Culture & Society
Written By: Zaid al-Alaya’a for The Yemen Observer
Article Date: Apr 30, 2011 - 10:54:13 AM
Dr. Raufa Hassan al-Sharki, founder of the Media College at Sana’a University, a human rights activist, a professor of media studies, the first female journalist in Yemen and at the center of all women’s issues in the country, died on Tuesday in a hospital in Egypt.
She was 53. Throughout her life, al-Sharki demonstrated a lifelong devotion to women’s issues on both a theoretical and practical level. Much of her work had been concerned with creating gender equality in Yemen.
She was especially devoted to women’s issues. She also had a wide interest and concern – theoretically and practically – for civil society organizations that aim to ensure that women are granted all their rights and are enabled to participate effectively in social activities based on an equal partnership. Her foundation, where she was present on Sundays and Wednesdays, was filled with media students, foreign journalists and many others seeking help from her knowledge or just to hear what she had to say.
Al-Sharki was a self-made survivor and that was evident early on in her life. A story she told in one interview that I did with her before shows how determined this woman was all her life. When she was 12 years old and in the seventh grade she and a couple of her friends from their school, Biliqis, were not satisfied with their school books. They said that the boy’s schools had better and many more books than girl’s schools like theirs. So they all decided to go the house of the prime minister of Yemen. That was in 1971.
They were about seven girls and decided to walk to the prime minister’s house on a Friday. They packed lunches and wore their best shoes. After their long walk they reached the house of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Kurshmi. They knocked on his door and the prime minister asked them what this was all about. Al-Sharki recalled that they had already written a request on paper for books and when they talked with al-Kurshmi he laughed.
He said yes to their request and went further as he was really impressed with the girls’ initiative. He invited them to go to school with boys. It was the first time that girls were permitted inside a boy’s school and they were received politely and were respected. Since then, al-Sharki had a career notable for a certain kind of fearlessness. She was the first in everything in the media. She was the first female broadcaster on radio and the first female anchor on TV. She started to work for Sana’a Radio Station in the 1970s when she was still a little girl. Abdul-Rahman Mutaher, a leading figure at Sana’a Radio Station and he as the first person under whose command she worked. Mutaher described her once as a very talented kid.
“From the first time we worked together, I knew that she will be something big.
She was very ambitious and wanted to learn many things and had great patience. She is one of the greatest if not the greatest woman in Yemen. I respected her a lot and the relationship between me and her was a father-daughter one,” he said. Al-Sharki taught many of the leading journalists in Yemen and all agree on one thing.
Being in her lecture one could only admire that she was doing her work with love and passion. All that she contained pearls of wisdom. Nabil al-Sofi, editor-in-chief of Newsyemen website and Abwab magazine publisher, said that al-Sharki taught him in his first year at the Media College. He said that she was the first lecturer that he had heard the word development from. He said that al-Sharki was different from all professors and showed her students how the media could greatly contribute to development.
Al-Sharki sad though that there were some forces in Yemen that locked themselves up and refused any change. They wanted the country to go backwards. She was very optimistic that things in Yemen were changing for the better.
As a volunteer at her foundation, I could see that al-Sharki was doing everything that she could to make Yemen honorable and prosperous and she believed that it would do the same for her. She once told me that she could not separate her personal and national ambition. She said that she had changed a lot and was working hard to change her surroundings. She was dreaming to see Yemen among the top countries.
One of her most interesting projects, on which I worked with her, was the Exhibition of State Dress and Codes of Identity in 2005. With this project she looked at the dress of political leaders in Yemen, including presidents, sultans, princes, prime ministers and also women of high social status and analyzed their dress codes. She also collected many items that she said were the codes of identity, like coins, state emblems, flags, national anthems and stamps in Yemen from the period 1948-2004.
She also managed to obtain original dresses of some of the political leaders of Yemen during that period. The aim of the project was to create a visual memory for young generations and tell people about Yemen’s modern history.
The exhibition was displayed in Sana’a, Aden and Mukala as well as Germany. The exhibition was about to be permanently displayed in a museum.
Al-Sharki was also lobbying against laws that limited press freedom, saying that journalists do not need laws. She said that journalists do not need a press law and that they already had a criminal law that contained punishment up to execution for journalists. She said that journalists needed another law and that was a freedom of information law.
Al-Sharki believed that this law would help journalists and all people to gain access to information and that nothing could be hidden from the public or from the media. She believed that such a law could help Yemen get rid of many problems and on top of that list was corruption. The problem, as she saw it, was that freedom of expression which is guaranteed in the Yemeni constitution did not mean much without free access to information. She wanted this right of access to information to be guaranteed because she said that it would help the public make up their mind and express themselves freely.
Al-Sharki’s foundation focused mainly on gender issues but included a host of different subjects. Its work was built on five pillars and all related to gender issues. These pillars include identity and modern history in Yemen. Al-Sharki believed that oral history methodologies could be used and that we all had to tell the stories of women and their role in these modern times.
This was because most of us know that the writing of history most of the time denies women their proper place. Al-Sharki published two books on this issue and worked towards writing the history of women as part of the history of men. The second pillar of her foundation was democracy and human rights.
She worked for almost two decades on these issues and her foundation remains one of the longest-running non-governmental organizations focused on this issue in the country. Al-Sharki worked on different issues, including elections and campaigning to encourage women to vote. She wanted to ensure that this right was not denied to any Yemeni women.
She also created a network in this field called ‹Ansar› which means ‹the victorious›. This was a group of supporters backing women’s political leadership candidacy in eight governorates in Yemen. This network would support all women instead of focusing on specific candidates. This would focus on the social environment and not individual personalities.
The foundation›s third pillar was to work on good governance; the fourth was non-governmental organization capacity building and the fifth focused on health and Qat.
Talking about a woman like Dr. Raufa Hassan al-Sharki is not an easy task. Her name has been synonymous with media and she has broken all barriers of gender inequalities in Yemen by becoming one of few first female journalists in the country.
My heart aches because we have lost her. Her name was Amatalrauf Hassan al-Sharki and she was popularly known in Yemen and abroad as Raufa Hassan. She was born in 1958. She finished her secondary school and traveled to Cairo where she obtained a bachelor›s degree in media from the journalism department of Cairo University. She then went to the U.S. and obtained a master’s degree in 1984.
In 1991, she earned a PhD in communications in Paris and returned to Yemen to put her knowledge to use. In 1996 she founded the first Center of Women’s Studies in Yemen at the University of Sana’a. Her previous experience included working at al-Thawrah newspaper as head of its investigations department. She also presented and prepared many programs for Sana›a Radio and Sana›a TV.
She founded the women›s unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. She had written loads of articles about all issues in Yemen in different newspapers and websites.
She presided over many conferences locally and globally. She was an active member of the World Women Union, World Women Council and a founder of the Yemeni Handicapped Association. She published several books in Arabic, English and French. She also published a great deal of research papers centered on women›s issues and media.
I believe that Dr. Raufa Hassan will live in the hearts of so many for all that she offered this country and its people. She is now in the world of eternal existence. She was role model for hundreds if not thousands. She fought all her life for women›s issues and human rights. May she rest in peace.
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