Sunday, July 24, 2011

Nadia Al-Sakkaf

Today's Awesome Woman is Nadia Al-Sakkaf, a Yemeni woman who, in 2005 after her father was murdered, took over as editor and publisher of the Yemen Times, the country's  first and most widely read independent English-language newspaper. As painfully demonstrated by her father's fate, this position in the ongoing political protest in Yemen -- protest that was first started by a woman -- entails extreme risk. But Al-Sakkaf does not stop at publishing a newspaper that dares to report on government oppression and violence, she also actively initiates and supports efforts aimed at improving the lives of Yemeni women. And she uses her newspaper as a platform for activism.

Al-Sakkaf travels out of country on the conference and speaker circuit and, while she could easily obtain residency in any number of Western countries, she returns to her homeland to continue upholding the principles of free speech and to advocate for women and others. While she was in Washington, D.C. in March, 2011 she was interviewed by Judy Woodruff of PBS.
Yemen today is in a very unique situation. The process was started by a woman and a number of women. And, alongside with men, they managed to lobby the students in the streets.
And the women are also part of the support group of these protesters. They bring them food and blankets. And they -- I have seen a woman throwing hot water on soldiers when they were trying to attack the protesters from her window.
So, we need not forget the role of women in this magnificent time of Yemen.
Al-Sakkaf was the very first recipient of the Gibran Tueni award bestowed annually by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) for, "attachment to freedom of the press, courage, leadership, ambition, and high managerial and professional standards."   Indeed, she has become a strong voice in the call for the Arab media to mind its own store rather than merely complain about the international press, to balance its coverage, to play the critical role that no one but the press can play in a fair-minded society, and to improve its pitiful record at reporting on the many human rights abuses -- both political oppression and the traditional practices that victimize women.

From the WAN page where Al-Sakkaf's 2006 award is documented:
She considers the Yemen Times to be a newspaper with a mission: it should not only criticise the government but also furnish solutions. Editorially, she focuses on raising the newspaper's general standards, with a strong focus on human rights, gender issues and women's rights....

Ms Al-Saqqaf has made it a priority to raise the professional standards of the journalists working at the newspaper and to improve the competence of female journalists in Yemen. Legal education is among upcoming projects for the staff, as well as training in how to report on scientific developments.
In her biting article, "Arab media: To lead or to follow?" posted on the Arab Media Community web site in 2008, Al-Sakkaf wonders why her newspaper was the only one in Yemen to take up the case of Nujood Ali, the 10-year-old girl who fought her way out of a marriage to a man more than three times her age, until it became a huge story in the Western media. And she never misses a chance to encourage women to become full partners in Yemeni public life, and to exercise their voices via the media. When she received the Tueni award she said, "This is recognition of Yemeni journalists generally and especially Yemeni women working in the media. This should encourage them to grow and not give up."

This month, Al-Sakkaf spoke at TEDGlobal. "How did you, then, make the decision and assume the responsibility of running a newspaper -- especially in such times of conflict?" asks the interviewer.

"Well, let me first warn you that I am not the traditional Yemeni girl."

Nadia, you can say that again. You are not the "traditional girl" anywhere!

AWU post & comments at