INTERVIEWER: The social position of Arab women differs from that of women in Japan or in Europe and North America. What are your views on these differences?
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KARMAN: I don’t think that there is anywhere in the world where women are provided with adequate rights. If you look at the level of political decision-making, you’ll find that only a small number of women hold such important positions as the head of state, foreign minister, or the minister of defense or finance. And there are relatively few parliamentary members, either. Only a few countries can be said to have succeeded to some extent in supporting women, whereas the general situation for women in the world is one of oppression. And women are even more oppressed in the conservative, Arab states of the Middle East in particular.
At the 2012 Munich Security Conference, the only two women participating were Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and myself. At the event, I made the statement that I was now able to understand why war and strife cannot be eliminated in the world: it was because no women were involved in the decision-making in such important positions as defense minister.
Although women are oppressed everywhere, it is true that the circumstances are different from country to country. In Arab countries, we can see the path toward overcoming oppression coming into view. The most important point in this respect is not to seek rights from the powers that be, but to win those rights on our own. During the Arab Spring, when women decided to stand on the front lines of the revolution, they didn’t ask anyone’s permission first. And when the men later joined in, the women made their own political decisions and drove out the old regime, demonstrating the ability to safeguard themselves and others from oppression and dictatorial rule. This was because women were able to open up a path to the future. If women actually hold tight to their principles, they can win acceptance from society and lead a revolution. Our revolution was an important moment for showing that Arab women have the ability to participate in politics and be leaders.
Now we are in a transitional stage, and the tasks facing each country are different, but the trend is toward improvements. The percentage of women holding parliamentary seats and important government posts is on the rise. But achieving gains on that front is not our only aim in Yemen. Rather, what we really want is for as many women to participate in politics as have participated in our revolutionary social change. And we also want our rights to be inscribed in the constitution and the laws.