The Yemeni Woman in the Crosshairs of Folk Proverbs
Fayez Al-Dabibi

Yemen is full of  cultural heritage of many arts and themes produced by the experiences of the Yemeni people and accumulated over the times. Perhaps Yemeni proverbs are the most common cultural expression that are part of the daily life of the Yemenis and express their nature, customs, traditions and various occasions.  

Folk proverbs are one of the most important cultural, historical and social frameworks for a nation, and they may be true sometimes, but they have documented a large legacy of wrong ideas that call for racism and discrimination against women.  

Stereotypes and Resistance 

Yemeni proverbs devoted a wide space to women, covering them in all aspects of life, but most of them reflect a negative image of women, who, as soon as she is born, brings worry and misery to the family, unlike the man whose birth represents a source of happiness for the family. It is said that ​​“a disobedient son better than 10 obedient daughters”, “the boy is a bless and the girl is pain”, “a son is worthy to be spoiled than a daughter”, “a girl’s burden is carried to death.’’  

As she grows up, she becomes a source of threat to the family’s honor, so it is said: ​​“woman's face is seduction”, “do not trust a woman even if she was a Nun”, “keep a wide-open eye on your wife”, “don’t you ever give your secret to a woman.’’  

And there is no other way to protect her but through marriage, especially early marriage, so it is said: ​​“A woman has no one but her husband”, “accept proposals to your daughter before your son.”  

A Shabby Portrait! 

In the folk proverbs, women remain incomplete no matter what scientific or societal achievement they have achieved.It is said that: ​​“woman is brainless”, “a woman’s opinion is worthless’’, and there is no way for them except to work inside the home so it is said: ​​“home is woman”, “home is woman’s only bounders”, “Firewood and water are on me, all you have to do is to cook.”  

Proverbs always demonize the woman as an evil and opportunist person, so it is said:​​ “a daughter is her mother’s only foe”, “a female genie from Ibb is better than a daughter in law“, “million knives are better than a brother’s wife”, “put a woman and a snake in a bag and the snake will come out crying for help”.  

It also calls on society to treat women cruelly and violently, so it is said: ​​“do not care for the flesh of a woman or the clothing of a fool.”  


A Masculine Culture  

The negative view of women in folklore is not only related to proverbs, according to the late poet and writer Abdullah Al-baraduni. Folklore is mostly a culture that condemns women and degrades their value. It portrayed them as a forest of machinations, of fraud, a set of evils and contradictions, in which only the advantage of procreation is hinted at. This is documented in his book “The Folklore - A Yemeni Experiences and Hearsay”.  

​​​According to society’s beliefs, women are less important than men. And as a masculine society, it has deliberately presented women as deficient, minor, and unqualified for any role in society. It has dealt with women only from the perspective of shameful, Haram and forbidden, says Sally Murshid, a Yemeni feminist researcher and activist.  

The Yemeni writer and novelist Suhair Al-Samman believes that the long-term circulation of popular proverbs led to the Yemeni woman being convinced of the truth of those proverbs, and saying them on her tongue, to become a whip with which she flogs herself, without realizing that it is insulting her, belittling her status, and confining her to specific stereotypical images. In addition to widespread illiteracy among women, and the low status of women in society.  

Popular culture plays a vital role in the continuity and reproduction of discriminatory social practices that degrade the dignity and worth of women. Despite the changes that have taken place in Yemen, proverbs still exert their effective influence in the country, on both men and women, on the premise that they represent the wisdom of ancestors that they could not have been mistaken, says Sally Morshed.   

Social and Economic Implications 

From a social perspective, proverbs are an indirect expression of rights and duties. ​​It also represents the lack of equality between the poles of society, in a collective agreement to accept an image of women, represented through folk proverbs that formulate the general summary of the society’s view. It defines the role of women in domestic work and excludes them from participating in public work, so that this negative image continues to restrict women throughout their lives.  

According to Dr. Khaled Kassem, a Researcher in Community Development, defining the role of women and restricting them to housework and leaving public works to men, leads to strengthening the dominance of men, strengthening the culture of sex discrimination in society, and this negatively reflects on the level of education of women, their freedom of opinion in the family, and their participation in social and political life.  

 Dr. Kassem believes that it is necessary to challenge this narrow view of the role of women to strive for gender equality, to expand the role of women to include participation in work, and to assume joint responsibility in family life, we need to change the stereotypical view, and to dedicate a society that rewards and respects women, and gives them the full opportunity to participate and progress.  

Shifting Stereotypes  

Folk heritage is a powerful influential force in the consolidation of customs and traditions and it is not easy to change it except in the long term and multiple stages. Suhair Al-Saman believes that the state must have a prominent and active role in developing a comprehensive plan aimed at correcting the stereotypical view towards women. This needs to include a comprehensive review of laws and regulations, the elimination of all manifestations of discrimination against women, subjecting the popular heritage to criticism and correction by critics and intellectuals and raising women's awareness of the seriousness of its contribution to the distortion of her image through the repeated use of proverbs that diminish her.  

Mohammed Saba, a Researcher in folk heritage, believes that it is important to focus on women's education and include positive images of women in school curriculum, for example reviewing the various roles played by many Yemeni women as role models for supporting women's participation and empowerment in all aspects of public life.  

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