In 2005, Women Journalists Without Chains was founded by Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman to advocate for women’s rights, civic space, and freedom of expression. The organization orchestrated the Semi-Annual Press Freedom Report, which spotlights the disturbing increase of violence perpetrated against Yemeni journalists. On January 23, 2011, as the protest movement known as the Arab Spring moved through the Middle East and Africa, Karman was arrested for protesting against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Karman’s arrest sparked mass demonstrations across the country, and she was released the following day. For her leading role in the protests, Karman received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and became one of the youngest recipients of the award.
In this lesson, students will learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights articles on the right to equality, the right to peaceful assembly and association, and the right to participate in government, as well as the history of the Arab Spring and the role of women in the uprising in Yemen. Students will come to understand how civic space is threatened around the world and must be defended. In the “Become a Defender” portion of the lesson, students will work in coed groups to create an educational brochure, poster, or video about the importance of women and men working together to create positive change that will be distributed and displayed on their school campuses.
Tawakkol Karman was born in 1979 in Taiz, Yemen and earned a master’s degree in political science from Sana’a University. A journalist by profession, she responded to the political instability and human rights abuses in Yemen by mobilizing others and reporting on injustices. In 2005, she founded Women Journalists Without Chains (WJWC), which advocates for freedoms and provides media skills to journalists.
From 2007 to 2010, Karman regularly led demonstrations in Tahrir Square, Sana'a, targeting government repression and calling for inquiries into corruption and injustice. In 2011, she redirected the protesters to support the Arab Spring. Karman has faced threats and harassment by the government and been imprisoned for her pro-democracy, pro-human rights protests. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, one of the youngest people to ever receive it. She shared the Nobel Prize with Liberians Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Tawakkol Karman remains fiercely committed to pursuing journalistic freedom in Yemen. Along with her revolutionary comrades, she has proven to the world that the Yemeni people truly aspire for peace.
Because all the activities involve independent or group research that can be done online, this lesson plan fits into either virtual or in-person classrooms, with opportunities for discussion and collaboration on Zoom or with classmates.