Japan is an ideal model for countries racked by conflict and poverty because of how it resurrected itself from the devastation of war and achieved peace, the first Arab woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize says.
“For us, Japan is the model that we want to realize in the future,” Tawakkol Karman, 35, a Yemeni journalist and human rights activist, said during a recent interview in Tokyo with The Japan Times. “The country displays a strong example of the ways to transfer from war to peace, from poor to rich.”
A mother of three, Karman has over the past decade devoted her life to bringing democracy and women’s rights to her country.
“I encourage every woman to participate in public life in every way. It’s very important. Because through public lives, she will be able to improve her life inside her family,” she said. “Both men and women have the same responsibility inside and outside their home.”
Karman, who arrived in Japan for the first time last week to participate in the World Assembly for Women organized by the Foreign Ministry, welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent inclusion of five women in his Cabinet.
“I congratulate women in Japan for the fact the country now has five female ministers, which is a very important improvement.” But ideally, the ratio of female ministers should be 50-50, she said. “I encourage the government to make women to be involved in everywhere, in politics and in economy.”
Karman, known as “the mother of the revolution” in Yemen, founded Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005 to provide a voice for women, and staged many sit-ins and protests calling for the release of political prisoners.
Inspired by the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt and Tunisia, Karman led rallies in Yemen to protest the 33-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was eventually ousted after a deal mediated by neighboring Gulf nations.
In 2011, Karman became the first Arab female recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
She received the award with two Liberian women — President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee — for their nonviolent struggle for women’s security and their right to fully participate in peace-building work.
By awarding the three, the Nobel Peace Prize committee sent a message that the active participation of women in the peace-building process is vital for the Islamic world to coexist with other nations.
Karman said the environment for women in Yemen is getting better. Before the Arab Spring, women were excluded from the decision-making process, but now women are involved and there are four ministers in the government.
“The Arab Spring was the turning point for women in Yemen,” because women helped lead the rallies, she said. But still women face numerous challenges, and their rights should be clearly stated in a constitution that the transitional government is currently writing, she said.
“The corruption is still there. There are obstacles inside Yemen, especially now with some armed groups,” she said. “(My final goal) is to establish democracy, and to realize a peaceful Yemen where all women and men can participate in building (the country).”
Asked if she might one day run for president of Yemen, she said that possibility exists.
“I have a lot of offers to take a high position in the government. But I have refused that because I want to be with the people more than the authority,” she said. “But maybe in the future, although it depends on the situation, I may change my mind.”
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