgent need of transformation: from a repellent toxic environment to a safe zone that encourages advocacy, thereby increasing the number of women activists and ensuring a diverse representation of women’s voices across social media. If we are serious about addressing the issue of digital crime, we need to work together in an atmosphere of collaborative partnership.

Nora Al-Jarawi

© Qantara.de 2022

Nora Al-Jarawi (@Noorajrwi) is a Yemeni political and human rights activist. She is the president of the Salvation Movement, chair of the Women for Peace Coalition in Yemen, chair of the Association for the Protection of Abused Women and Survivors of Houthi Prisons and director of Kony Watan Organisation for Development. She is also a member of the Permanent Committee of the General People's Congress and holds the position of Assistant Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Civil Society Organisations. Al-Jarawi is passionate about the issue of female detainees in prisons and succeeded in releasing many of them through local and international mediations. A member of the Women’s Solidarity Network and a recipient of the Peace Track Initiative Feminist Leaders Fellowship, she is an advocate for women detainees, internally displaced people, and those affected by the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

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