Tawakkol Karman – The face of the Yemeni revolution

A strong promoter of human rights and freedom of the press since 2005 in a country dominated by an oppressive and corrupt regime, Tawakkol Karman participated in organizing the protests in the early months of 2011 and became a leading voice during the uprisings. Karman is a liberal Islamist who has faced harassment and death threats, and made the sacrifice to separate from her family, including her three children, in order to fight for women's rights and press freedom. Karman was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Price.


Tawakkol Karman is a renowned 32-year-old human rights activist and press freedom advocate, founder and president of “Women Journalists Without Chains” and mother of three.

She was born in 1979, the daughter of Abdul-Salam Karman, former Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and an activist himself. Following her father into politics, she became a member of the main Islamist opposition party Islah and started to advocate press freedom and women’s rights. As a liberal Islamist, she also decided to stop wearing the traditional niqab, or full-face veil, opting instead to wear a headscarf that shows her face.

To further promote human rights, particularly freedom of expression, she co-founded “Women Journalists Without Chains” in 2005, of which she also became president. Her strong activism led her to initiate weekly demonstrations from May 2007 onwards, the “Tuesday protests”, and sit-ins in front of the cabinet in Sanaa with the aim of fighting for freedom of the press and human rights in a peaceful, non-violent way. These protests had some supporters and most importantly took place on a regular basis for three continuous years.

In January and February 2011, inspired by the events in Tunisia and then in Egypt, Karman decided to take to the streets with her supporters and organized student rallies calling for President Saleh’s resignation. Her subsequent arrest and detention drove crowds of people out into the streets to demand her release, and are said to have initiated the first large uprisings in the country.

Since then she has been a leading face of the Yemeni revolution, speaking to the masses on Sanaa’s Change Square and even camping there with her supporters for the past nine months, not wanting to leave until President Saleh steps down.

In October 2011 Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2011, becoming the first Arab woman and youngest laureate. She shared the Prize with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee.


Yemen is the poorest of the Arab countries. Ruled by President Saleh since 1978, its culture and society are defined by a patriarchal system, conflicting tribal clans, tension between North and South and a violent oppressive regime. The people of Yemen today face high levels of poverty, illiteracy, oppression and corruption.

Human rights abuses in Yemen include arbitrary arrests of citizens, kidnapping, torture and executions performed by security forces.

As a human rights activist, Karman has fought in particular for freedom of expression and women’s rights. The Yemeni press is indeed faced with restrictive laws and repressive actions by security forces. Journalists such as Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi’ and the editor-in-chief of the Al-Ayyam newspaper are harassed, persecuted, beaten up and imprisoned.

Women and girls in Yemen are second-class citizens with fewer rights than men, excluding them from decision making and prohibiting them from holding assets. Nearly 70% of women are illiterate and therefore often ignored in this male-dominated society. They also continue to be forced into early marriage and depend entirely on their husbands from that moment onward.

The death of Ilham al-’Ashi in April 2010, a 12-year old girl who died of internal bleeding after a violent sexual attack by her husband, was one of the many cases that demonstrate the discrimination and disrespect women and girls face in this country. Another 12-year-old girl died in September 2011?? while giving birth, a common threat to young girls forced into early marriage.

Against Yemen’s history and cultural background, Tawakkol Karman has stood up as a woman with democratic rights while surrounded by men. She promotes liberal Islamism, causing controversy both within and outside her party, and advocates human rights and freedom of expression for men and women alike. Her ultimate goal is to achieve democracy for all the people of Yemen by ending the rule of a violent and oppressive regime.


Karman has been a human rights activist since at least seven years ago, when she first started to appear in public without the facial veil, as well as standing up as a woman against President Saleh and his dictatorship in a patriarchal and highly conservative country. Her early protests culminated in the large uprisings at the beginning of 2011. At that time, she also began to criticize President Saleh directly and to use Facebook and other social media to bring masses of young people to the streets of Sanaa. Young women were encouraged for the first time to go out and participate in the protests. She is undoubtedly the leading voice of the protest movement in her country, referred to as the “Mother of the Revolution” in Yemen.

During all the years of her human rights activism, this courageous woman, inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., has made major personal sacrifices, faced death threats and recently separated from her children to live in a protest camp at Change Square in Sanaa, visiting her home only in disguise. Nevertheless, Karman’s family and her supporters are all behind her, as she is fighting this peaceful revolution for her three children, their whole generation and all the people of Yemen.

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    Dear Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman,
    I did not get your mail id, hence I am using it to say that I am the Rector of KIIT University, one of the finest multi-disciplinary University of India. We as a University support 20000 poorest of the poor marginalised Tribal children through provisions of food, accommodation, health care and education from Kindergarten to Post Graduation absolutely free. I would like to invite you to my University and if given scope, I would like to meet you to invite you in person to my University and to our protege Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) that takes care of the 20,000 children.
    Satyendra Patnaik

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