Women in Yemeni Drama: Progress Amidst Challenges During Ramadan Productions
Mohammed Mahroos

The artistic scene in Yemen is witnessing an improvement in the level of annual drama productions, and despite it being seasonal and limited to the month of Ramadan in a competitive race between Yemeni channels to win high viewership rates, this does not prevent telling the truth about the intensity of production, and the attempt to improve.

In this race, women participated as authors, cinematic treatment, actresses, photographers, and even behind the scenes as well as in decoration and clothing. A question remains: Were women given heroic roles in this year’s series? What did it look like? What women's issues are discussed in the dramas? What development has occurred in women’s presence in terms of roles and issues compared to previous years?

More than just roles

The art world was filled with tension between its supporters and critics.Between praise for the level reached by Yemeni drama, and harsh criticism of small details compared to the capabilities, women had a presence that many considered successful if compared to the available capabilities.

Sam Al-Buhairi, director of the Mayon Foundation for Artistic and Media Production, considers the roles of Yemeni actresses as successful, if we take into account: their lack of academic qualifications and representation in institutes and institutions specialized in drama, as well as seasonal work that is not enough to hone skills in field work.

Al-Buhairi added in his speech to the Yemeni Women’s Voices Platform: “I noticed =Yemeni women actings, making their names prominent in works, and are presented with heroic roles in which they topped Ramadan works, and they were mostly chosen for major roles that embody the role of Yemeni women in the struggle, working beside men, and in decision-making, and this is a positive step in drama work” 

Al-Buhairi believes that the appearance of Yemeni actresses in this way is an image of the success that is credited to Yemeni drama. This success comes despite the complexities and restrictions imposed by the family and societal structure in Yemen, particularly their lack of acceptance of women’s participation in acting and appearing, even with the reservations production companies make to accommodate Yemeni customs. Not to mention the negative responses and bullying those Yemeni actresses face on social media, which may bring the naming, behavior and roles represented at work to their living reality, and their appearance on social media platforms in their personal lives. This is a major challenge that actresses face in enduring negative responses and in continuing the dramatic work. 

Issues subject to marginalization

In addition to the multiple roles played by Yemeni actresses in TV series that reached the lead, and some of them received better opportunities than before, there were many women’s issues addressed in Ramadan dramas. This represents a depth in the message, themes, and content that demonstrates the value of every dramatic work that the audience takes into account. 

Manal Sharaf, a journalist and activist in women's issues, considers addressing women's issues in dramas a turning point that could contribute significantly to changing society's awareness regarding many issues related to women.

 Sharaf notes that Yemeni drama marginalizes many important issues not only related to women, as she says: “We may have found a doubling of the presence of women in drama year after year, but these faces are treated as marketing tools to satisfy society’s oppression, and few of them continue artistic work and prove their interest.”  

Sharaf adds: “The incomplete presence of women in various fields of the drama industry is one of the reasons that deprive the viewer of addressing women’s issues as they are an important segment of society.”

She further describes that “unfortunately, I am almost certain that I did not see any issue related to women discussed in the dramas I watched this year, and if women are present, they come in the context of weak scenarios that do not delve into the true depth of the suffering and the problem, nor do they open up a controversial discussion with society About women’s rights deprived in the name of custom and religion."

 Issues that will cause uproar among society, are avoided by Yemeni drama. However, if the makers of Yemeni drama do not have the courage to go beyond the issue of entertainment to achieve the real role of drama, through accountability, awareness, and stirring controversy, then circus is better, as journalist Manal Sharaf says.

The Yemeni dramatic scene witnesses the production of a number of seasonal dramas during the month of Ramadan, which is a recurring annual situation, and disappears throughout the year, as production capabilities are mobilized to keep pace with the Ramadan season, in the race to win high viewing rates by screen audiences and social media platforms. 

Based on the slight improvements in women's presence compared to previous years, young actresses are now playing heroic roles, and newcomers are excelling in their assigned parts
Hoda Jaafer, a writer and film critic, believes that it is not possible to talk about the image of women in Yemeni drama without talking about the image of men. It is not possible to know the image of a woman without a man, and both are to the same degree, she says.

Jaafar, speaking to the Yemeni Women’s Voices Platform, adds that the image of women in Yemeni drama has not differed from previous years, and will not differ even in the near future. She justifies this by the existence of a very serious problem with regard to writing, confirming this by saying: “We have a problem that does not only concern drama writers, but also prose writers and literary writing in general in Yemen, regarding drawing characters. The characters in Yemeni drama are flat and do not reflect reality, and this includes women and men.”

“There will be an imbalance if I devote my talk to women only, because women and men face the same problem, and there is no depth in drawing characters with a past and characteristics, as if they were satisfied with cartoon characters imposed on the text with the same stereotyping and one form,” this is what Jaafar concluded.

Photo by: Yaseen Alosaly

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Interviewer: Fayez Al-Dhubaibi